I am leafing through Domingo Faustino Sarmiento (1972, Twayne Publishers) by Frances G. Crowley, looking for curiosities and insights. How about this one, in the chapter specifically about Facundo:
The work itself ran several installments in El Progreso from May 2 to July 28, 1945. The purpose was not literary, but political. For this reason, Manuel Gálvez has chosen to consider Facundo an historical novel. (61)
To repeat: it is not literary, and therefore a novel. He goes farther, “consider[ing] it comparable to Balzac’s Human Comedy” (75), which is superbly crackpot. Gálvez seems to deserve an entry in the real-life version of Bolaño’s Nazi Literature in the Americas (his “hero worship of Rosas led him to pen a series of five novels set during his rule” says Sr. Wikipedia – talk about the literature of doom!), so I should be wary of his opinion.
If Facundo is a novel, it is a mess, but it has other literary virtues. Sarmiento has a knack for types. If I am skeptical of his insistence that the types define the Argentinean national character, I still admire his eye for detail and anecdote.
The Rastreador is the tracker extraordinaire; the Cantor is the wandering troubadour, “singing of his heroes of the Pampas pursued by the law” (70); the Baqueano knows every inch of his section of the Pampas:
[I]f he finds himself in the Pampas and the darkness is impenetrable, then he pulls up grass from different spots, smells the roots and the soil, chews them, and after repeating this procedure various times confirms the proximity of some lake, or fresh or saltwater stream, and goes to look for it so as to firmly orient himself. General Rosas, they say, knows by its taste the grass of every estancia [ranch, roughly] in southern Buenos Aires province. (67)
Perhaps. Possibly. At the bottom, or at the top, is the bad gaucho, “this epithet not totally disfavoring him… He dwells in the Pampas, fields of thistle for his lodging, living on partridges and armadillos” (68). He is an expert with the horse and the knife, both in constant use. Although every gaucho depends on his horsemanship:
In 1841, El Chacho, a caudillo of the plains, emigrated to Chile. “How’s it going, friend?” someone asked him. “How do you think it’s going?” he answered, with a pained melancholy tone. “In Chile! And on foot!” (73)
The central story of the book, the history of the strongman Facundo, is the story of the bad gaucho who makes it big, who is better with his knife, stronger, meaner, who is the perfect Argentinean barbarian.
Any serious reader of Latin American fiction should vaguely considering someday reading, or at borrowing from the library with the intent to read it, Sarmiento’s Facundo. It dispels some shadows from Argentinean literature. Even less serious readers should take a look at the first two or three chapters. I think all of the stuff César Aira steals from Facundo in An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter (2000) is in the first chapter.
More Facundo is forthcoming soon at La Caravana de Recuerdos.