Angel of Darkness Hardcover – 24 Sep 1991
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Some context is necessary. Many Latin American novelists of the boom were socialists and sympathetic to Castro. Jorge Luis Borges, of course the most famous of Argentinian writers, was by contrast noticeably conservative and indulgent of the various military regimes that inflicted themselves on the country intermittently between 1930 and 1983. Sabato himself could be described as a liberal, and there are several passages where Sabato defends literature and an authentic appreciation of Marx from the crude Social Realism of left-wing rebels. The time is 1973 and Argentina is ruled by yet another military regime. As English readers should be aware, 1973 marked the period of the false second coming of Peron. As the year went on the military regime found itself compelled to hold elections which the Peronists won. They soon arranged for Peron to return from exile and win the presidency himself with his shallow young wife as vice-president. In 1974 Peron died, his incompetent wife took power and Argentina was soon riven by left wing and right wing terrorists as Peronism's innate demagoguery proved unable to cope with severe economic crisis. It was overthrown by the army in 1976 who scarred Argentina by murdering or "disappearing" thousands of its citizens.
Sabato published his book in 1974 and so obviously could not have known about this. But this is a good period for taking an apocalyptic tone. Early in the book a drunken outcast will see the vision of the Great Beast of Revelation. Near the end he will tell others of what he has seen. Meanwhile Sabato, who was originally trained as a scientist, seeks out the supernatural and the mystical in order to find an antidote to Stalinism, simple-minded "Progress" and a superficial positivism. Throughout the book he finds himself with sinister mediums, some of whom were collaborators with the Nazis. He speculates about the geopolitican Haushofer and his links with both the Nazis and the Occult. The theme of Revelation is repeated, most strikingly when Sabato is accosted by a quack who provides an anti-semitic version of the Gnostic myth. One is tempted to see this as a subtle prophecy of the men who tortured Jacob Timmerman. As he passes through the streets Sabato sees or conjured up a young couple, a brother and sister who may be incestuous. Later on we meet them, and see the brother's disillusion with Sabato's "selling out" as well as his memories of his family's old anarchist retainer.
One of the things that disturbs Sabato is the ecological crisis and the fear of a vacuous dehumanized techonology. Looking back on them after thirty years these seem somewhat unimaginative and formulaic. Yet we should asks ourselves whether this is because we have become too complacent. We may look smugly as Sabato includes a press item that suggests that "all marine life will be decimated or even eradicated by industry." But then who would have thought that overfishing would destroy the Atlantic cod fishery? So one should be careful as one reads about a man whose entire body used to belong to other people, or the surreal nightmare of ads where Sabato is engaged to a television celebrity with Borges as his best man, or the series of press clippings which discuss a lynching, police courses on torture, Thor Heyerdahl confronted with pollution, a horrific abortion and an account of Hiroshima. Argentina started out the last century as the most "progressive" country in Latin America, the one most likely to join the European core of wealthy nations. But since the first world war it has faced relative decline, economic crisis and dictatorship. Over the past few decades the same hollow promise has been made to many other third world countries. So when at the end Sabato's friend speculates on death and the death of those close to him, there is something meaningul when he comments "that one day everything will be past and gone, forgotten, obliterated, even the formidable walls and the great moat that encircled the impregnable fortress."
His protagonists have different divulging paths that seem to be unrelated. These characters explore the triumphs and falls of the human experience. One experiences a dark vision, one is taken hostage, and another is on a quest to reconnect with his friend Sabato.
In the end they have peace. As Sabato writes in this book, "The inevitable fate of every person who is born to die; peace, because we are all alone captures the essence of life itself.
A morose story of the enduring guilt and contemplation of the Latin psyche, The Angel of Darkness by Ernesto Sabato shares a raw peek into true portrait of a people.