Ernesto Sabato can be described as the polestar of Latin American literature. He was one of the flag bearers of the Latin American boom, along with stalwarts such as Borges and Cortazar. He is best known for his masterpiece- The Tunnel. I believe this is one of the greatest existential novels of all time. He stands at par with legends such as Camus and Sartre here. He is also regarded as the last classic writer of Latin American literature.
Born in Rojas, a small town in the Buenos Aires province in 1911, the young Sabato was always inclined towards literature. Having studied Physics, he was blessed with a scientific outlook towards fiction in general. He was also very much politically involved, as he raised his voice against the military junta that was responsible for the dirty war and forced disappearances.
Recently I read his magnum opus- The Tunnel. It was a hell of a read!! Sprinkling misanthropy all over, Sabato always evoked the memories of Emil Cioran. Let us talk about this novel now.
Juan Pablo Castel is a misanthropic painter who has a cynicism inspired outlook towards life in general. He is possibly a loner and despises the so- called art critics. For him, life is a huge struggle and death is a redemption. For such a person, love could be a hefty task and the same applies to Castel.
Then one day he meets a mysterious, exquisitely beautiful girl and he becomes enchanted by her. He searches for her after that meeting everyday but never finds her. Sad and gloomy, Castel starts to believe that she could be the anodyne for all of his problems.
One day a chance encounter with her makes Castel bold and after some time, he proposed her. Then he realizes that she is already married and her husband, Allende is a blind man. Then he gets to know her. She is named Maria Iribarne, who also has a misanthropic, gloomy outlook towards life. She warns him that in the end, she will only hurt him so better stay away. The lovelorn Castel doesn’t have any of it, and he wants Maria to be with him every second.
Then Castel becomes paranoid and begins to suspect that she might be having other lovers. Castel also unknowingly starts hating her, and to much of his chagrin, he realizes that she might be having a relation with her cousin, Hunter, who is the arch rival of Castel. After many stormy episodes, Castel, engulfed in an abnormal rage, one day rushes to the abode of Hunter and finds Maria there. He brutally murders her. The story is supposed to be told by Castel from the jail.
This is a misanthropic novel- mind you. There are no beautiful meadows of Keatsian odes. The world of the protagonists are so dark that you would even feel irritated after reading the book. Castel is man who abhors life, and we could even see some anti- natalistic streak in him. Still he loves Maria, who, according to him, can understand him much better than anyone else. He becomes paranoid because he fears every minute that he might lose her.
The main theme of this short novel is Misanthropy of the highest level. This is a grey world of people struggling with paranoia, geniuses plunging in to the darkest of abysses when they could easily have taken another path. Death hovers over everything, with its cold fingers choking them every time.
I like reading dark novels. I like Cioran as he is very bold and truthful. Some truths are very bitter still they are truths. Even for me, this was a roller coaster ride, a bumpy one. I liked the dark theme, but felt sad for the fate of Iribarne. I could only sympathize with Castel.
If you are an aspiring writer, please add this to your to read pile. You will get to know about this great author and will use this book as a stepping stone to other great Latin American and Existential classics.