Argentine writer Ernesto Sabato dead at 99

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The Independent Culture

Ernesto Sabato, a prize-winning Argentine novelist and essayist who led a ground-breaking probe into abuses under the country's military dictatorship, died Saturday at his home.

He was 99.

Sabato's best known work, "The Tunnel," was a first novel published in 1948 that deals with the existential search for self and identity.

It was followed by two others - "On Heroes and Tombs" (1962), and "The Angel of Darkness" (1974) - that also have become part of the cannon of 20th century Latin American literature.

A physicist who trained in the late 1930s at the Institut Curie in Paris and the Massachussetts Institute of Technology, Sabato later turned away from science to become a writer.

Early essays, such as "Uno y el Universo," probed the tensions between technology and humanism.

"I write, because otherwise I would have died, to search for the sense of existence," he said once in an interview.

A political iconoclast, Sabato bucked the country's authoritarian regimes.

He was forced out of a university teaching job in the 1940s under the dictatorship of Juan Domingo Peron, and was removed as director of a prominent journal under the military regime that took the helm from Peron.

In 1984, he led the National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons, which investigated the human rights abuses committed under the military dictatorship during its "dirty war" against the left from 1976 to 1983.

The result was a powerful account, replete with eyewitness testimony, of the country's descent into barbarism. It was titled "Nunca Mas," or "Never Again."

The same year, Sabato was awarded the Cervantes Prize for Literature, the most prestigious in the Spanish-speaking world.

"My father died a few hours ago. I know that all of you share the sadness that is felt by his family. Because my father did not belong to us alone," said Sabato's son, filmmaker Mario Sabato.

"With pride, with joy, we know that we share him with many people who loved him and needed him as much as we did."

He said his father had asked that his wake be held in a neighborhood club "so that the people of the barrio can accompany me on my final voyage, and I want them to remember me as a neighbor, a curmudgeon at times but basically a good guy."

Elvira Gonzalez Fraga, the writer's partner of 30 years, said Sabato had been in failing health for three years and died of a pulmonary ailment.

He was born June 24, 1911 in the city of Rojas, the second youngest of 11 children.