Sábato, Ernesto 1911–

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Sábato, Ernesto 1911–

(Ernesto R. Sabato)

PERSONAL: Born June 24, 1911, in Rojas, Argentina; son of Francisco Sabato (a mill owner) and Juana Ferrari; married Matilde Kusminsky-Richter, 1936; children: Jorge Federico, Mario. Education: National University of La Plata, Ph.D., 1937; additional study at Joliot-Curie Laboratory (Paris, France), 1938, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1939.

ADDRESSES: Home—1676 Santos Lugares, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Office—Langeri 3135, Santos Lugares, Argentina.

CAREER: National University of La Plata, La Plata, Argentina, professor of theoretical physics, 1940–43; novelist and essayist, 1943–. Guest lecturer at universities throughout the United States and Europe. Chairman of National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons (Argentina), 1983.

AWARDS, HONORS: Argentine Association for the Progress of Science fellowship in Paris, 1937; sash of honor from Argentine Writers Society and Municipal Prose prize from the City of Buenos Aires, both 1945, both for Uno y el universo; prize from the Institute of Foreign Relations (West Germany; now Germany), 1973; Grand Prize of Honor from the Argentine Writers Society, from Premio Consagracion Nacional (Argentina), and from Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres (France), all 1974; Prix au Meilleur Livre Etranger (Paris), 1977, for Abaddon, el Exterminador; Gran Cruz al Merito Civil (Spain) and Chevalier de la Legion D'Honneur (France), both 1979; Gabriela Mistral Prize from Organization of American States, 1984; Miguel de Cervantes Prize from the Spanish Ministry of Culture, 1985; Commandeur de la Legion d'Honneur (France), 1987; Jerusalem Literary Prize, Wolf Foundation, 1989, medal of honor, 2002.



El tunel, Sur, 1948, translation by Harriet de Onis published as The Outsider, Knopf, 1950, translation by Margaret Sayers Peden published as The Tunnel, Ballantine, 1988.

Sobre heroes y tumbas, Fabril, 1961, reprinted, Seix Barral, 1981, excerpt published as Un dios desconocido: Romance de la muerte de Juan Lavalle (de "Sobre heroes y tumbas"), A.S. Dabini, 1980, translation by Stuart M. Gross of another excerpt published as Report on the Blind in TriQuar-terly, Fall-Winter, 1968–69, translation by Helen Lane of entire novel published as On Heroes and Tombs, David Godine, 1981.

Abaddon, el Exterminador (title means "Abaddon, The Exterminator"), Sudamericana, 1974, revised edition, Seix Barral, 1978, translation by Andrew Hurley published as The Angel of Darkness, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1991.

(With Leon Benaros) Eduardo Falu, Ediciones Jucar, 1974.


Uno y el universo (title means "One and the Universe"), Sudamericana, 1945.

Hombres y engranajes (title means "Men and Gears"), Emece, 1951, reprinted, 1985.

Heterodoxia (title means "Heterodoxy"), Emece, 1953.

El otro rostro del peronismo: Carta abierta a Mario Amadeo (title means "The Other Face of Peronism: Open Letter to Mario Amadeo"), Lopez, 1956.

El caso Sabato: Torturas y libertad de prensa—Carta abierta al Gral. Aramburu (title means "Sabato's Case: Torture and Freedom of the Press—Open Letter to General Aramburu"), privately printed, 1956.

Tango: Discusion y clave (title means "Tango: Discussion and Key"), Losada, 1963.

El escritor y sus fantasmas (title means "The Writer and His Ghosts"), Aguilar, 1963, revised edition, Seix Barral, 1979.

(Coeditor with Ernesto Schoo) Antonio Berni, Ramona Montiel, Editorial "El Mate," 1966.

Tres aproximaciones a la literatura de nuestro tiempo: Robbe-Grillet, Borges, Sartre (title means "Approaches to the Literature of Our Time …"; essays), Universitaria (Chile), 1968, German translation as Sartre gegen Sartre: 3 Essays, translated by Wolfgang A. Luchting, Limes-Verlag, 1974.

La convulsion politica y social de nuestro tiempo (title means "The Political and Social Upheaval of Our Time"), Edicom, 1969.

Ernesto Sabato: Claves politicas (title means "Ernesto Sabato: Political Clues"), Alonso, 1971.

La cultura en la encrucijada nacional (title means "Culture in the National Crossroads"), Ediciones de Crisis, 1973.

(With Jorge Luis Borges) Dialogos (title means "Dialogues"), Emece, 1976.

El Escritor y la crisis contemporánea, Edit. Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana, 1976, English translation as The Writer in the Catastrophe of Our Time, translated by Asa Zatz, Council Oak Books/Hecate, University of Oklahoma, 1990.

Apologias y rechazos (title means "Apologies and Rejections"), Seix Barral, 1979.

(Editor) Francisco Uzal, Nacion, sionismo y masoneria Corregidor, 1980.

La robotizacion del hombre y otras paginas de ficcion y reflexion (title means "The Robotization of Man and Other Pages of Fiction and Reflection"), Centro Editorial del America Latina, 1981.

Sabato oral, edited by Mario Paoletti, Ediciones Cultura Hispanica del Instituto de Cooperacion Iberoamericana, 1984.

Entre la letra y la sangre: converaciones con Carlos Catania, Seix Barral, 1988.

La Mejor de Ernesto Sabato, Seix Barral, 1989.

El Pintor Ernesto Sabato, Agencia Espanola de Cooperacion Internacional, 1991.

The Writer in the Catastrophe of Our Time, Council Oak Books, 1990.

Informe Sobre Ciegos, Anaya & M. Muchnik, 1994.

(With others) Liber Fridman: pinturas, Ediciones de Arte Gaglianone, 1995.

(With others) Libros, personas, vida: Daniel Divinsky/Kuki Miler y Ediciones de la Flor, Buenos Aires, 1967–1997, Universidad de Guadalajaro, 1997.

Antes del fin, Seix Barral, 1998.

(Compiler with Elvira Gonzalez Fraga) Cuentos que me apasionaron, (two volumes), Planeta, 1999–2000.

Medio siglo con Sabato: entrevistas, edited by Julia Constenla, J. Vergara Editor, 2000.

La Resistencia, Seix Barral, 2000.


Obras de ficcion (title means "Works of Fiction"; contains El tunel and Sobre heroes y tumbas), Losada, 1966.

Itinerario (title means "Itinerary"; selections from Sabato's novels and essays), Sur, 1969.

Obras: Ensayos (title means "Works: Essays"), Losada, 1970.

Paginas vivas (title means "Living Pages"), Kapelusz, 1974.

Antologia (title means "Anthology"), Libreria del Colegio, 1975.

Narrativa completa (title means "Complete Narrative"), Seix Barral, 1982.

Paginas de Ernesto Sabato (title means "Pages from Ernesto Sabato"), Celtia (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1983.


(Translator with Margarita Heiberg de Bose) Kurt Lipfert, La Television: una breve exposicion del estado actual de la tecnica de la television = Das Fernschen, Espasa-Calpe Argentina, 1940.

Nacimiento y muerte del sol: evolucion estelar y energia intraatomica = Birth and Death of the Sun, Espasa-Calpe Argentina, 1942.

(Translator) Bertrand Russell, El A.B.C. de le relatividad = The ABC of Relativity, Ediciones Iman, 1943.

(Editor) Mitomagia: Los temas del misterio (title means "Mitomagia: Themes of the Mysterious"), Ediciones Latinoamericanas, 1969.

(Author of introduction) Testimonios: Chile, septiembre, 1973 (title means "Eyewitness Accounts: Chile, September, 1973"), Jus, 1973.

(With Antonio Berni) Cuatro hombres de pueblo, Libreria de la Ciudad, 1979.

(Editor with Anneliese von der Lipper) Viaje a los mundos imaginarios, Legasa, 1983.

Creación y tragedia: la esperanza ante la crísis: conferencia, Fundación José Manuel Lara (Seville, Spain), 2002.

España en los diarios de mi vejez, Seix Barral (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 2004.

Contributor to Sur and other periodicals.

SIDELIGHTS: When one considers that Argentine novelist and essayist Ernesto Sábato published only three novels, the impact he had on Hispanic literature is remarkable: His first novel, The Tunnel, was a best-seller in his native land; his second work of fiction, On Heroes and Tombs, according to Emir Rodriguez Monegal in the Borzoi Anthology of Latin American Literature, "became one of the most popular contemporary novels in Latin America." Abaddon, el Exterminador ("Abbadon, The Exterminator"), Sábato's third novel, was similarly acclaimed and was granted France's highest literary award—the Prix au Meilleur Livre Etranger. Sabato's importance was officially recognized in 1985 when he received the first Miguel de Cervantes Prize (considered the equivalent of the Nobel in the Hispanic world) from Spain's King Juan Carlos. Harley Dean Oberhelman, in his study of the author titled Ernest Sábato, called Sabato "Argentina's most discussed contemporary novelist." His appeal rests largely in his portrayals of Argentine society under the domination of military strongmen such as Juan Peron and others, with his recurrent themes of incest, blindness, insanity, and abnormal psychology reflecting the distress of the Argentine people.

Born into a large, prosperous family of Italian origin, at age thirteen Sábato left the rural community where he had grown up to attend school in the city of La Plata. The transition from familial life to life alone in an unfamiliar urban area was a disturbing one for the future writer, and Sábato found order in his otherwise turbulent world in the study of mathematics. His academic studies were briefly interrupted for a five-year period, however, when he became involved in the Argentine communist movement. Soon, upon learning of Stalinist atrocities, he lost faith in the communist cause and decided to retreat again to his academic work.

Sábato's success as a student earned him a research fellowship for study in Paris, and, while there his interest in writing was born. Deeply impressed by the surrealist movement, he secretly began writing a novel. Although his writing started to play an increasingly important role in his life, Sábato continued his scientific research and accepted a teaching position upon his return to Argentina. Nonetheless, his literary efforts continued and he became a regular contributor to the popular Argentine magazine Sur. Teaching was to remain his livelihood until 1943 when a conflict with the Juan Peron government resulted in his dismissal from his posts.

Commenting on his departure from the scientific world, Sábato wrote in an autobiographical essay appearing in English translation in Salmagundi, "The open, public transition from physics to literature was not an easy one for me; on the contrary, it was painfully complicated. I wrestled with my demons a long time before I came to a decision in 1943—when I resolved to sequester myself, with wife and son, in a cabin in the sierras of Cordoba, far from the civilized world. It was not a rational decision…. But in crucial moments of my existence I have always trusted more in instinct than in ideas and have constantly been tempted to venture where reasonable people fear to tread."

While living in the cabin for a year Sábato wrote an award-winning book of essays, Uno y el universo, in which he condemned the moral neutrality of science. Three years later his first novel, The Tunnel, appeared. Profoundly influenced by psychological thought and existential in tone, the work evoked comparison to the writings of French authors Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. It is the story of an Argentine painter who recounts the events leading up to his murder of his mistress. As an exercise in self-analysis for the lonely painter, unable to communicate his thoughts and feelings, The Tunnel contains many of the themes found in Sabato's later work. "The almost total isolation of a man in a world dominated by science and reason," notes Oberhelman, "is the most important of these themes, but at the same time the reader sees the inability of man to communicate with others, an almost pathological obsession with blindness, and a great concern for Oedipal involvement as important secondary themes."

The landmark of Sábato's work is his 1961 novel, On Heroes and Tombs, which appeared in an English edition in 1981. It tells the story of Martin del Castillo and his love for Alejandra Vidal Olmos. Alejandra's father, Fernando Vidal Olmos, apparently involved in an incestuous relationship with his daughter, is another important figure in the book, along with Bruno Bassan, a childhood friend of Fernando. The work is lengthy and complex and has spawned numerous critical interpretations. "When it first appeared …," wrote Newsweekcontributor Jim Miller, "Ernesto Sábato's Argentine epic was widely praised. This belated translation finally lets Americans see why. Bewitched, baroque, monumental, his novel is a stunning symphony of dissonant themes—a Gothic dirge, a hymn to hope, a tango in hell." Commenting on the novel's intricacy, John Butt observed in the Times Literary Supplement, "This monster novel … works on so many levels, leads down so many strange paths to worlds of madness, surrealistic self-analysis and self-repudiation, and overloads language so magnificently and outrageously, that the reader comes out of it with his critical nerve shot, tempted to judge it as 'great' without knowing why." Also noting the novel's multifaceted contents, Ronald Christ in his Commonweal review refers to it as "wild, hypnotizing, and disturbing."

On Heroes and Tombs is divided into four parts, the third being a novel-within-a-novel called "Report on the Blind." Review contributor William Kennedy characterized this portion of the novel—a first-person exploration of Fernando's theories about a conspiracy of blind people who rule the world—as "a tour de force, a document which is brilliant in its excesses, a surreal journey into the depths of Fernando's personal, Boschian hells, which in their ultimate landscapes are the provinces of a 'terrible nocturnal divinity, a demoniacal specter that surely held supreme power over life and death.'" In his Washington Post Book World review Salman Rushdie calls this section "the book's magnificent high point and its metaphysical heart." In Sabato's hands Fernando's paranoidal ravings fuse with the rest of the novel making the work at once a cultural, philosophical, theological, and sociological study of man and his struggle with the dark side of his being. According to Oberhelman, On Heroes and Tombs "without a doubt is the most representative national novel of Argentina written in the twentieth century." Kennedy described the impact of the work when he concludes: "We read Sábato and we shudder, we are endlessly surprised, we exult, we are bewildered, fearful, mesmerized. He is a writer of great talent and imagination."

Sábato's third novel, Abbadon, el Exterminador, was published in Spanish in 1974 and in English translation as The Angel of Darkness in 1991. The novel's structure is circular, with the beginning of the novel corresponding to the end of the story in chronological terms. The original Spanish title refers to a character in the Book of Revelation, and the story revolves around a writer named Ernesto Sábato who becomes a four-foot-tall bat and who may or may not be the "angel of darkness" of the title. The plot is filled with nightmarish events, political intrigue, and "a huge cast of eccentric characters from every walk of Argentine life," noted Allen Josephs in the New York Times Book Review. Critics note that readers unfamiliar with Sábato's previous novels will have difficulty understanding the plot, since many of the characters from the two earlier novels reappear here. Writing in the Times Literary Supplement, John Butt remarked that The Angel of Darkness is "a magnificent, haunting, often horrifying novel whose every page confronts us with some paradox central to our condition." Butt also averred that the novel is "easily as impressive" as Sabato's earlier masterpiece, On Heroes and Tombs. While Spectator reviewer Cressida Connolly feels that "Sabato's failings are all flaws of excess" and that "the vast surfeit of story strands makes the plot unmanageably bulky," she also reserves high praise for the novel by comparing it to a painting by Francis Bacon: "You may recoil at the image, but you could not fail to be awed by the technique, and you recognise at once that its true subject is the human condition." Josephs explains that "Not everyone will want to wrestle with this intransigent angel of a book, but the undaunted will encounter a truly hellish match." And Butt concluded that The Angel of Darkness is "a masterpiece of bitter and sophisticated irony."

In addition to his award-winning novels, Sabato has also produced numerous essay collections. Although most of these have not been translated into English, one that has is The Writer in the Catastrophe of Our Time. The forty essays in this collection focus on art, writing, and philosophy, revealing Sabato's continual preoccupation with the meaning and impact of artistic pursuits.



Contemporary Literary Criticism, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 10, 1979, Volume 23, 1983.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 145: Modern Latin-American Fiction Writers, Second Series, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1994.

Hispanic Writers, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1991.

Oberhelman, Harley Dean, Ernesto Sábato, Twayne, 1970.

Rodriguez Monegal, Emir, The Borzoi Anthology of Latin American Literature, Knopf, 1986.


Americas, January-February 1991, pp. 14-19.

Commonweal, June 18, 1982.

Hispanofila, September, 1991.

Library Journal, July, 1990, p. 97.

London Review of Books, January 27, 1994, p. 23.

Modern Fiction Studies, autumn, 1986.

Newsweek, September 21, 1981.

New York Times Book Review, August 28, 1988; December 29, 1991, p. 13.

Publishers Weekly, June 15, 1990, p. 64; August 9, 1991.

Review, May-August, 1981.

Review of Contemporary Fiction, fall, 1990, p. 226.

Salmagundi, spring-summer, 1989.

Spectator, August 1990, pp. 4-9.

Times Literary Supplement, August 13, 1982; May 29, 1992, p. 22.

UNESCO Courier, June 18, 1982.

Washington Post Book World, August 16, 1981.


Easy Buenos Aires City Web site, http://www.easybuenosairescity.com/ (August 10, 2004), biography of Ernesto Sábato.

Literatura.org Web site, http://www.literatura.org/ (August 10, 2004), biography of Ernesto Sabato.

Modern World Web site, http://www.themodernworld.com/ (August 10, 2004), Milan M. Cirkovic "Borges: Influences and References."

ZNet Web site, http://www.zmag.org/ (August 10, 2004), "Manu Chao, Jose Saramago, Ernesto Sábato on Indigenous Counter-Reform."