‘Mañana is Yesterday’: Local resident and former diplomat Irving Tragen publishes his first novel — at 100
La Jolla Centenarians
“I’d rather be working on something than vegetating,” Irving Tragen says.
That sentiment drew applause from 70 rapt listeners at a recent event in his honor at the retirement community Pacific Regent La Jolla, where Tragen lives.
The event, part of the community’s “Literary Luncheon Series,” featured Tragen talking about his first novel, “Mañana is Yesterday,” published in February.
All the more notable — Tragen will be 101 on May 18.
The book, set in 1972 El Salvador, features three primary characters: the wealthy, well-educated heroine, Leona; Leona’s grandmother; and Leona’s father, a Greek merchant.
The story was inspired by experiences culled from Tragen’s 55 years in inter-American relations, including 33 with the U.S. State Department. Tragen has lived in seven Latin American countries.
“We don’t realize that Latin America … is just now emerging from medieval feudalism,” he said. “When the Spanish were defeated and the countries became independent, they all adopted the Spanish norms of life.” That meant traditions built on the assumptions that Spanish religion, civilization and other customs were superior to those of the territories they colonized, he said.
Leona’s grandmother “is the epitome of that society,” Tragen said.
The novel delves into what happens when the family’s wealth is threatened and Leona realizes she has always acquiesced to others’ wishes.
“That … had led her to believe that [the general populace] couldn’t make a decision for themselves,” Tragen said. “The changing of minds from that kind of an attitude to one in which all of us can participate in making a decision is a fundamental change, not only in social order but in the relationship of each one of us to each other.”
Though “Mañana is Yesterday” is Tragen’s first novel, it is his second book. Three years ago, he published a memoir titled “Two Lifetimes in One: Ele and Me and the Foreign Service” that detailed the experiences he and his late wife, Eleanor Dodson, had while working as diplomats around the world.
Through his decades in diplomacy, the San Francisco-born Tragen has cemented his belief that “change is a very slow process” and nothing happens without dialogue and all parties participating in progress.
“We want to help somebody solve the problem, but we can’t solve it for them,” he said. “We have to create the conditions in which they are prepared to change. And that takes time.”
His memoir, which took six years to write, was inspired by others asking about Dodson, who died in 2005, two years after the couple moved to Pacific Regent La Jolla from Central California for her medical care for kidney failure.
“I wanted to write it all down,” Tragen said.
Becoming an author at this stage of his life is paramount to combating the effects of age, Tragen said. “If your mind stops working, you’re in trouble.”
Further, writing books is a transition from a life spent writing technical, research-based papers related to his career.
Tragen said he remembers one of his high school teachers saying to him, “‘You write so, so heavily that you could never approach a novel.’”
“So I said I’m going to write a novel,” Tragen said.
He is now 14 chapters into the novel’s sequel, called “Esperanza” and focused on a servant in El Salvador with “all the odds against her.”
Tragen is planning a trilogy — “if I can get to it,” he said — with the final novel centered on Leona’s son returning to El Salvador.
“I’ve got this whole thing in my mind,” he said.
To purchase “Mañana is Yesterday,” visit amzn.to/44pWXGW.
La Jolla Centenarians is an occasional series in the La Jolla Light. If you know a La Jollan who is or close to at least 100 years old, email email@example.com. ◆