In the 19th century, even as the free-roaming gaucho was becoming a wage laborer, Argentine literature created a romanticized gauchesco (gauchesque) stereotype in José Hernández’s epic poem Martín Fierro (1872); Ricardo Güiraldes’s Don Segundo Sombra (1926) novelized the genre. Both are widely available in translation.
Distinctly unromanticized despite his own provincial origins, educator and politician Domingo F. Sarmiento’s Life in the Argentine Republic in the Days of the Tyrants (1845) is an eloquent tirade against rural caudillos.
Born in Buenos Aires Province of Anglo-American parents, William Henry Hudson (1841–1922) left for London at age 33, but his memoir Long Ago and Far Away (1922) is a staple of public education (Argentines know him as Guillermo Enrique Hudson). Idle Days in Patagonia (1893) describes his bird-watching explorations.
No Argentine author has ever won a Nobel Prize, but three have won the Premio Cervantes, the Spanish-speaking world’s most important literary honor: essayist, poet, and short-story writer Jorge Luis Borges (1979), novelist Ernesto Sábato (1984), and novelist Adolfo Bioy Casares (1990).
Globally, the most prominent is Borges (1899–1986). Ironically enough for an urbane figure with a classical education and who loathed Perón and Peronism, his short stories, poetry, and essays often focus on urban lowlifes and rural themes, including gaucho violence. Borges never wrote a novel; his most frequently read works are obscure and even surrealistic stories such as those in Labyrinths (1970, in English). Eliot Weinberger has edited a wide-ranging collection of the author’s short pieces, many previously untranslated, in Jorge Luis Borges: Selected Non-Fictions (New York: Viking, 1999).
Borges’s friend Bioy Casares (1914–1999) collaborated with the older man on detective stories under the pseudonym Honorio Bustos Domecq, but his own fantastical novella The Invention of Morel (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1985) is a purposefully disorienting work that director Eliseo Subiela transformed into the award-winning film Man Facing Southeast.
Sábato (born 1911) acquired renown in the English-speaking world as the coordinator of Nunca Más, an official account of the brutalities of the 1976–1983 military dictatorship. The ultimate Buenos Aires novel may be his psychologically engrossing On Heroes and Tombs (1961; New York: Ballantine, 1991).
Son of a diplomatic family, Brussels-born Julio Cortázar (1914–1984) was a short-story writer, experimental novelist, and committed leftist who chose Parisian exile after a Peronist purge in the university. Michelangelo Antonioni turned one of Cortázar’s stories into the film Blowup, but the author is also known for the novels Hopscotch (1963; New York: Random House, 1966), about a failed Francophile poet in Buenos Aires, and 62: A Model Kit (1968; New York: Random House, 1972).
Enthralled with popular culture, especially movies, Manuel Puig (1932–1990) authored a series of readable novels including Betrayed by Rita Hayworth (1968); The Buenos Aires Affair (New York: Dutton, 1968); and Kiss of the Spider Woman (New York: Vintage, 1991), which Brazilian director Héctor Babenco made into an award-winning English-language film.
Journalist and novelist Osvaldo Soriano (1943–1997) wrote satirical fiction such as A Funny Dirty Little War (Columbia, LA, and London: Readers International, 1989), depicting the consequences of national upheaval in a small community. His Shadows (New York: Knopf, 1993), whose Spanish title, Una Sombra Ya Pronto Serás, comes from a classic tango, became a disorienting road movie under Héctor Olivera’s direction.
Essayist Victoria Ocampo (1891–1979), whose poetess sister Silvina (1909–1994) was Bioy Casares’s wife, founded the literary magazine Sur; some of her essays appear in Doris Meyer’s biography Victoria Ocampo: Against the Wind and the Tide (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990). Borges was one of her collaborators at Sur, which became a prestigious publishing house that brought works by Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence, and even Jack Kerouac to Spanish-speaking readers.
Tomás Eloy Martínez, quoted above on Argentina’s cultural resilience and vitality, is author of several novels dealing with the Argentine condition through fictionalized biography, most notably The Perón Novel (New York: Pantheon, 1988). Santa Evita (New York: Knopf, 1996), by contrast, can only be called postbiographical, as it traces the odyssey of Evita’s embalmed body to Italy, Spain, and back to Buenos Aires.
Novelist Federico Andahazi, also a psychiatrist, outraged heiress Amalia Fortabat when an independent jury awarded him her self-anointed literary prize for The Anatomist (New York: Doubleday, 1998), a sexually explicit (but unerotic) tale of medieval Italy.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Argentina, 3rd edition