Farewell to the great writer Luis Sepúlveda, who died in Oviedo, Spain, to Covid-19

The great writer Luis Sepúlveda, who passed away in Oviedo, Spain, at the age of 70, leaves us.

There has left us, at the age of 70, the great Chilean writer Luis Sepúlveda, who passed away due to Covid-19: he had been one of the first cases diagnosed in Spain. The artist passed away at the Hospital Universitario Central de Asturias in Oviedo, and confirming the news of his passing was his family, who broke the news to El País newspaper. Born in Ovalle, Chile, in 1949, Sepúlveda had long lived in Asturias. Raised in Valparaíso in a family of anarchist views (his grandfather, Gerardo Sepúlveda Tapia, had emigrated from Spain to avoid a death sentence), he joined the Communist Youth when he was only fifteen and began working as a teenager, contributing to the Chilean newspaper Clarín. His first book, Crónicas de Pedro Nadie, a collection of short stories, earned him the Casa de las Americas Prize in 1969 and a scholarship to Lomonosov University in Moscow, where he studied for several months, although he was expelled because of his dissident attitude.

Back in South America, he was for a time in Bolivia where he served in the National Liberation Army, then back in Chile he worked for theater and radio and joined the Socialist Party. After Pinochet’s coup, Sepúlveda, who was close to former President Salvador Allende, was imprisoned and tortured, and was released after a few months thanks to pressure from Amnesty International, but was then arrested again because, upon leaving prison, he continued to engage in activities in opposition to the regime: sentenced to life imprisonment (he spent almost three years in prison in all), his sentence was later commuted to exile. Sepúlveda then left Chile in 1977, at the age of twenty-eight, and moved first to Brazil, then to Paraguay, and finally to Ecuador, where he lived with the Indians for a few months. He moved to Nicaragua in 1978, where he worked for some time as a journalist participating in the Sandinista Revolution, following its victorious outcome he moved permanently to Europe, first to Hamburg, and then, since 1997, to Gijón, not far from Oviedo, where he founded and directed the Ibero-American Book Fair of Gijón, held annually in the second week of May.

After his literary debut in 1969, he abandoned writing for a few years, only to return to prominence in the 1980s: with The Old Man Who Read Love Novels (1988, translated into Italy in 1993 for his historic Italian publishing house, Guanda) he achieved international success. The success continued into the 1990s: 1994’s The Vanished Frontier (a series of nostalgic tales about his homelands), 1995’s Patagonia express (a travelogue inspired by Chatwin’s stories), 1996’s instead the celebrated Story of a Little Gull and the Cat Who Taught Her to Fly (the moving tale of the friendship between the little gull Fortunata and the cat Zorba and his friends, set on the rooftops of Hamburg), and then still more books are remembered. Then we remember other successful ones such as The Roses of Atacama (2002), Breaking News from the South (2011), Story of a Cat and the Mouse Who Became His Friend (2012), Ingredients for a Life of Formidable Passions (2013), Story of a Dog Who Taught a Child Loyalty (2015) and the latest book, Story of a White Whale Told by Herself, from 2018, another tale designed primarily for childhood audiences (it is the story of a whale who tells firsthand about the cruelty of humans).

Sepúlveda has received numerous awards: among them, the France Culture Award Etrangère (1992), the Ennio Flaiano International Prize (1994), the Grinzane Cavour International Prize (1996), the Chiara Prize for Lifetime Achievement (2014), and the Alessandro Manzoni Literary Prize for Lifetime Achievement (2015). Sepúlveda had also been awarded the honor of Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres of the French Republic. Two films were made from his two greatest successes, The Story of a Little Gull and the Cat Who Taught Her to Fly and The Old Man Who Read Love Novels: The Gabby and the Cat (1998, directed by Enzo D’Alò, an animated film), and The Old Man Who Read Romance Novels (2001, by Rolf de Heer with Richard Dreyfuss as Antonio José Bolívar Proaño and Hugo Weaving as Rubicondo).

In an interview with El País, Sepúlveda had summed up the meaning of literature in his view this way, “Good novels are the stories of the losers, because the winners write their own history. It’s up to us writers to give voice to the forgotten.”

Farewell to the great writer Luis Sepúlveda, who died in Oviedo, Spain, to Covid-19
Farewell to the great writer Luis Sepúlveda, who died in Oviedo, Spain, to Covid-19

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