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Fernando del Paso, expansive Mexican writer, is dead at 83

Fernando del Paso in Guadalajara in 2007.Javier Hoyos/ap/file

NEW YORK — Fernando del Paso, a Mexican writer of baroque novels who in 2015 won the Miguel de Cervantes Prize, the most prestigious Spanish-language literary award, died Wednesday in Guadalajara, Mexico. He was 83.

His death, in a hospital, was announced in a post on the University of Guadalajara’s website. He was the director of the university’s Octavio Paz Ibero-American Library.

Mr. del Paso’s sprawling novels were based in history and rife with digressions, allusions, and metaphors stacked on metaphors; his sentences could stretch on for a page or more.

One sentence, taken from his second novel, “Palinuro of Mexico” (1977), which follows the peregrinations and romances of a medical student, reads in part (translated by Elisabeth Plaister):


“Grandfather Francisco’s fortunes began to wane and finally he sank in a sudden and spectacular manner — as ships and liners sink, as the Titanic and the Lusitania sank — and his final glories coincided, give or take a few years, with the apocalyptic blowout of the Meriwether and Morrison oil wells which had at one time or, more specifically, on account of the First War, made Tampico the greatest oil emporium of this orb.”

Critics responded to the vastness of Mr. del Paso’s writing with admiration and frustration, sometimes in the same review. The author and literature professor Alan Cheuse, speaking on the NPR program “All Things Considered” in 1996, said “Palinuro” “had all the ambition of ‘Ulysses’ but none of the plot.”

The novel, he added, was “uncommon fiction for readers with truly rarefied taste, a hunger for intellectual belly laughs and a lot of concentration.”

Mr. del Paso’s first novel, “José Trigo” (1966), in which an unnamed narrator searches for a man at a railroad camp, is frequently interrupted by asides about historical events, like the Mexican railroad strike of 1959; his third, “News From the Empire” (1987), tells the tale of two European royals who tried to establish a monarchy in Mexico in the mid-19th century, with disastrous results. But plot synopses do little to convey the scope of Mr. del Paso’s work.


Fernando del Paso Morante was born on April 1, 1935, in Mexico City. He was variously employed as a diplomat, journalist, and advertising copywriter and lived abroad in Paris and London for many years. He was also a painter. As a writer he published volumes of essays and poetry as well as novels. His first published book was a collection of sonnets, “Sonetos de lo Diario” (1958).

He leaves his wife, Socorro Gordillo, and three children, Alejandro, Adriana, and Paulina.