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.