Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Sunday, September 22, 2013

"Sunstroke" by Horacio Quiroga (1908).

The First South American Master of the Short Story- The Edgar Allan Poe of the Amazon Basin 

Horacio Quiroga (1878 to 1937-Salto Uruguay) is considered the first modern South American short story writer.    He called Edgar Allen Poe his greatest teacher (and he lead a life at least as tragic as Poe's).    He has been called "The Edgar Allen Poe of the Amazon" as he is most famous for his horror stories set in the jungles of the Amazon.   His stories are about people at the end of their rope, people driven mad by the isolation of the jungle,  the borders between hallucinations and reality and above all, death.   

Quiroga's father accidentally shot himself  before he was three months old.   Quiroga accidentally killed his best friend while cleaning a gun.    His best friend, also an author, shot himself after a bad review.   He had several very doomed from the start love affairs and marriages    When he was 22 his step father shot himself.   

At about twenty two Quiroga  discovered Edgar Allen Poe and knew he must become  a short story writer.   He also wrote several novels but his 200 or so short stories are his legacy to the world.   At about this same time he went along as official photographer on a trip with the famous Argentine poet, Leopoldo  Lugones, to  visit Jesuit missions in the Amazon region.    Quiroga fell in love with the jungle areas of the Amazon.   He was enthralled by the lush danger, the feeling of unlimited fecundity, the strangeness to him of the native people, and one must admit the cheapness with which land could then be bought there.   He set up a farm there and did many experimental things no one else had tried before.   Most of them were failures (I sense he was best at starting things!) but they show he had a great practical intelligence not just literary.   (There is a very interesting article on him HERE that details his numerous romances.   

Yesterday I acquired a collection of short stories by Horacio Quiroga.  He was one of Roberto Bolano's favorite writers.   I have read and posted prior today on seven of his stories.   His best known stories are "The Decapitated Chicken" and "The Feather Pillow".  Like these two stories "Sunstroke" deals with death, making use of belief's about death of people of Uruguay.  There are interesting similarities between some of the views of Irish country people in the same period.  

Quiroga wrote a lot of children's stories.  The protagonists of this story are a group of dogs who all belong to the local patron.  They talk to each other.  They know they have a good master and a better life than most of the dogs in the area.  He does not beat them and they are well fed.  One morning one of the dogs see death approaching their master.  All of the dogs fear his passing will mean the end of their comfortable existence.  It was a lot of fun to listen to the dogs talk and running the field with the pack.  Death does not seem to come back and the dogs hope it was all a false alarm.

Quiroga masterfully describes the countryside, plantation life, the world of the dogs, and their relationship to each other and the patron.  The story does not end happily, few of his seem to have one.  The story was translated by Margaret Paden.

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