Ernesto Sábato

Ernesto Roque Sábato was born on June 24, 1911 in the city of Rojas, Buenos Aires. He was the son of Francesco Sábato and Giovanna Maria Ferrari, Italian immigrants from Calabria. His family was middle class, as he described it. He was the tenth of eleven children and was born shortly after the death of his ninth brother, Ernesto, so he was named after him.


In 1924 he graduated from Rojas primary school and traveled to La Plata where he completed his secondary studies at the Colegio Nacional de La Plata. There he met Professor Pedro Henríquez Ureña, whom he would later cite as an inspiration for his literary career, and Ezequiel Martínez Estrada. In 1929 he entered the Faculty of Physical-Mathematical Sciences of the National University of La Plata.


In 1937 he obtained a Doctorate in Physical and Mathematical Sciences at that University. And with the support of Bernardo Houssay, he was awarded an annual scholarship to carry out research work on atomic radiation at the Curie Laboratory in Paris.


On May 25, 1938, his first child, Jorge Federico, was born. During his stay in Paris he came into contact with the surrealist movement and the work of Óscar Domínguez, Benjamín Péret, Roberto Matta Echaurren, Esteban Francés, among others. This would mark a pivotal stage in his professional path, and a profound influence on his future literary works.


In 1939 he transferred to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, so he left Paris before the outbreak of World War II. He returned to Argentina in 1940 with the decision to abandon science, but to fulfill those who had granted him the scholarship, he worked as a professor at the University of La Plata, in the engineering admissions department and in a postgraduate degree on relativity and mechanics. quantum. In one of the interviews they conducted with him he said: “At the Curie Laboratory, in one of the highest goals that a physicist could aspire to, I found myself empty of meaning. Struck by disbelief, I continued moving forward due to a strong inertia that my soul rejected.”


In 1943, due to the existential crisis that he had been carrying since Paris, he decided to permanently move away from the scientific area to dedicate himself fully to literature and painting. He defined science as amoral because “it would lead the world towards disaster.” . He then settled in Pantanillo, in the province of Córdoba, to reside on a ranch without water or electricity but completely dedicated to writing.


At the end of World War II, in 1945, his second son, Mario Sabato, was born, who as an adult would be a well-known film director. That same year he settled with his family in Santos Lugares, from where he developed his entire writing career.


In 1941 his first literary work appeared, an article on “The Invention of Morel” by Adolfo Bioy Casares, in the magazine Teseo de La Plata. He also published a collaboration in Victoria Ocampo's Sur magazine, through the intervention of Pedro Henríquez Ureña. In 1942 he continued collaborating in that publication with book reviews, was in charge of the Calendar section and participated in the "Reparation to Borges" in issue 94 of Sur. He published articles in the newspaper La Nación and his translation of “Birth and Death of the Sun” by George Gamow was presented. The following year he would publish the translation of “The ABCs of Relativity” by Bertrand Russell.


In 1945 he published his first book, “One and the Universe,” a series of philosophical articles in which he criticized the apparent moral neutrality of science and warned about the processes of dehumanization in technological societies. Over time he would move towards libertarian and humanist positions. For that work he received the first prize for prose from the Municipality of the City of Buenos Aires, awarded based on the opinion of a jury made up of the writers Francisco Luis Bernárdez, Vicente Barbieri, Leónidas Barletta, Ricardo Molinari and Adolfo Bioy. Casares, and also received the sash of honor from the Argentine Society of Writers.


In 1947, facing serious financial difficulties, Julian Huxley intervened to be appointed director of UNESCO but he resigned after two months. ​


In 1948, after having taken the manuscripts of his novel to the publishers in Buenos Aires and being rejected by all of them, he published “The Tunnel” in the magazine Sur, a psychological novel narrated in the first person. Framed in existentialism, a philosophical current of enormous diffusion in the post-war era, “The Tunnel” received enthusiastic reviews from Albert Camus, who had it translated by Gallimard into French. Apart from this, the novel has been translated into more than ten languages.


In 1951 the essay “Men and Gears” was published under the Emecé publishing house, and a chapter on Physics in the Jackson Practical Encyclopedia. The following year, the film “The Tunnel” was released in Argentina, a production of Argentina Sono Film, directed by León Klimovsky.


In 1953, again under the Emecé publishing house, he edited the essay Heterodoxia.


In 1955 he was appointed controller of the magazine “Mundo Argentino” by the de facto government imposed by the Liberating Revolution, a position from which he resigned the following year for having denounced the application of torture to worker militants and the executions of José León Suárez, in June. from 1956.​

In 1961 he published “On Heroes and Tombs,” which has been considered one of the best Argentine novels of the 20th century. It tells the story of an Argentine aristocratic family in decline, interspersed with an intimate story about the death of General Juan Lavalle, hero of the Argentine War of Independence, and with the tears in the history of this country, such as the civil wars. from the 19th century to 1955.


By 1967 it had more than 120,000 copies. The anecdote about this book is emblematic, which according to Sábato himself, was destined for destruction by fire like so many of his other works that did not see the public light. Its survival, the author himself said in an interview conducted by journalist Joaquín Soler Serrano in an episode of his program “A Fondo” in 1977, is due to the intervention of his wife Matilde, who convinced him to publish it instead of destroying it.


In 1964 he had received the title of “Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres” (Knight of Arts and Letters), an order instituted by André Malraux, in France.


“On Heroes and Tombs” was translated into French as Alexandra, and also into German, with an introduction by Witold Gombrowicz. Continuously, he presented “Pedro Henríquez Ureña: essay and anthology”, a tribute to his teacher and friend. In 1968 he edited “Three Approaches to the Literature of Our Time” at the University Press of Santiago de Chile, while in Copenhagen “On Heroes and Tombs” was translated into Danish.


His next novel, “Abaddon the Exterminator” was published in 1974; autobiographical in nature with a fragmentary narrative structure and an apocalyptic plot in which Sábato includes himself as the main character and takes up some of the characters already featured in “On Heroes and Tombs.” In that year he received the Grand Prize from the Argentine Society of Writers (SADE).


In 1975, Sábato obtained the National Consecration award of Argentina. In 1976, he was awarded the prize for Best Foreign Novel in Paris (France) for “Abaddon the Exterminator”, while in Italy he received the Medici prize for best foreign book in 1977 for the same work.


In 1978, he was awarded the Grand Cross for civil merit in Spain. In 1979 he was honored in France as commander of the Legion of Honor.


By the 1970s, Sabato felt that, as a writer, he had said “everything he had to say about the great themes of the human condition: death, the meaning of existence, loneliness, hope, and the existence of God.”


In 1983, he declared: “I am a simple writer who has lived tormented by the problems of his time, particularly those of his nation. "I have no other title." His retirement from literary activity coincided with the worsening of his vision problems, so he stopped reading and writing due to medical prescription, to dedicate himself to painting. Despite this, in later years he continued to publish sporadically.


At the request of President Raúl Alfonsín, between 1983 and 1984, he presided over the CONADEP (National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons), whose investigation, captured in the book “No More”, opened the doors for the trial of the military junta of the military dictatorship in 1985.


In 1984 he received the Miguel de Cervantes Prize, the highest literary award granted to Spanish-speaking writers. He was the second Argentine writer to receive this award, after Jorge Luis Borges in 1979. He also received the Konex Award - Diploma of Merit in 1984 as one of the five best novelists with work published before 1950 in the history of Argentina, awarded by the Konex Foundation.


In addition, the Municipality of the City of Buenos Aires named him an Illustrious Citizen, he received the Order of Boyacá in Colombia and the OAS awarded him the Gabriela Mistral award. Two years later, in 1986, he was awarded the Officer's Grand Cross of the Federal Republic of Germany. In 1989 he was awarded the Jerusalem Prize in Israel and was named Honorary Doctor by the University of Murcia (Spain); in 1991 by the University of Rosario and the University of San Luis (Argentina), in 1995 by the University of Turin (Italy) and in 1996 by the National University of Río Cuarto.


In 1995, his son Jorge Federico died in a car accident. In 1997 he received the XI Menéndez Pelayo International Prize from the University of the same name.


In 2002 he was awarded the Gold Medal from the Círculo de Bellas Artes of Madrid and the Medal of Honor from the Carlos III University in recognition of his literary merits, as well as the Extremadura Prize for Creation for the best Author's Literary Career. Ibero-American (Department of Culture of the Government of Extremadura).


In that same year, on December 10, Sábato inaugurated the “Ernesto Sábato Foundation” located at 1717 Thames Street in the Palermo neighborhood, dedicated to the care of children and adolescents, formed together with different institutions and NGOs to contribute to improve the tragic situation in which millions of girls, boys and young people live in the world.


In 2004, in an emotional ceremony, he received a tribute from the Third International Congress of the Spanish Language in the presence of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and José Saramago. Later, the Royal Spanish Academy also honored him and in 2005 he was honored at the Colegio Nacional de la Plata.


On February 11, 2009, the SGAE proposed him for the third time before the Swedish Academy as a candidate for the 2009 Nobel Prize in Literature together with the Spanish writers Francisco Ayala and Miguel Delibes.


He died in his home in Santos Lugares during the early hours of April 30, 2011, 55 days before his 100th birthday, due to pneumonia resulting from bronchitis that had afflicted him for a few months. The wake was held at the Defensores de Santos Lugares club, in front of his house at Saverio Langeri 3135.


His death coincided with the celebration of the city of Buenos Aires as World Book Capital 2011, and with the development of the 37th edition of the Buenos Aires International Book Fair. A day later he received a joint tribute to himself and Adolfo Bioy Casares in the Jorge Luis Borges room, by the Cultural Institute at the Book Fair held in Buenos Aires, and the preparations for the celebrations of the centenary of his birth They were already underway.


On September 19, 2014, the Sábato family reopened the writer's house as a “living museum” dedicated to remembering his life and his work.


In 2016, the Deliberative Council of Tres de Febrero approved the change of nomination of Saverio Langeri street, where the house museum is located, to that of Ernesto Sábato.