“Universidad” by Carlos Elizondo Alcaraz

Hi out there. How is everyone doing? I’ve been reading…a lot. One of the books I’ve been reading is a find from a Little Free Library in San Francisco: Universidad by Carlos Elizondo Alcaraz. Published in 1953, Universidad traces the personal experiences of a young student at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). Carlos Elizondo Alcaraz won the Miguel Lanz Duret Prize for Universidad. I’d never heard of this book until stumbling upon it.

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Carlos Elizondo Alcaraz was born in Mexico in 1924. He was a professor of Literature at UNAM and was well-known for his research and writings about Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz.

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The imagery he creates for the reader in Universidad evokes a real sense of place. Here’s an example from one of the first chapters. The English translation is mine. The main character, Pablo, is leaving his hometown and headed for university in Mexico City.

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El tren partía de la provincia, una mañana cualquiera, se iba poniendo en movimiento con dificultad, pesadamente, con torpe lentitud inicial. Y luego, la marcha se aceleraba, crecía y el tren iba a perderse de los ojos…En los carros de primera y segunda, viajaban algunos bachilleres. Iban entusiasmados ante lo que consideraban como una aventura, como una aventura audaz. Y sus voces se escuchaban, entrecortadas.

—Ya es tiempo de sacar la baraja.

—¡Flaco! Pásame los cigarros; vamos a echar humo. Una voz aflautada empezó a cantar:

“Y si Adelita se fuera con otro,

la seguiría por tierra y por maaar…”.

 

Una cara pecosa se asomaba tras la ventanilla. Seguía con atención los cambios y las continúas modificaciones del paisaje. Con los ojos fijos, la boca un poco abierta y la nariz pegada al vidrio, veía desaparecer franjas de tierra que se movían hacia atrás; los postes desfilaban ante sus ojos y los árboles parecían viajar movidos por el viento, sin sacar sus raíces de la tierra. Hacía el fondo, muy lejos, bañadas en un azul difuso, algunas montañas formaban un dibujo irregular y macizo.

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The train departed the province, a morning like any other; it got moving with difficulty, heavily, with an initial, clumsy sluggishness. And then, the pace accelerated, it sped up and the train would soon be lost to view…Some high school graduates traveled in the first- and second-class cars. They were filled with enthusiasm for what they considered an adventure, a bold adventure. And their voices could be heard, breathless.

“Time to get out the cards.”

“Hey, Skinny! Pass me the cigarettes, let’s have a smoke.” A fluty voice began to sing:

“And if Adelita goes off with another,

I’ll follow her over land and by seaaaaa…”.

 

A freckled face peered out the window. It closely followed the changes and constant alterations of the landscape. With a fixed gaze, a slightly open mouth and a nose glued to the glass, it watched strips of land moving backwards; poles paraded before its eyes, and trees appeared to travel, moved by the wind, without pulling their roots up from the ground. In the distance, far away, bathed in a diffuse blue, a few mountains formed a jagged and immense picture.

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I wonder if any of his books, particularly Universidad, have been translated into English? I haven’t found any so far. I didn’t know anything about the author before picking up this book, so if you’re reading this and know more about the author’s life and work, send me a message!

Images courtesy of IberLibro and Mexico’s Secretariat of Culture.

 

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