“Pillar of Salt: An Autobiography, with 19 Erotic Sonnets” by Salvador Novo (translated by Marguerite Feitlowitz— A Memoir

pillar of salt

Novo, Salvador. “Pillar of Salt: An Autobiography, with 19 Erotic Sonnets”,  (Texas Pan American Literature in Translation Series), translated by Marguerite Feitlowitz, University of Texas Press, 2014.

 

A Memoir

Amos Lassen

 Salvador Novo (1904–1974) was “a provocative and prolific cultural presence in Mexico City through much of the twentieth century”. He and his friend and fellow poet Xavier Villaurrutia cofounded “Ulises and Contemporáneos” that were landmark avant-garde journals of the late 1920s and 1930s. He was both an outsider and an insider and  held high posts at the Ministries of Culture and Public Education. He also wrote volumes about Mexican history, politics, literature, and culture. The author of numerous collections of poems, including “XX poemas”, “Nuevo amor”, “Espejo”, “Dueño mío”, and “Poesía 1915–1955”.  Novo is a considered one of the finest and most original prose stylists of his generation.

This book is his memoir and tells of his growing up during and after the Mexican Revolution; running to the north to escape the Zapatistas and seeing his uncle murdered at home by the troops of Pancho Villa. We read of his “initiations into literature and love with colorful, poignant, complicated men of usually mutually exclusive social classes”. “Pillar of Salt” portrays the codes, intrigues, and dynamics of what, decades later, would be called “a gay ghetto.”  However in the Mexico City that Novo lived in there was no way to distinguish his gay universe—-gay people were  as fearful as they were vibrant. But in Novo’s Mexico City, there was no name for this parallel universe, as full of fear as it was canny and vibrant. Novo shows us the subtleties of this world  honestly and with sensitivity as well as with humor. We also get a special bonus of nineteen of his erotic sonnets that were believed lost.

‘s memoir plumbs the intricate subtleties of this world with startling frankness, sensitivity, and potential for hilarity. Also included in this volume are nineteen erotic sonnets, one of which was long thought to have been lost.

Novo was a regular player in the city’s underground gay world and here he shares his passions, literarily and otherwise. We read of the codes and intrigues that gay men were forced to use back then. Novo is both candid and conversational and he shares a piece of history as related from the mind of an intellectual who would become a famous poet and writer. He never hid his sexuality and this was at a time that being gay brought danger.

This book is finally being published in English some 60 years after it was written and in it we see just how far society has come yet it also reminds us that we are away from home. We also see the bravery of a man as he faced a brutal world.

There adventures here too—Novo’s coming-of-age, his inventiveness and his sheer nerve to be who he was. He was a made who demanded honor and hated hypocrisy. Here is your chance to meet him.

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