Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Augusto Roa Bastos (1917-2005)

Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Augusto Roa Bastos (1917-2005)

Article excerpt

Americas bids farewell to Augusto Roa Bastos, one of the great Latin American writers of the twentieth century, who died on April 26 at age eighty-seven, in his native city of Asuncion. Poet, journalist, novelist, short-story writer, screenwriter, playwright, and literature professor, Roa was active until almost the end of his life. His last novel, Madame Sui (1996), was reviewed in Americas in October 1997.

Roa Bastos brought to life the history of his native Paraguay in his stories and novels. He was raised in Iturbe, a rural area in central Paraguay dominated by Guarani culture, where his father was an engineer in a sugar mill. Later, his parents sent him to the capital to receive a more conventional education. He discovered the great classics of world literature in the library of his uncle, the prominent bishop Hermenegildo Roa, who encouraged his intellectual development. His immersion into the two dominant cultures of his country--Guarani and Spanish--resulted in the rich fusion that distinguished his writing.

At thirteen Roa wrote his first play and at fourteen, a story, "Lucha hasta el alma" ["Struggle until Dawn"]. When the war of the Chaco broke out in 1932, Roa, only fifteen years old, volunteered as a hospital assistant. The conflict with Bolivia gave him firsthand knowledge of the dangers of extreme nationalism and of human beings' capacity for brutality. This experience would color his political. convictions as well as his writing. The following year he abandoned his studies to work as an administrative assistant in a bank and write for the Paraguayan newspaper El Pais.

He also began to compose poetry. He was an influential member of a young group of poets striving to invigorate Paraguayan poetry through an amalgam of Guarani oral traditions and international trends. In 1942, Roa published a collection of poems, El ruisenor de la aurora [The Nightingale of Dawn], and other collections followed. During this period he continued to write plays and fiction and also continued his work for El Pais.

In 1945, Roa was awarded a British Council scholarship, which enabled trim to travel in England. He continued working for El Pais, now as a foreign correspondent in London and Pans, and at the end of World War II, interviewed Charles de Gaulle. He also wrote and broadcast his impressions of England, published as La Inglaterra que yo vi [The England I Saw]. …

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