ON HEROES AND TOMBS by Ernesto Sabato


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Translated into English nearly 20 years after its original publication in Argentina, Sabato's novel is a trunk filled with primal relationships (sexual, historical, psychological, political), not unlike the South American Goliath-fictions of the Sixties it is contemporary with. On one level, set in the Buenos Aires of the early Fifties, it is a story of a young man, Martin, who is bewitched by a young Lilith named Alejandra; like Marcel's Albertine in Proust (the writer to whom Sabato, with his slowly shifting epigraphy, seems most to aspire), Alejandra is perverse and tortured and secretive. On the second, deeper level, there's a clue as to why Alejandra is like this: in the middle of the novel comes a long, self-contained section entitled ""Report On the Blind""--a man's paranoid/real investigations into the ""Sect"" of the blind, who eventually conspire to return him to an underground-cavern-world of the Unconscious; and this manuscript turns out to have been written by Alejandra's real father, Fernando Vidal. Plus: webbings spun by a philosopher-writer, Bruno; a literary critic's cafe-talk; and interspersed historical flashbacks to 19th-century Argentine history. An ambitious, tapestry-type fiction, then--but there's something a little bloodless about the novel nonetheless. Unlike Cortàzar's Hopscotch, Marquez's J Hundred Years of Solitude, or Lezama Lima's Paradiso, Sabato's book is chalky in texture, simpler than it seems while straining toward a very opposite impression, and more than a little droning. Perhaps the 20-year wait has done an injustice to Sabato's epic, since it has been eclipsed by literature of its type done with more verve and subtlety; but in any case this novel seems cumbersome and hollow, raised more on its Proustian strivings than its real literary achievements.

Pub Date: June 23rd, 1981
Publisher: Godine