Augusto Roa Bastos



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Augusto Roa Bastos (Paraguay, 1917)

Hijo de Hombre/ Son of Man (1959)

The narrator narrates the story of Gaspar the instrument maker and a leper, as told in a small primitive village far away from the capital by his old senile semiblind uncle Macario, one of the 12 children of a freed slave who was later executed by the dictator. Macario refused to tell the story of Gaspar when women were present. Gaspar was a good man, who made musical instruments and gave to the poor what he earned, but he was also a leper. He mysteriously disappeared when a comet appeared in the sky, and then died. Macario says that he had a child, but then he also says that Gaspar died a virgin. A madwoman, Maria Rosa, is also obsessed with the story of Gaspar. The Goiburu twins, Pedro and Vicente, scorn Macario and make fun of Gaspar's memory. The narrator and others punish them, but then they almost kill the narrator in revenge. The people of the village eventually found Gaspar's dead body, and, next to it, his last creation: a naked wooden Jesus. It appeared to cause the much wanted rain, and some of the people believed it to be a miracolous objects. Others, led by the priest and the twins, wanted to burn it. Macario and others had to mount vigil to protect it from the enemies. Eventually, Macario died a poor senile blind man.

One day in another village, that was famous for an insurrection squashed by government bombs and by mass shootings that killed 2,000 people, a mysterious gringo appeared, Alexis, born in Russia. He built himself a hut outside town and kept to himself until the day that Maria Regalada, the teenage daughter of the gravedigger, fell sick. He performed surgery on her, thus revealing to be a trained doctor. The family of the girl gave him a statue of a saint and the whole village started visiting him for their health problems. The doctor gladly received old statues as payment. One night Maria Regalada saw him counting his gold and silver coins, and saw that he had destroyed all the statues excEpt the first one. The doctor started drinking heavily. Eventually one night he raped her and then fled the village. The village was shocked to learn that he had destroyed all the statues (except one) but Maria Regalada didn't tell them about the treasure that he was hiding. Maria Regalada, who inherited the gravedigging job from her father when he died, is now pregnant.

The narrator remembers when, as a child, he was sent to study in the capital, escorted by the family friend Damiana, who was going to visit her imprisoned husband, carrying to him the child he had not seen yet. The narrator was leaving behind his sweetheart Lagrima. On the train they met a strange gringo (the Russian doctor who had founded the colony of lepers) and heard stories about Gaspar the musician who became a leper. Damiana's son is epileptic. Her husband was imprisoned after the failed revolutio. The gringo almost gets lynched when he is caught stealing Damiana's baby. One night the narrator, thirsty, sucked the nipple of Damiana while she was sleeping. A blind and deaf musician, Aguelito, boards the train.

Casiano had been a member of the revolutionary militia that had been betrayed by a telegraph man and bombed and massacred by the dictator's army. Casiano and his wife Natividad managed to escape but only to end up in a plantation run by the cruel Aguileo, always assisted by the police chief Chaparro. The police chief started flirting with Nati just when she got pregnant. They tried to escape when the baby, Cristobal, was born, but they were captured. Casiano was sentenced to death but forgiven by Aguileo. The couple then escaped again, the first one to succeed (after a lenghty adventure in the swamps and a close encounter with a leopard).

Twenty years later the narrator is following that very Cristobal into the jungle. When Casiano and Nati returned, they settled into oneo the surviving coaches of the railway, where the railway ended after the massacre, and slowly moved into the jungle by building rudimentary wooden tracks. The narrator has just been expelled from the military academy after being accused (unjustly) of taking part in another revolutionary plot. Cristobal takes me to the place where the coach lies in ruins. Fifty men are waiting for them. They are ready to join the revolution and want the narrator to train them. Silvestre is their leader. They are captured when the narrator, now identified as Miguel, gets drunk at the tavern and tells everybody of the gang. They are all loaded on a train and taken away. Only one escaped: Cristobal. He is hiding in the cemetery, with the help of the gravedigger Maria Regalada, who has a boy named Alejo and is still waiting for his father Alexis to return. She still keeps the statues that Alexis broke in his apparent madness. Miguel is interrogated by the captain who wants to believe that Miguel betrayed the revolutionaries out of subconscious duty. The one place that the soldiers don't search is the colony of the lepers. Nonetheless they are attracted by the story of Iris, a blonde girl banished to live withthe lepers by her French parents. Maria Regalada is the only person allowed to visit the lepers. Cristobal asks Maria for a good suit because he wants to attend the officers' ball. He and Maria then disrupt the ball by showing up with all the lepers, which causes the aristocracy and the officers to flee in panic. The story of Miguel's incarceration is told in the form of a diary. At first he recounts life in the prison camp where everybody despises him as a traitor. Then he is sent to the front to fight the invading Bolivian army. Ironically, there he meets Pesebre, the son of his childhood's sweetheart Lagrima, who has become a prostitute. When his commandant dies, Miguel becomes the leader of his quadron, but the battle goes badly and they are left to die slowly in the middle of nowhere. Miguel himself shoots Pesebre dead to finish his agony. Meanwhile, Cristobal and the other convicts, also drafted in the army, are fighting heroically. Cristobal is appointed in charge of the mission to rescue the batallion stranded in no-mans-land past enemy lines. Salui is a nurse who loves him. Her story is mysterious. She had become popular with the men because it was easy to sleep with her, but now she had devoted herself to the hospital. Having fallen in love with Cristobal, she joins the suicide mission against his will. He still treat her like a slut but she stands by him and dies helping him accomplish the mission. Cristobal finally reaches the place where Miguel, delirious, has just machine-gunned the last agonizing survivors. Miguel shoots at Cristobal's truck too, that crashes against a tree.

Years have gone by and Miguel is now the mayor of his village. A war hero returns, Crisanto, pluridecorated for his legendary acts. He is welcomed at the station by a crowd of mutilated veterans and gossiping women. While he was fighting for his country, the chief of the town took his wife as his concubine and persecuted his child Cuchui. Women disagree on whether Juan Rosa, the daughter of Maria Rosa the madwoman, slept with the chief willingly or to save the life of her child. Eventually the chief got tired of her and she disappeared, leaving behind Cuchui, who became a street child. The chief took in a new girl, the younger sister of the twins, who eventually died. When the twins returned from the war, the twins castrated the chief and crucified him in the church. They are now in a prison. Indirectly, they did justice also for Crisanto. The people of the village are puzzle that he doesn't inquire about his wife. Equally puzzling is the fact that he regrets that the war ended. He misses the battlefield and the action. But, when he leaves taking his son with him, the other men start talking about his madness. His heroic actions were real, but the medals are fake, a cruel prank by his fellow soldiers. Miguel, who is the new chief of the village, starts crying remembering that he was the only one to survive of his own batallion. Crisanto's madness scares his son and Miguel has to send him to a doctor. Miguel then adopts the child. The final page is written by the doctor. Miguel was killed by a gunshot, officially an accident while he was cleaning the gun (but perhaps a suicide).


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