The life and works of José Martí form the subject of more and more studies, as exiles and fidelistas argue over who better represents the great patriot’s ideals. The exile M. Márquez Sterling’s recent work exemplifies the polemic now being waged over Martí’s grave. Here Fryda Schultz de Mantovani has attempted to give the reader a brief, objective summary of Martí’s life as well as a sample of his work without becoming involved in contemporary political polemics.
The author commences her work with a chronology followed by a written summary of Martí’s life. She then includes literary appreciations of Martí’s work by Juan Ramón Jiménez and Rubén Darío. The selections that compose the bulk of her book include samplings from both the literary and political dimensions of Martí’s works. She includes Martí’s literary essays on Walt Whitman, Cecilio Acosta, and Alexander Pushkin, plus excerpts from Ismaelillo and Versos Sencillos. From Martí’s many studies of life in the United States she has selected the essays “Brooklyn Bridge,” “Celebration of the Statue of Liberty,” and “Education in a Foreign Country,” along with Martí’s dispatches on the Washington Conference to La Nación of Buenos Aires. The book concludes with more appreciations of Martí’s work and a comprehensive bibliography. The text is enhanced with artfully placed, attractive photographs.
Despite the quantity of material offered here, many aspects of Martí’s work are absent. To be fair to the author one must admit the vast scope of Martí’s Obras completas, which forces any anthologist to make difficult choices. Unfortunately, Fryda Schultz de Mantovani cannot, adequately present both literary and political dimensions of Martí’s writing. She places great emphasis on the literary, but omits most of Martí’s important political programs. For instance, she mentions Martí’s meeting with Antonio Maceo and Máximo Gómez in 1884, yet fails to cover the vital dispute between them over the future composition of the Cuban government, a dispute which led to Martí’s temporary break with his fellow revolutionaries. Her selection of tepid dispatches on the Washington Conference is also disappointing. Much better would have been some of the penetrating letters written by Martí to the Argentine delegation or to his fellow Cuban, Gonzalo de Quesada; these give a much more intimate view into Martí’s thoughts than the news dispatches.
In 1891 Martí served as the Uruguayan representative at the First American International Monetary Conference. According to his biographer, Manuel Pedro González, he was instrumental in thwarting Secretary of State James G. Blaine’s plan for hemispheric bi-metalism; yet there is no mention of this important confrontation in the Mantovani anthology. The selections on life in the United States hardly begin to do justice to Martí as the foremost Latin American critic and interpreter of United States customs and attitudes in the 1880s. Also the author has unfortunately omitted excerpts from the Tampa speeches of 1892, “Con todos y para el bien de todos” and “Los pinos nuevos.” Here Martí, the apostle of Cuban independence, outlined some of his most important programs including freedom for the blacks and the ideal so significant in today’s Cuba; “Morir por la patria es vivir.”
In summary, this book is a laudable effort to capsulize the life and work of Martí. Yet it can serve only those with the slightest and most superficial interest in the subject. The serious student must consult the biographies by Richard Gray, Jorge Manach, or Ezequiel Martínez Estrada.