Roa Bastos, Augusto (1917–2005)
Roa Bastos, Augusto (1917–2005)
Paraguay's most renowned novelist, Augusto Roa Bastos was born in Asunción on June 12, 1917, and grew up in the small town of Iturbe, far from a large metropolitan center. His writing, like that of José Maria Arguedas and Juan Ruffo, brings together cultural forms rooted in Latin America's rural spaces (such as oral storytelling and indigenous languages) with literary techniques and trends associated with high modernism. Although Roa Bastos spent many years in exile, Paraguay is central to all his work. He left in 1947 because of political pressures, living first in Buenos Aires and later France after the military coup in Argentina in 1976. He taught Latin American literature and the Guaraní language at the University of Toulouse. Roa Bastos returned to Paraguay only with the fall of the Alfredo Stroessner dictatorship in 1989.
Roa Bastos's best-known works are his short stories and novels, but he also wrote plays and poems. His two masterpieces, the novels Hijo de hombre (1960) and Yo el Supremo (1972), are part of what he called his trilogy on the monotheism of power. "The meditation on power," he once declared in an interview, "is the guiding thread of all my work" (Meliá, p. 130). This meditation on power addresses not only Paraguay's tradition of authoritarian rule—José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia (1814–1840) and Alfredo Stroessner (1954–1989) were two of the most powerful and longest-governing dictators in Latin American history—but also its ruinous experiences in two of the most important hemispheric wars, the War of the Triple Alliance (1864–1870) and the Chaco War (1932–1935), and the legacy of colonialism in the uneasy coexistence of the Spanish and Guaraní languages in Paraguayan public and private life. Thus much of Roa Bastos's writing revolves around the exploration of popular spaces that have withstood colonialism, war, and dictatorship.
In Yo el Supremo Francia, the dying dictator, occupies the center of the novel as he recounts his projects for Paraguay and justifies his actions to his assistant and scribe. The novel exposes the failings of absolute power in the discrepancy between the dictator's dreams and reality by presenting other discourses that contradict these "statements of the state." Hijo de hombre, a fragmented text that has at times been described as a series of short stories, studies power not at its source but by examining its effects on the people. These stories lay out a series of reflections on the conflict between a popular peasant strata and the ruling order. Popular resistance does not take place through open rebellion but through more oblique forms. In fact, the only instance of rebellion is an absolute failure and ends in an explosion that kills most of the rebels and opens a crater that acts as an emblem of the multiple disasters of Paraguayan history. Roa Bastos died in Asunción on April 26, 2005.
Works by the Author: Short-Story Collections
El trueno entre las hojas. Buenos Aires: Editorial Losada, 1953.
El Baldío. Buenos Aires: Editorial Losada, 1966.
Madera quemada . Asunción: El Lector, 1983.
Moriencia . Caracas, Venezuela: Monte Avila Editores, 1979.
Lucha hasta el alba. Asunción: Editorial Arte Nuevo, 1979.
Contar un cuento y otros relatos. Buenos Aires: Editorial Kapelusz, 1984.
Hijo de hombre . Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana, 1990.
Yo el Supremo . Translated by Helen Lane as I, the Supreme. New York: Vintage, 1986.
El fiscal. Madrid: Alfaguara, 1994.
Contravida. Asunción: El Lector, 1994.
Vigilia del Almirante. Asunción: RP Ediciones, 1992.
Madama Sui. Asunción: El Lector, 1995.
Meliá, Bartomeu. "Entrevista con Augusto Roa Bastos." In El Paraguay Inventado. Asunción: Centro de Estudios Paraguayos Antonio Guasch, 1997.
Adriana MichÉle Campos Johnson