Latin Am Classics #8 – Don Segundo Sombra

Continuing my long-running series of “Latin American Classics You’ve Never Read” (although it may be true I haven’t reviewed most of the books in the series – in fact, only Abel Posse and Fernando Vallejo, way back at the beginning of this blog), here’s Ricardo Güiraldes’ Don Segundo Sombra (Argentina, 1926). A boy who is a guacho (orphan) becomes a gaucho (cowboy who lives on the pampas). A gaucho is a real man’s man: he doesn’t complain when he’s injured, his life isn’t troubled by women, he can break in horses, he can fight with knives, he can herd cattle, wrestle bulls; he’s learned the harshness of the world and his only ambition in life is to have a trail of ponies all the same colour.

Plot: our narrator runs away from home and follows the mysterious Don Segundo Sombra, the epitome of gauchoism, who becomes his godfather and teaches him gaucho ways. Much riding of horses ensues.

Weighed down by some pretty hard-going (even, dare I say, at times turgid) books at the moment (Broch, Volponi, Wyndham Lewis, Ernst Weiss, Olive Moore), I particularly enjoyed reading something reasonably straight-forward, simply-told, and which was more about acting than thinking about one’s acts (though our narrator does have pause to reflect at times, particularly towards the end).

Availability: Well, as a Latin American classic, obviously you won’t find this book in print in English any more. You might find it knocking around in old second-hand shops though, because Penguin brought out a mass-market paperback version in the late 40s (which is the edition I have, and I saw another one the same (cheaper, too) after I’d bought this).

Next-up: Well, it’ll have to be Fernando del Paso’s News From the Empire. I’ve done all the background reading, now for the novel itself. (But since it’ll probably take me a year or so, I might squeeze in another before next year!).

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5 thoughts on “Latin Am Classics #8 – Don Segundo Sombra

  1. Well, as a Latin American classic, obviously you won’t find this book in print in English any more

    Good one! Funny because it is true.

  2. Thanks for reassuring me that I don’t need to read this one anytime soon even though it’s mandatory reading on some Spanish grad general exam reading lists. I should prob. finish Martín Fierro first anyway to maximize the gaucho reading experience.

  3. Indeed, it is sadly all too true, AR – unless it was written in the Boom, of course (though even then it might be out of print).

    I did enjoy Don Segundo Sombra, though R – and frankly, I don’t have any interest in men being men and horses being horses. It’s also a novel that describes a specific world and life we don’t hear much of: the Argentinian pampas – the only other book I’ve read about that world is Juan Jose Saer’s The Event, and that has other preoccupations. (Although the Hungarian cowboy novel is an even stranger concept to get my head around).

    I still haven’t got hold of a copy of Martín Fierro. I did buy a book by Alberto Blana Gest called Martín Rivas though, by accident, so I guess I’ll have to read that instead.

    I still might write something about Macunaíma by Mário de Andrade, which I read last year and which I very much recommend if you’ve never read it. Brazilian though of course, though I’m guessing easier to get hold of in Spanish than in English.

  4. Have you read W(illiam) H(enry) Hudson’s The Purple Land, Obooki? It’s an episodic account of gaucho life in what today is known as Uruguay. Hudson, best known these days as a nature-writer, was a favourite of Borges, who described it as a kind of South American Odyssey. In Argentina and Uruguay, where the novel is something of a classic, he is known Guillermo Hudson. I finished the book only yesterday; it’s rather uneven, but the good passages are splendid, especially the several mini stories told by some of the characters in the main narrative.

  5. Sounds interesting Ned – I might have to look out for it. – Don Segundo Sombra had mini-stories – story-telling (of the oral variety, at least) being, seemingly, another important attribute of the gaucho.

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