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Roberto Arlt
Roberto Arlt was an Argentinemarker writer born in Buenos Airesmarker on April 2, 1900. His father was Karl Arlt and his mother, Ekatherine Iobstraibitzer. His relationship with his father was stressful, as Karl Arlt was a very severe and austere man, by Arlt's own account, and the memory of his oppressive father would appear in several of his writings. For example, Remo Erdosain (a character at least partially based on Arlt's own life) often recalls his abusive father and how little if any support he would give him. After being expelled from school at the age of eight, Arlt became an autodidact and worked at all sorts of different odd jobs before landing a job on at a local newspaper: as clerk at a bookstore, apprentice to a tinsmith, painter, mechanic, welder, manager in a brick factory, and dock worker.

His first novel, El juguete rabioso (1926) (Mad Toy), was the semi-autobiographical story of Silvio, a school dropout who goes through a series of adventures trying to "be somebody." Narrated by Silvio's older self, the novel reflects the energy and chaos of the early 20th century in Buenos Aires. The narrator's literary and sometimes poetic language contrasts sharply with the street-level slang of Mad Toy's many colorful characters.

Arlt's second novel, the popular Los siete locos (The Seven Madmen) was rough, brutal, colloquial and surreal, a complete break from the polite, middle-class literature more typical of Argentine literature (as exemplified, perhaps, by the work of Jorge Luis Borges, however innovative his work was in other respects). Los lanzallamas (The Flame-Throwers) was the sequel, and these two novels together are thought by many to be his greatest work. What followed were a series of short stories and plays in which Arlt pursued his vision of bizarre, half-mad, alienated characters pursuing insane quests in a landscape of urban chaos.

During his lifetime, however, Arlt was best known for his "Aguafuertes" ("Etchings"), the result of his contributions as a columnist - between 1928 and 1943 - to the Buenos Airesmarker daily "El Mundo". Arlt used these columns to comment, in his characteristically forthright and unpretentious style, on the peculiarities, hypocrisies, strangeness and beauty of everyday life in Argentina's capital. These articles included occasional exposés of public institutions, such as the juvenile justice system ("Escuela primaria de delincuencia," 26-29 Sept. 1932) or the Public Health System. Between March and May of 1930, Arlt wrote a series of "Aguafuertes" as a correspondent to "El Mundo" in Rio de Janeiro. In 1935 he spent nearly a year writing as he traveled throughout Spain and North Africa, on the eve of the Spanish Civil War. At the time of his death, Arlt was hoping to be sent to the United States as a correspondent.

Worn out and exhausted after a lifetime of hardships, he died from a stroke on July 26, 1942. His coffin was lowered from his apartment by an operated crane, an ironic end, considering his bizarre stories.

Arlt has been massively influential on Latin American literature, including the 1960s "Boom" generation of writers such as Gabriel García Márquez. Analogues in English literature are those who avoid literary 'respectability' by writing about the poor, the criminal and the mad: writers like William Burroughs, Iceberg Slim, and Irvine Welsh. Arlt, however, predated all of them. He is widely considered to be one of the founders of the modern Argentine novel; among those contemporary writers who claim to have been influenced by Arlt are Abelardo Castillo, Ricardo Piglia and Cesar Aira.


Aynesworth, Michele Mckay. Mad Toy, a translation of Roberto Arlt's El juguete rabioso, with Introduction and Notes. Duke UP, 2002. ISBN 0-8223-2940-9.


  • El diario de un morfinómano (1920) (Diary of a Morphimaniac)
  • El juguete rabioso (1926) (Mad Toy)
  • Los siete locos (1929) (Seven Madmen)
  • Los lanzallamas (1931) (The Flame-Throwers)
  • El amor brujo (1932) (The Love Witch)


  • El humillado (1930)
  • 300 millones (1932)
  • Prueba de amor (1932)
  • Escenas de un grotesco (1934)
  • Saverio el Cruel (1936)
  • El fabricante de fantasmas (1936)
  • La isla desierta (1937)
  • Separación feroz (1938)
  • África (1938)
  • La fiesta del hierro (1940)
  • El desierto entra a la ciudad (1952) (posthumous)
  • La cabeza separada del tronco (1964) (posthumous)
  • El amor brujo (1971) (posthumous)

Short Story Collections

  • El jorobadito (1933) (The Little Hunchback)
  • El criador de gorilas (1941) (The Gorilla Handler)


  • Aguafuertes porteñas (1933) (Etchings from Buenos Aires)
  • Aguafuertes españolas (1936) (Etchings from Spain)
  • Nuevas aguafuertes españolas (1960) (New Etchings from Spain)

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