Sunday, May 1, 2011


Argentine novelist and intellectual Ernesto Sabato died yesterday, April 30, less than two months short of his one-hundredth birthday. The Washington Post obituary can be read here. An international literary figure, he deserves to be remembered for three incomparable novels, The TunnelOn Heroes and Tombs, and The Angel of Darkness. All were translated into English years ago, and all are currently out-of-print in the U.S., a fact that reflects poorly on American publishers and readers. Sabato should be as well-known as Mario Vargas Llosa and was equally worthy of the Nobel Prize--indeed, he was more deserving than a few recent laureates I could name. In Argentina, he is being remembered not just as a writer but as an important public intellectual who headed the commission that investigated the atrocities of the 1970s-80s Argentine dictatorship. This indicates once again the vast gulf between the status of major writers in Latin America and their status in the overspecialized lands north of the Rio Grande. Can you imagine any American novelist being asked to investigate, say, the crimes of George W. Bush? (The Pynchon Commission, perhaps?) Can you imagine any American writer being named a U.S. ambassador? (Octavio Paz and Carlos Fuentes were both Mexican ambassadors; the closest American analogue would be John Kenneth Galbraith, who was much more an economist than a novelist.) When a major news story breaks, do Americans expect Toni Morrison or Cormac McCarthy to comment upon it? The very idea is risible. In Latin America, however, Garcia Marquez, Vargas Llosa and Fuentes have for decades been major public voices on the issues of the day. With the death of Sabato, an important Argentine voice has fallen silent forever. Adios.

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