Ricardo Güiraldes (gee-RAHL-days), the son of a wealthy Argentine rancher, was born on his father’s estate near Buenos Aires. France attracted him at an early age, and he was reading French by the time he entered high school. This influence is revealed in the volume of poetry he published at the age of twenty-nine. He spent much of his life in Paris and died there in 1927.
His boyhood on the ranch threw him into the company of the gauchos, or Argentine cowboys, one of whom, Segundo, was his teacher in the lore of the pampas, the Argentine plains. Segundo became the inspiration for at least one of his short stories of violence, published in 1915, and for the novel about his childhood, written while he lived in Paris, which established his fame.
Initially, Güiraldes was influenced by the Vanguardist movement, which is reflected in the two novels Raucho and Rosaura and the travel book Xaimaca. While living in Paris, however, he developed a nostalgia for Argentina that led him to turn back to the influences of his youth. His poetic sensitivity transmuted the crude material of early gaucho literature into the novel Don Segundo Sombra, a story that became as popular with children as with adults. The book transforms the Argentine cultural heritage of the gaucho into a national myth. The gaucho tradition combined with the telluric strength of the pampas create a healing environment for the young orphan protagonist, who becomes a man in the course of the narrative. The novel became a classic and one of Argentina’s founding fictions.
Güiraldes was involved in activities other than writing. He was a congressman and at one time the mayor of Buenos Aires. His poetry is frivolous and mystic, and his stories are romantic and realistic, but his love for his native country and his ability as a writer found their ideal expression in one novel, Don Segundo Sombra.