sábado, 9 de julio de 2016

Hijo de hombre

Hijo de hombre (Debolsillo, 2008)
by Augusto Roa Bastos
Argentina, 1960

Augusto Roa Bastos' 1974 Yo el Supremo [I the Supreme] was so fucking good--insanely good, in fact--that I had a hunch his 1960 Hijo de hombre [Son of Man] was bound to be a letdown in comparison.  Suffice it to say that it gives me no pleasure to crow about how right I was.  That being said, Hijo de hombre is far from a dud or anything.  A bit of a protein shake of some more or less straightforward historical fiction powder and the tonal bite of those gritty, hard-hitting social realism novels Mario Vargas Llosa would start pumping out a few years later, the work effectively novelizes over a hundred years of high mortality rate Paraguayan history beginning with a nod to Dr. Francia's "Perpetual Dictatorship" (1816-1840), moving on to the War of the Triple Alliance (1864-1870), and then ending with an extended close-up on the brutality of the Chaco War (1932-1935)--this last one a war Roa Bastos himself fought in and one Wikipedia deems the single "bloodiest military conflict fought in South America during the 20th century, between two of its poorest countries."  I know, I know--the joys of Paraguayan history aside, what's in it for you?  One good reason to spend some time with the novel is that it offers up a convincing sense of place.  This is clear from the descriptions of the anonymous poor observed at railroad stops--the same people over and over again, all with "caras de tierra en sequía" ["faces of lands in drought"] (111)--as well as the reference to yerba mate as "esa planta antropófaga, que se alimenta de sudor y sangre humana" ["that man-eating plant, which feeds off human blood and sweat"] (130).  Another good reason is that it includes some remarkable vignettes--the scene where a husband and wife trying to escape from their slavery-like existence at a mate plantation only to be ultimately confronted by a venomous snake darting through the air was worthy of prime Quiroga.  And while certainly conventional compared to Yo el Supremo, Hijo de hombre does sport a cameo or two from Halley's Comet and, "como en una gran pesadilla" ["as in a horrible nightmare"] (219), the best, most visionary scene involving dancing lepers I've ever encountered.  In other words, a Paraguayan Book of Ezekiel composed in Spanish and Guarani and published in exile in neighboring Argentina.

Augusto Roa Bastos (1917-2005)

2 comentarios:

  1. Sad to hear it's not another Supremo. Although now I want to read the dancing lepers scene...

    1. The dancing lepers scene certainly anticipated the mighty Roa Bastos at the peak of his game that you're familiar with, but most of the rest of this was rather tame and subdued in comparison. Interesting enough for the storyline but not dazzling at all by any means.