The short story dominates Argentine literature. These stories often are not based in realism but in a fantastical realm that examines the meaning of identity and mortality. Borges is the writer that most often comes to mind. But before Borges there was Horacio Quiroga (1878-1937), who unfortunately rests in obscurity (at least among non-Spanish readers).
Quiroga is usually compared to Poe for his dark and macabre stories. Quiroga’s stories often are set in the jungles of Misiones, the northeastern province of Argentina where Quiroga settled midway through his life. Also like Poe, Quiroga’s writings served as a model for other authors. The Cambridge Companion to Modern Latin American Culture calls Quiroga the most important short story writer in Latin America at the turn of the last century: “His terse style, dramatic and often violent situations and his search for the extremes have made him a source for contemporary short-story writers.”
Though born in Uruguay Quiroga can still be considered an Argentine writer. After traveling to Paris he turned to Buenos Aires where he was active in the city’s vibrant literary scene during the early 20th century .
Quiroga lived a life that was as dark as his own stories. Surrounded by death and violence, his father died suddenly when he was young. Barely into his twenties, Quiroga himself accidentally shot and killed his own friend. Quiroga’s first wife committed suicide when he was thirty-seven.
It was after her death that Quiroga entered his greatest period of story writing. In 1917 he published Cuentos de amor de locura y de muerte. Two years later he published Cuentos de la selva, a set of stories for children, which are still popular today.
In 1937 Quiroga learned that he had cancer and chose suicide himself, ending his own life by swallowing cyanide.
Many of Quiroga’s works are available online in Spanish:
His works are more difficult to find in English. There is not yet a collected set of his stories in translation but two volumes of stories have been translated:
It also is possible to purchase Cuentos de amor, de locura y de muerte in Spanish from Amazon if you’re in the US or elsewhere. Of course, in Argentina, Quiroga is pretty easy to find in Spanish.
Quiroga was also known as a good craftsman with his hands, an experienced carpenter who built his own house in Misiones. The photo (from the Archivo General de la Nacion) shows him working on a canoe. The house, located in San Ignacio near the Jesuit missions, is now a museum. In addition to writing, Quiroga was an accomplished photographer who was among the first to visually document the now famous Jesuit missions.
December 31, 1878 ”“ the date of Quiroga’s birth. So, as you toast the new year tonight, remember a good cheer for the tormented life of a man who captured his despair in prose.