Augusto Roa Bastos
By Sara Hong

Augusto Roa Bastos is perhaps the most famous novelist Paraguay has produced and also one of the greatest Latin American contemporary writers. He was born in Asunción, June 13, 1917. He spent most of his childhood in Iturbe, where is father worked as an estate manager in a farm. His early years inspired his literary choices and political ideals and his fight for the justice of the poor. When the Chaco War broke out against Bolivia in 1932, he dropped out of school and joined the army as a hospital assistant. This experience impacted Bastos in such a way he never forgot about the horrors and was against violence for the rest of his life. It was another element for his literary ideals for later time. When the war had finished, Roa Bastos worked as a bank clerk and a reporter for “El País”. His job as a journalist was his main source of income during the 1930s. He also started to write for the theatre. He began his literary career with his theatre “La Cascada”.

In 1947, he was forced to flee Paraguay because of his contradictions and oppositions against the Paraguayan president during the Paraguayan Civil War. He settled in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where most of his works was published. He published his first collection of short stories in 1953 (El Trueno Entre Las Hojas). His reputation grew and became close friends with famous Argentine writers like Ernesto Sabato and Jorge Luis Borges. However, in 1976, he was forced to flee once again because of Argentina’s beginning of its dictatorship. He fled to France where he began to teach literature and guaraní in the University de Toulouse le Mirail. He didn’t return to Paraguay until 1989 with the downfall of Alfredo Stroessner, Paraguay’s infamous dictator. He was also rewarded the Premio Cervantes by the Spanish Royal Academy in recognition to his contributions to the Spanish-language novel. He spent the prize money to better the education and literary projects in Paraguay.

Roa Bastos’ works are famous and significant because in his novels and poetry, he describes again and again the brutal events that have marked the small, landlocked South American country. Roa describes this country as “an island surrounded on all sides by land”. Roa always wrote and rewrote his novels. Especially the novel that is called his masterpiece, “Yo el Supremo” took him more than seven years to finish. In this novel, he criticizes the grandeur of the absolute rule of the previous dictator, Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia. He wrote that eventually the “I” in the dictatorship led to destruction of the ruler. This novel is left as a historic novel and also the bitter reflection of the monopoly Stroessner left on Paraguay.

Roa is remained as an important historic figure as a writer, not only for Paraguay but for all Latin America as well.


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