This attractive volume on the gaucho should appeal to bibliophiles and dilettantes who enjoy adding deluxe editions to their shelves. Perhaps even academic libraries should possess it. Most scholars, however, may find it altogether cryptic and even trivial. Its purpose is clearly to entertain rather than inform, and in that sense it performs well.
The generally excellent photographs by René Burri are certainly not of gauchos, who vanished most likely in the age of his grandfather, but of contemporary peones de campo sweating at their labors, for the most part, on the estancias of Buenos Aires province. Apparently no effort was made to discriminate among the kinds of gauchos or peons found in the diverse regions of Argentina devoted to ranching.
This is not only misleading, in a day when we should know better, but it is sadly indicative of the sloppiness with which those responsible for this publication and others who treat the gaucho and his successors normally approach this figure. Many generalizations about the gaucho/peon are so absurd that the type is often unrecognizable and remains more fictional than human. Except for the sober and brilliant postscript by Luis Gudiño Kramer, who regards the gaucho as an authentic social type of flesh and blood, other contributors seem to prefer the romantic, mythical man who persists in historical fantasies.
Included in this volume are four reproductions in color from Juan León Pallière’s classic scenes, tasteful vignettes by the folklorist painter Juan Carlos Castagnino, a competent English translation by J. R. Wilcock of the narrative by José Luis Lanuza, and a charming introduction by the gifted Jorge Luis Borges. Does the gaucho survive in the blood of every Argentine? Borges believes so. But I wonder if Borges would agree with me that every Argentine would much prefer to be an estanciero?