Argentine Author Ernesto Sabato Passes Away
Argentine Author Ernesto Sabato Passes Away
The author of “The Tunnel” has died in his home at 99 years of age
El País: Fallece el escritor argentino Ernesto Sabato
Soledad Gallego-Díaz reporting from Buenos Aires, April 30, 2011
Ernesto Sabato, the great Argentine author of On Heroes and Tombs and The Tunnel, but also a tormented and horrified man who presided on the National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons (CONADEP), passed away before dawn on Saturday, two months before completing 100 years of age. Sabato, who was going to be honored this Sunday at the Buenos Aires Book Fair, was suffering from bronchitis which he could not overcome, according to his companion Elvira González Fraga. The wake will take place in Santo Lugares, very close to the capital city, where he maintained his residence.
The descendant of an Italian father and an Albanian mother, Sabato is considered one of the greats of Latin American literature not only for his novels, including Abaddon The Exterminator, but also for his ample corpus of essays on the human condition. He obtained the Cervantes Prize in 1984, and in his acceptance speech he described Don Quixote as “a simple mortal, tender and helpless, a wayfarer, a man who once said that for liberty, as well as for honor, he could and should risk his life.”
Sabato also had a wayfarer’s life, marked by literature and his ethical commitment, to which he was faithful until the end, to be closer to “Anarcho-Christianity” than to the active communism of his youth. The writer began his professional life as a physician in Zurich, Switzerland, but he quickly began his literary activity and his friendship with the Southern Group, through which he met Victoria Ocampo and Jorge Luis Borges, with whom he had an unsettled relationship that gave birth, in 1976, to a beautiful book titled Dialogues with Jorge Luis Borges.
His first great novel, The Tunnel (1948), a sharp psychological essay, full of irony but also with the bitterness and pessimism that would mark all his posterior work, was immediately recognized not only in Argentina but also internationally. His second novel, On Heroes and Tombs (1961), which included the spine-chilling Report on The Blind, confirmed him as an extremely original author and placed him among the greatest writers in the Spanish language.
The life and importance of Ernesto Sabato cannot be understood without knowing of his struggles for human rights and his oath against the military dictatorship that governed Argentina from 1976 to 1983, which he opposed despite attending a meal with General Jorge Videla in the first months of the coup. (Jorge Luis Borges also attended.) Sabato changed his opinion of the dictatorship after learning of its continuous assassinations and human rights abuses, and as the journalist Magdalena Ruiz Guiñazú wrote, “he signed all the positions he could demanding that the kidnapped be returned alive.”
After the dictatorship ended, Ernesto Sabato was entrusted by the first democratically elected president, the radical Raúl Alfonsín, with a role on the recently created CONADEP. The Commission’s investigation team collected testimony and minutely documented 8960 disappearances and the existence of 340 illegal detention and torture centers. The report titled Nunca Mas (Never Again), but also simply known as the Informe Sabato (Sabato Report), was delivered to Alfonsín on September 20, 1984, an unforgettable event for the vast majority of Argentinians; it originated the proceedings which condemned the most responsible members of the military junta and sent them to prison. Sabato always opposed the Ley de Punto Final (Full Stop Law) and subsequent reprieves granted by the Peronist Carlos Menem.
Ernesto Sabato suffered for years from strong depression and passed his final days secluded in his home, where he practiced not writing but his second artistic vocation, painting, which he always knew complemented literature. “Reason is not useful for existence,” he declared. He did not want to be categorized into any literary trend: “I have the same relationship with literature that a guerrilla fighter has with the regular army.” Sabato affirmed his belief in man, “although he is the most sinister animal.” “Life is so short and living so difficult that just when you begin to understand, it’s already time to die,” he complained.