A Dream Come True


Translated from by

Published: 11/5/19





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Book Description

Mario Vargas Llosa referred to Juan Carlos Onetti as “one of the great modern writers, not only in Latin America.” A hero to the likes of Llosa and Gabriel García Márquez and a vital forbearer to magical realism, Onetti won the Cervantes Prize in 1980. A Dream Come True, beautifully translated by Katherine Silver, gathers Onetti’s entire body of short fiction into English for the first time.


Onetti’s characters drift untethered, through strange places with unfamiliar people. A woman idles in a beachside hotel during a prolonged convalescence; a grandmother serves café-con-leche to schoolboys resembling her lost grandson. In these mysterious, dream-like stories, everything is gestured at, nothing plainly told. Each offers a brief glimpse into the life of one of Onetti’s vast cast of unusual characters, intimately rendering their sorrows, fears, and joys.


Archipelago Books gratefully acknowledges the generous support of the Consulate General of Uruguay in New York.

In a bold gesture of defiance toward the current standardization of literary contents on reading lists, Archipelago Books has published A Dream Come True—Katherine Silver’s fearsomely loyal, clean, and brilliant translation of the complete short stories of Juan Carlos Onetti....Onetti was free of the continental love affair with abstract conclusions...his sentences never surrender their narrative vigor to aphoristic simplification...Onetti’s stories feel existential if one reads them in a loose way: extraordinarily well written theme-and-variations about senseless lives in a remote South American port. Nevertheless, as they accumulate in our memory, they distill a scary political meaning that contemporary Americans may find disquietingly familiar.
Álvaro Enrigue

Every tale in (A Dream Come True) has the air of a detective story; it is guesswork. Characters tell tales, of themselves and of others; read traces and clues; listen to gossip; gather the pieces of the puzzling stories...When you read Onetti, you will find that time stops in order that you may explore its meaning. And at those moments, life will seem richer and more intense.
Christina Soto van der Plas, Public Books

Archipelago Books’ monumental collection of Onetti’s stories, A Dream Come True, spans over 54 years of the author’s dense and difficult to work...Onetti is never satisfied with any singular meaning...How fortunate, then, that Onetti has Katherine Silver rendering his absurd theatrics, a translator whose vocabulary and rhythm provide the engine of this collection...Onetti’s tone is perfectly deadpan, skewering the malaise of the young and rich, their poverty of thought, and their total indifference to humanity...this collection [has] a truly complete feeling.
Spencer Ruchti, Three Percent

Onetti is an underappreciated innovator of language. His style is bracing, but never clunky. His use of adjectives is staggering...It would be difficult to find a better pure stylist anywhere in the Spanish language...At a time when Latin American artists are reacting to widespread political violence across the region by rejecting fantasy and whimsy and being justifiably suspicious of totalizing, grandiose projects, it is only proper to look back to Onetti, an intensely skeptical writer whose structural innovations never got in the way of his fundamental task: reacting to life, reconstructing it in writing, peeling away the superfluous, and uncovering the essential.
José Darío Martínez, the Harvard Review

Onetti writes unsparingly about cruelty. He separates the naïve from the innocent. The first are irresponsible and the latter, more than victims, phantoms. Each of these fifty stories portray the moment when actions becoming irreversible, when dreams come true.
Elisa, Seven Stories Press

One of the greatest Latin-American writers of the twentieth century...In Onetti’s fiction, characters are forever in limbo, between the world they actually inhabit and the one they’d prefer to imagine for themselves...The first major English translation of his collected stories, A Dream Come True, brings the author’s talents into full view.
Jonathan Blitzer, The New Yorker

An intoxicating cocktail of solitude, frustrated desire, smoldering anger, defeat, and despair, invariably served with a twist. Somehow (these stories) cheer me up.
Edwin Frank, Words Without Borders

Silence and solitude are recurring elements in the work of Onetti (1909-94), who developed, over the course of the twentieth century, an increasingly innovative and idiosyncratic literary style often described as some combination of Dashiell Hammett, William Faulkner, Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus ... one intense episode melts into another, the atmosphere highly charged with inexplicable emotion, the events terrifying and somehow symbolic ...Onetti may have been a pessimist, but the very beauty and startling unpredictability of his prose attest to his devotion to something — possibly art alone.
Edmund White

In Onetti, the entrance to this murky-watered world isn’t through the fantastic or the magical, like some of his Latin American contemporaries . . . His most unforgettable and sorrowful stories—“A Dream Come True,” “Most Dreaded Hell,” “The Face of Disgrace”—are realist narratives that seem to crush the modern hope of seeing everything. There’s a play between the affirmation and negation of reality—a subterranean current that seems to connect his work to Bolaño’s short stories.
Emilio Fraia, The Paris Review

The stories collected in this volume are sometimes slight but more often long and strikingly original, especially in the way time contracts and dilates and the plot veers off in unexpected directions. They are also more daring than the novels...These stories indicate the broad trajectory of Onetti's career. He was a clear-cut fabulist who turned into a cloudy mythmaker, but who stayed true to his primary vision of a provincial town in the winter rain.
Harper's Magazine

In his quest to explore modern forms of being, Onetti also broke new formal ground. His books are complex ... reality itself devolves into a game of telephone ... [Onetti] writes violent, direct tales filled with intrigue and doom in the best manner of Conrad (the writer he most resembles) and even Faulkner (his great hero).
Ratik Asokan, The New York Times

Superb . . . While each of these stories stands on its own, they can be interpreted as the movements of a symphony that must be heard in its totality, focusing on its changes in tempo, counterpoints, and developments of recurring themes and characters.
Ana María Hernández, Literature and Arts of the Americas

In this standout collection, the Uruguayan Onetti, who died in 1994, masterly depicts the seedy disillusionment of characters in a South American backwater . . . There is a hint of Conrad in these misty tales that plunge beyond 'bare facts' and conjure up a world suffused with misanthropy and meditative irony. Readers will be bewitched.
Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

Onetti himself seems influenced by Poe by way of Baudelaire—but then filtered through William Burroughs, or perhaps B. Traven. The inhabitants of his imagined Santa María, a port city much like his native Montevideo, are a strange bunch, many of them German and Italian immigrants who are nowhere at home ... Onetti's stories are enigmatic and elegant ... All are strange—and mesmerizing. A welcome, overdue collection by a writer well deserving of his place in the Latin American canon.
Kirkus, Starred Review

(Onetti's) works, like traditional mystery stories, are structured around a chain of clues, but the deductive method the detective uses to expose the criminal and motive here attempts to penetrate the characters’ inner torments, which collapse endlessly, one into the other, like a series of trap doors ... by 1940, with 'A Dream Come True,' (Onetti) had written a masterpiece.
Adrian Nathan West, The Washington Examiner

Onetti had the strange quality of being inimitable and at the same time creating an entire school of writing. All of his descendants, myself included, received from him a lesson on narrative intelligence, on wise construction, on an immense love for literary imagination, on risk and irony.
Carlos Fuentes

Onetti is the first modern writer in our language...His world is a dark one, highly pessimist, with a vision of the human condition that is profoundly desperate, and which we would reject if it didn't reach us with such a wonderful language...I can assure that, without the great books that I've read, among which I can count Onetti's books, my life would have been infinitely poorer.
Mario Vargas Llosa

Time and circumstance, and the particular bend of prevailing literary history, have all but buried Onetti’s fiction in English. And if left unaccounted for, his work–to his readers in translation anyway–is perhaps in danger of being worn away. Onetti himself once admitted that his reign was not of this world; at the time, he hadn’t intended that to be a warning.
Jonathan Blitzer

Mr. Onetti was often compared to William Faulkner, creating "desperate characters without dreams but who are not lacking in humanity," in the words of the critic Jorge Campos. His fiction "centers not so much on plot or theme or character as on an erratic but insistent inquisitiveness about the stories people step into or trail behind them," the critic Michael Wood wrote last year in The London Review of Books.
The Associated Press

Onetti is an epiphany, a celebration of beauty, of emotion and tenderness.
Antonio Muñóz Molina

Onetti’s writing is so good, a mere sentence by him will give you goosebumps. If I had to sell my soul to the devil in order to write a sentence in Spanish like someone else, I would think about very few authors: Borges, Onetti.
Carlos Gamerro

Onetti’s writing knew that literature is creation, that creation is reality and not repetition or recreation, that it is about finding a good story to tell and then tell it beautifully.
Carlos Liscano