Sábato, Ernesto (1911–)

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Sábato, Ernesto (1911–)

Ernesto Sábato (b. 24 June 1911), Argentine novelist, essayist, and thinker. The years during which Sábato studied at the University of La Plata, where he received a Ph.D. in physics, were crucial in the political life of Argentina. Since he felt great concern for the social problems of his country, Sábato embraced communism for five years, and as a spokesman for the party he suffered personal persecution. In 1934 he traveled secretly to Europe as a representative of the Argentine Communist Youth Organization to attend an antifascist congress in Brussels. However, after suffering a spiritual and ideological crisis, he severed his relationship with the party, refusing a trip to Moscow for indoctrination. In 1938, on a fellowship at the Joliot-Curie Laboratory in Paris, he became acquainted with the surrealists and began writing. This was a turning point in his life since, at that moment, Sábato understood his deeply felt interest in and aptitude for literature.

After a stay at MIT (1939), he taught at the University of La Plata and in Buenos Aires, and contributed to the newspaper La Nación and the literary journal Sur. At the end of 1945, with the Perón government securely in power, Sábato was fired from both of his teaching jobs because he was an enemy of the dictatorship and dared to proclaim this publicly. This precipitated a second crisis that ended his career in the sciences. Thus was born Sábato-the-writer and his public persona. For the next ten years he earned his livelihood with articles and conferences and as a consultant for the publishing houses Raigal, Codex, and Emecé. In 1947 he worked for two months as an assistant officer of the executive committee of UNESCO in Paris and Rome. In 1955, after Perón's fall and with a de facto government in power, Sábato showed his idealistic nature by accepting the directorship of the important weekly Mundo Argentino. But the relationship was short-lived when he resigned for not acquiescing to press censorship. Between 1958 and 1959 he served as director of cultural relations at the Foreign Ministry.

Sábato's scientific education together with his literary passion created an Apollonian and Dionysian personality. Like Sartre, Sábato is a thinker who uses fiction to fully express his ideas. To him, today's novel is closer to metaphysics than to literature. His novels and essays revolve around obsessive ideas that have conditioned his works and his social conduct: a deep existential preoccupation with humanity, literary creation, and his country. In some essays, Sábato emphasized that a writer should be at the service of truth and freedom. Of his three novels, the first, El túnel (1948; The Tunnel, 1988), could be considered a psychological, existential thriller. The second, Sobre héroes y tumbas (1961; On Heroes and Tombs, 1981), remains a veritable fresco of modern Argentina, a synthesis of his surrealistic imagination and speculative thinking. The third, Abaddón, el Exterminador (1974; The Angel of Darkness, 1991), is a "gnostic eschatology" showing that the prophecies of Apocalypse 9:11 are about to become a reality: our materialistic civilization will end and the human race will be renewed on the basis of a new principle that will reestablish the divine order.

The ideas that are the foundation of Sábato's fiction are expressed in five books of essays that must be read to fully understand him. He has also written numerous articles and has presided over the compilation of one of the most heinous texts in the letters of his country and of the world: Nunca más (1984), which was the report, based on the testimony of survivors and relatives, of the commission that he chaired to investigate the tragedy of the Argentine desaparecidos ("disappeared" persons). Sábato's texts are full of antidogmatic, testimonial, and denunciatory passages, which have revitalized Argentine letters. He has received numerous international awards and honors. At home Sábato was given the prestigious Prize of National Consecration for making the greatest contribution to the enrichment of Argentina's cultural heritage. In 1984 Sábato was a major contributor to a groundbreaking report on human rights violations in Argentina, and later that year he won the Cervantes Prize, the highest award in Hispanic literature. In 1987 the French government awarded him the decoration of the Legion of Honor. In 1997, he won the Premio Internacional Menéndez Pelayo, awarded by the Universidad Internacional Menéndez Pelayo in Spain. He also published several nonfiction works, including Informe sobre ciegos (Report on Blind People) in 1994 and España en los diarios de mi vejez (Spain in the Newspapers of My Old Age) in 2004.

See alsoArgentina, Political Parties: Socialist Party .


Angela B. Dellepiane, Sábato: Un análisis de su narrativa (1970).

H. D. Oberhelman, Ernesto Sábato (1970).

William Kennedy, "Sábato's Tombs and Heroes," in Review 29 (1981): 6-9.

Earl M. Aldrich, Jr., "Esthetic, Moral, and Philosophic Concerns in Sobre héroes y tumbas," in Romance Literary Studies, Homage to Harvey L. Johnson, edited by Marie A. Wellington and Martha O'Nan (1983), pp. 3-14.

Additional Bibliography

Catania, Carlos. Genio y figura de Ernesto Sábato. Buenos Aires: Editorial Universitaria de Buenos Aires, 1987.

Constenla, Julia. Sábato, el hombre: Una biografía. Buenos Aires: Seix Barral, 1997.

Petrea, Mariana D. Ernesto Sábato: La nada y la metafísica de la esperanza. Madrid: Ediciones J. Porrúa Turanzas, 1986.

Sábato, Ernesto. The Writer in the Catastrophe of Our Time. Tulsa, OK: Council Oak Books, 1990.

                                    Angela B. Dellepiane