The Latin American Boom of the 1960s and 1970s introduced Anglophone audiences to a brave new world of writers whose brand of modernism included both rigorous engagements with regional history and politics, and flightier, more fantastical modes of storytelling. Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa was at the vanguard of the former; Colombian Gabriel García Márquez was chief practitioner of the latter. Mexico and Argentina were represented by the Boom’s two other unofficial standard-bearers, Carlos Fuentes and Julio Cortázar.

Post-Boom, it is arguably these four countries, together with late-addition Chile (Isabel Allende and Roberto Bolaño at opposite ends of the artistic spectrum) that have continued to provide English-speaking readers with their Latin American literary fix. On this evidence it would appear that their neighbours are incapable of producing any writers worth exporting. Either that or Man Booker International judge Marina Warner was right when she recently bewailed the “embarrassingly low” number of books translated into English, along with English readers’ “oddly provincial” outlook.

As if in a bid to correct that skewed viewpoint, and to show that the Latin American literary world is indeed a larger place, Penguin Modern Classics has selected as their lead title of 2015 a 1960 novel by a Uruguayan writer and poet. Mario Benedetti (1920-2009) was a member of Uruguay’s influential Generation '45 group – a foreshock to the Boom – and is regarded as one of the most important Latin American writers of the 20th century. The Truce remains a Latin American classic. Expertly translated here by Harry Morales, it is a simple tale about a straightforward man who falls in love with a younger woman – until disaster strikes and wrenches them apart.

The Truce is subtitled The Diary Of Martín Santomé and unfolds as a series of entries from one February to the next – a kind of year in the life. Martín is a 49-year-old widower on the cusp of retirement. He has few hobbies, fewer vices and three children: two sullen sons and a happy, chatty daughter. When not balancing the books or navigating awkward office politics at work, he is out in “luminous” Montevideo drinking in cafés, catching up with old friends, and from time to time indulging in one-night stands.

One day Martín surprises himself by becoming attracted to, then infatuated with, his 24-year-old employee, Laura Avellaneda. As a relationship develops, he stops dwelling upon roads not taken in the past and starts preparing for “that sole tangible future called tomorrow”. But while Martín’s plans – buying a love-nest, contemplating marriage – bring him close to unadulterated happiness, he doesn’t factor in freak misfortune which, true to form, comes out of the blue, kills his dreams and prompts him to rethink how he will spend the rest of his life.

Writers who opt to weave a tale, or fashion a novel, out of a protagonist’s diary, give themselves the two-fold challenge of ensuring that their standalone narrative voice truly sings and the quotidian detail is worth following. Fortunately, Martín’s clean, frank, unadorned confessions, opinions and declarations prove captivating. He writes with Pooterish regularity but instead of self-importance and small-mindedness we get self-deprecation and big-heartedness. We are in the presence of “a sad person with a calling for happiness”, a man who wrestles with God (“the almighty Negation”) and is at odds with his sons, but whose daughter’s kindness and new flame’s warmth and compassion make him feel determined and alive.

Only when a bout of homophobia rears its ugly head do we question our allegiance to Martín. However, it can be seen as both a product of its time and an irrational outburst, and is too fleeting to sully the novel, too light to be construed as an ingrained character defect. Otherwise, we are in thrall to Martín’s candid chronicling and occasional lyrical ruminations: “When one spends a great amount of time alone, when many, many years go by without life-giving and exploratory dialogue encouraging one to deliver that modest civilization of the soul called lucidity to the most intricate zones of instinct; to those truly virginal lands, unexplored, of desire, of emotion, of loathing, when that solitude becomes routine, one inexorably begins to lose the capacity to feel shaken, to feel alive.”

Benedetti has us consistently rooting for Martín. We are eager that each of his days ends with a “hopeful heartbeat” and anxious that he succeeds with his one last stab at love. Intimate and moving, this novel is a real find. If it is a faithful measure of Benedetti’s talent then with luck there will be more to come.