This book tells the life story of an Uruguayan writer called Enrique Amorim who has three unique characteristics: he was a literary chameleon (he could adapt his writing style to imitate that of other writers), he was a social chameleon (he could adapt to different social settings or groups very well) and he had a knack for meeting and sometimes befriending famous artists. These characteristics did lead to some criticism: he was not perceived as having his own writing style, each book being so different from the other; he was not always perceived as sincere and authentic; he seemed to want a little bit too hard to associate with famous people. So Enrique tried hard, very hard to do something noteworthy, to become famous himself, and to be remembered… and did not seem to have been quite successful.
So why did Roncagliolo write a book about him? There are some events that make Enrique Amorim an intriguing figure. In 1933-1934, Federico García Lorca travelled to Argentina to produce some of his plays in Buenos Aires. There, he meets Amorim. They hang out together, he visits Amorim in Uruguay, and Amorim seems to fall in love with him or at least to develop a fixation on the Spanish author. After a few months, Lorca returns to Spain. He died tragically during the Spanish Civil War. Amorim, over time, acts as if he considers himself a guardian of Lorca’s memory, eventually erecting a monument to his memory in his hometown of Salto in Uruguay. A white box rumoured to contain remains of the Spanish writer was buried at the foot of the monument. According to historical sources, Lorca’s body was never found.
Amorim had the luck to have been born to a wealthy land-owning family and his fortune gave him the freedom to try many different things in life, including producing movies in Hollywood. He associated with the likes of Borges, Dali and Picasso, and developed strong enmities with Pablo Neruda and Louis Aragon.
Roncagliolo’s book is extensively documented and he obtained access to archives containing Amorim’s unpublished writings. The book is in great part based on those and for the author this raises questions as Amorim seemed quite intent to build up his own legend (i.e. to tell lies about himself), especially when it came to the exact nature of his relationship with Lorca and others.
Roncagliolo has said in some interviews that Amorim invented “marketing” and it looks that way, in the context of South American literature, considering the effort he put into defining his image and redefining it over time. Where he failed at “marketing” is linked to his capacity to be a chameleon which led him to fail to create a strong, recognizable brand for himself.
This book is a fascinating read, spanning several decades of the 20th century’s cultural, social and political history. It shows a very human sides of several artists that came in contact with Enrique, their fads and foibles, as well as what made them unique contributors and creators of timeless masterpieces.
Santiago Roncagliolo is a Peruan author, the youngest author to have been awarded the Premio Alfaguara, which he obtained in 2006 for his novel Abril Rojo.
Roncagliolo, Santiago. El amante uruguayo: una historia real. Punto de lectura, 2012.