Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Son of Man won first prize in Editorial Losada’s International Novel Contest in Buenos Aires in 1959 and was published in 1960. It was a great success, in spite of the dissatisfaction the author himself felt with the book. In 1960, Roa Bastos wrote the screenplay for Son of Man. The film received the first prize of the Argentine “Institutode Cinematografía,” and it was considered the best film in the Spanish language for that year.

In his novel, Roa Bastos presents his country, his people, and his own experiences. Roa Bastos was sent to military school in the capital at the age of eight, like Miguel Vera, the narrator of the story. Roa Bastos fought in the Chaco War against Bolivia. In the early 1940’s, he traveled among the yerbales, where he learned about the exploitation and the degradation of the yerbales workers. All these facts make Son of Man a realistic novel with a historical base transformed by the magical imagination of the author.

Roa Bastos, like other South American writers, wants to present in his novel the essence of his country—the “intrahistory,” as Rodríguez-Alcalá calls it. Yet the novel is more than history. The author presents, at the same time, his vision of the world, and his vision of man: “Man has two births. One when he is born, the other when he dies. . . . He dies, but he remains alive in others, if he has dealt kindly with his neighbours. If he has helped others during his lifetime, when he dies, the earth may devour his body, but his memory will live on. . . .”