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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Truce

Mario Benedetti

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To purchase The Truce

Title: The Truce
Author: Mario Benedetti
Genre: Novel
Written: 1960 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 175 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The Truce - US
La tregua - US
The Truce - UK
The Truce - Canada
The Truce - India
La trève - France
Die Gnadenfrist - Deutschland
La tregua - Italia
La tregua - España
  • The Diary of Martín Santomé
  • Spanish title: La tregua
  • Translated by Harry Morales
  • Previously translated by Benjamin Graham (1969)
  • The Truce has been filmed twice: in 1974, in a version directed by Sergio Renán and starring Héctor Alterio and in 2003, directed by Alfonso Rosas Priego hijo

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Our Assessment:

A- : lovely tale of middle age

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev.* . 19/10/1969 Arthur Gold
TLS . 18/12/2015 Michael Kerrigan

(*: review of the earlier translation)

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The complete review's Review:

       The Truce is presented in diary-form, the account written by Martín Santomé and covering just over a year in his life. Forty-nine when the story begins, he is preparing for a great change in his life; as the first lines of his record explain:

     In only six months and twenty-eight days I'll be in a position to retire. I've been doing this daily calculation of the time remaining for at least the past five years.
       (This is perhaps the most difficult part of the book for contemporary readers to wrap their heads around: an office job that you can retire from -- with a full pension that, with various accumulated bonuses, apparently will pay him more than his current salary -- at age fifty ?)
       Santomé is a bookkeeper, the head of a small accounting division, and what he loves above all is the routine of his job; he doesn't like surprises -- in the books they're keeping, or, it seems, in real life. He is somewhat concerned about what he'll do in retirement, but still eager to take that step -- even willing to grease some palms to facilitate it (which is apparently necessary to get things done in a timely fashion).
       Santomé is a widower; his wife, Isabel, died at age twenty-five, a bit more than two decades earlier, in childbirth. He raised their three children by himself, and they still live with him -- though he doesn't see them all that often as they have all begun to lead their own lives.
       Over the years, he's made do with decidedly one-nights stands, never developing any sort of relationships with any other women. He's in it just for the sex -- but also not a womanizer who goes out of his way to make conquest after conquest: "I limit myself to the essential", is how he puts it, too.
       When a group of new workers is assigned to the office he gets three new underlings, including one woman, Laura Avellaneda. He's more annoyed than anything at first -- "I never trusted women with numbers" -- and doesn't take particular notice of Avellaneda. But as he spends more time around her he finds his thoughts and even dreams focusing more on this young woman less than half his age.
       Isabel was the love of his life, and their intimacies, in particular, were memorable. After her death he couldn't imagine anyone taking her place:
     The entire machinery of my emotions came to a halt twenty years ago when Isabel died.
       That he would think of it as 'machinery' is typical. Santomé isn't unfeeling, but he is methodical -- and much of the charm of The Truce comes from how methodically he approaches the unusual (for him) situation he finds himself in, falling head over heels for his young co-worker.
       Benedetti plausibly lets his characters enter into a relationship, Avellaneda -- as he continues to call her, even after they become lovers -- reciprocating his feelings. And Santomé isn't blind to the difficulties of their relationship, or his foisting himself on a woman the age of his daughter:
I love you in what is called reality, but the problems arise when I think about that which is called appearances.
       But they manage, taking things a step at a time -- and finding complete happiness with one another. Rational Santomé can never quite stop over-thinking things (and the passing of time), but he is also willing to embrace the pleasure of the moment:
All of a sudden I realized that that moment, that slice of everyday life, was the highest degree of well-being, it was Happiness. Never before had I been so completely happy than at that moment, but still I had the cutting sensation I would never feel that way again, at least at that level, with that intensity.
       Santomé proceeds cautiously but firmly, occasionally worrying about steps -- as when he orchestrates a meeting where his daughter meets his lover -- or weighing new options -- he is offered a promotion, which would mean postponing retirement -- but ultimately making decisions that build towards the future he sees for them.
       Avellaneda is not the only thing in Santomé's life -- "There are so many other things in this diary, so many other faces", he also notes near the end, when it has served its purpose. For the most part, he is able to separate his professional and private life, their relationship not intruding into the office (though there are other issues there). He has different difficulties with his children, with daughter Blanca announcing she has a beau and the revelation that one of his sons is homosexual (which he has trouble dealing with: "I would have preferred that he turn out to be a thief, a morphine addict or an imbecile"). A variety of acquaintances, including several from his youth, also serve as reminders of how he's getting on in years -- always a concern, when he thinks of his young love -- as well as a contrast, with their other sorts of amorous (mis)adventures.
       The love affair between Santomé and Avellaneda is beautifully handled, the middle-aged man's reflections temperate, even controlled, but nevertheless conveying their connection and passion. The diary-form also turns out to be ideal for how this story unfolds, both as a day-to-day record, written very much in the present, and then one he can look back on. The tragedy of Isabel's death has been a shadow over his life all these years, but here we witness the lightening as he finds love again. And, of course, the diary form and its immediacy, all in the present, is ideal for how Benedetti chooses to complete their story.
       The Truce is an impressive portrait of a middle-aged man, the voice entirely convincing -- controlled, even as he feels intensely. He recognizes that:
I'm at an age when times seems to be, and is, irretrievable. I have to desperately hang on to this reasonable happiness that came to look for me and found me.
       But he's mature enough to tread carefully, to avoid rash, heated actions that could undo his happiness, with only rare moments when he isn't quite sure of himself -- a flash of jealousy, for example.
       Benedetti is also particularly good in how he has Santomé see the many others he deals with -- often not entirely with clarity, yet still insightfully. So, for example, he worries about his children in different ways, including observing that:
Jaime's problem is something else, and what's worse is that I don't know what it is. He's always nervous and unsatisfied. Apparently, he has character, but sometimes I'm not sure whether it's character or a passing fancy.
       A fairly slim novel that moves at an almost leisurely pace, The Truce is a beautiful -- and ultimately devastating -- little life-tale of a man at crossroads.

- M.A.Orthofer, 15 December 2016

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The Truce: Reviews (* review of previous translation): The Truce - the films: Mario Benedetti: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Uruguayan author Mario Benedetti lived 1920 to 2009.

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© 2016-2021 the complete review

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