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Argentine Literature

Who are the well-known writers from Argentina? I can mention some of them, like: Domingo Faustino Sarmiento (1811-1888) who was the president of Argentina for 6 years but also known because of his great qualities as a writer. He was also against the dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas. Once he was in Chile, he wrote “Facundo: Civilization and Barbarism.” This was the most important tract of the generation, and became one of the key texts of Argentine cultural history. Strongly opposed to the Federalist Rosas, Sarmiento’s allegory-biography of gaucho Facundo laments the un-governably large size of the country which allows caudillos like Quiroga and Rosas to dominate. For Sarmiento, the only solution was education and he looked to what he perceived to be the democracy of North America for inspiration…

With the attempt to consolidate the nation state in the aftermath of independence Esteban Echeverría (1805-1851) played a leading role in these debates through literary salons, in poetry and in short fiction. Other memorable protest literature against the Rosas regime included Echeverría’s “El Matadero” (The Slaughterhouse, published posthumously in 1871) and José Mármol’s melodramatic novel of star-crossed lovers battling against the cut-throat hordes of Rosas Amalia (1855).
Julio Cortázar, was born in Brussels, in 1914 and died of leukemia in 1980; he lived in Buenos Aires from 1946 to 1951. While he was in Buenos Aires, he wrote something like this ” …De 1946 a 1951, vida porteña, solitaria e independiente; convencido de ser un solterón irreductible, amigo de muy poca gente, melómano lector a jornada completa, enamorado del cine, burguesito ciego a todo lo que pasaba más allá de la esfera de lo estético…” In 1938, he published his first collection of poems. I can mention pieces of writings that he published, tales like “Bestiario,” “Final del juego,” Los venenos,” “Armas secretas,” “Historias de cronopios y de famas,” “Rayuela,” ”Todos los fuegos el fuego,” “La vuelta al día en ochenta mundos,” “la novela 62, Modelo para armar,” “Pameos y meopas.” He spent most of his life traveling. First, he was a teacher and then he became a French and English translator.


In 1932, Adolfo Bioy Casares met Jorge Luis Borges and they became friends. They founded the magazine “Destiempo.” They belonged to the police genre, and most of their pieces of writings were connected with surrealism. Most of their tales were based on detectives who solved crimes, with ironic observations related to Argentine social issues. They both were the best creative writers and produced literary works like “Un modelo para la muerte,” “Libro del Cielo y del Infierno,” and “Crónicas de Bustos Domecq,” most of them used pseudonymous like H. Bustos Domecq. Then, in 1954 Casares’ first daughter was born, Marta, and he published “El sueño de los héroes.” Casares also received the National Prize of Literature in 1970 and the Honor Prize of the Argentine Society of Writers in 1975. Most of his novels, tales, and film scripts were based on classical myths revived in modernity, such as paranormal themes about life and the psychology of love. Well-known titles included novels suchas La invención de Morel (1940), Plan de evasión (1945), El sueño de los héroes (1954), Diario de la guerra del cerdo (1969), Dormir al sol (1973) y Aventuras de un fotógrafo en La Plata (1985), and tales like: El perjurio de la nieve (1944), La trama celeste (1948), Historia prodigiosa (1956), Guirnalda con amores (1959), Historias desaforadas (1986) y Una muñeca rusa (1991). He also published his memoirs and two film scripts with Borges: Los orilleros y El paraíso de los creyentes (1955). In 1990, they received the Cervantes Prize. Adolfo Bioy Casares was considered one the best Argentine fiction writers by Jorge Luis Borges; his work was by majority fantasy that was overwhelmed by reality in a hilarious harmony.
Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) is the most famous of Argentinean writers. Best known for his short stories, his themes are mostly experimental and urban- and not easy to read, like “Ficciones and El Aleph” (1949).


Alfonsina Storni. In this part, I will be partial because she’s one of my favorite writers. So, I dedicate extra lines for her life and a video, with lyrics by one of the greatest singers of Argentina, Mercedes Sosa. I do like this video and especially the poem at the end, “Voy a dormir” (“I am going to sleep”).
Alfonsina Storni was born in Capriasca, Switzerland of Italian-Swiss parents. Paulina, Alfonsina’s mother, was a teacher who studied music as a soprano. Her father Alfonso had started a business in 1880, in which he produced soda, ice, and beer with his three older brothers in San Juan, Argentina. In 1885 her parents married and had one son and one daughter by 1888. The family held a prestigious place in society during much of this time, until her father became an alcoholic and the family doctor suggested a vacation. The four of them left for Switzerland immediately.
When she was four, the family moved to San Juan and then in 1901 they moved to Rosario, Argentina. Seven years later, they had their fourth child, Hildo, for whom Alfonsina developed a maternal affection. From this point on, the family lived under reduced circumstances due to the bankruptcy of the family business. Her mother tried to run a private school with 50 children, but Alfonso decided a small cafe (which he would run) would be better. The cafe failed and their living conditions worsened. Her father died in 1906.
At age eleven Storni contributed to the household and began writing. At the age of twelve she toured Argentina for a year. She was then sent to Normal School in Coronda and earned a diploma in teaching in 1910. Rosario was her first place to begin teaching. While living here she met and fell in love with a well-educated newspaper journalist who was also a provincial deputy. Despite the fact that they had a child together, Storni could not marry him because he was already married. With his reputation at stake she fled to Buenos Aires, where her son was born in 1912.
Storni’s first book was published in 1916, when she was poor, unmarried, without proper connections, and considered unattractive by the standards of the time. Five hundred copies were published for 500 pesos. Her following collections, El dulce dano (“Sweet Pain,” 1918), Irremediableminte (“Irremediably,” 1919), and Languedez (“Languor,” 1920) expressed her frustrations with stereotypes of women. In Tu Me Quieres Blanca, (You want me white) she articulates discontent with the Spanish-American man wanting women to be pure. Or in Hombre pequenito (Little Man), she talks about the imprisonment woman may feel from relationships. Storni spoke on behalf of many women in suggesting that relationships between men and women be intellectual and more balanced. She urged the government to grant women the vote and wrote articles and essays on women’s rights. “La Nacion of Buenos Aires” published several articles that she wrote under the pseudonym Tao-Lao. She became a part of a group of writers, poets, artists, and musicians of the time who together visited “La Pena,” a restaurant where Alfonsina used to stand to recite her poetry. In 1920, she won the First Municipal Prize of Poetry and the Second National Prize of Literature for Languidness.
She took a rest from life’s challenges around 1921 when the Teatro Infantile Municipal Labarden created a chair for her. In 1923 she became professor of “Lectura y declamacion” at the Escuela Normal de Lenguas Vivas. Shortly thereafter, she earned a chair at the Nacional de Musica y Declamacion.
Her fifth collection, Ocre (“Okra,” 1925) and Poemas de Amor (“Love Poems,” 1926), expresses the female resentment for the merely comfort-seeking man. Great women in history, like Las grandes mujeres, and intellectual women, as in Las Mujeres Mentales represent the conflict between the individual and the surrounding world. Compared to her earlier works, these poems are more cynical and ironic and express her ever-growing biting attitude toward men.
In the summer of 1935, she found out that she had breast cancer. She was operated on, but the cancer continued. She suffered depressions. Since then she began calling out to the sea in her poems and talked about the embrace of the sea and the crystal house awaiting for her there in the bottom, in the Madre Pore Avenue. In 1938, she revealed to her son the fact that the cancer had reached her throat and that she refused to go through surgery again. On October 18, she took a train to Mar del Plata and stayed in a small hotel. She wrote Voy a Dormir (I Am Going to Sleep) on October 20. On October 22, she sent the poem to the editorial office of “La Nacion.” While the public read her poem she committed suicide by walking into the ocean and drowned.

Horacio Quiroga (1878-1937) lived a large part of his life in the Misiones area. His work, often short stories, contains quite a lot of terror and suspense and is relatively easy to read. “Cuentos de amor, de locura y de muerte” or “La Gallina degollada” are the most important tales.
José Hernandez is famous because of his epic poem “El Gaucho Martín Fierro” (1872) and its sequel, “La vuelta de Martín Fierro” (The Return of Martín Fierro, 1879). This poem has strongly shaped the sense of national “gaucho” identity of Argentina. You can find the poem in countless luxury editions complete with leather covers. The first part of Martín Fierro is most definitely the most famous Argentine literary work and is a genuine shout of rage against the despotic caudillos and corrupt authorities which disrupt local communities and traditional ways of life. Framed as a gauchesque song, chanted by the appealing hero and dispossessed outlaw, it became one of the most popular works of literature, and Martín Fierro came to symbolize the spirit of the Argentine nation.
Tomás Eloy Martínez (1934-) “Santa Evita” and “La Novela de Perón” are highly acclaimed and are among his most popular work. “El vuelo de la Reina” depicts more recent history of Argentina through the eyes of a newspaper director.
Ernesto Sábato (1911-) is a famous writer and philosopher. His 1961 work “Sobre héroes y tumbas” (On Heroes and Tombs) is his most famous. Ernesto Sábato, who headed the Commission, set up to investigate the disappearances. He wrote in the prologue to the Commission’s report, Nunca más (Never Again, 1984). “We are convinced that the recent military dictatorship brought about the greatest and most savage tragedy in the history of Argentina”- partly in the final moments of the Peronist regime, when the tensions of the populist alliance were beginning to become manifest. (His novella “El Tunel” is also well worth reading). But Perón was not much interested in the small circulation of literature and concentrated his attention on mass forms of communication such as radio and cinema.

Osvaldo Soriano (1943-1998) wrote about the dictatorship and the “Dirty War” in which more than an estimated 30.000 opponents of the regime died. Try “No habrá más penas ni olvido.”

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