The appearance of a major work on Sarmiento in Spanish is an annual occurrence; not so in our own idiom. The short roster of English language works includes a biography by Allison Bunkley (1952), several sketches including one by that same author in his Anthology (1948)—and two significant translations: Mary Mann’s Life in the Argentine Republic (i.e., Facundo, 1868) and Michael Rockland’s Travels in the United States in 1847 (1970). Given this paucity, new entries in the field are always welcome.
This slender volume in Twayne’s World Authors Series purports to be a critical, analytical study of Sarmiento’s works which introduces the renowned Argentine to modern readers “from the vantage point of a new perspective. . .. Sarmiento should appear to be quite contemporary, since he is vitally interested in all current problems” (p. 4). Although the author achieves some success in demonstrating Sarmiento’s favorable attitudes toward women and Blacks as well as his “enlightened” views on urbanization and the conditions of workers, it is, in the opinion of this reviewer, historical distortion to even suggest that his importance be determined by the happenstance of having dealt with problems that would remanifest themselves a century later. Crowley’s Sarmiento is a sampling rather than an analytic study. Still, it is a praiseworthy improvement on the Bunkley Anthology because it presents a wide selection of Sarmiento’s lesser known works coupled with critiques by Argentine writers heretofore never published in English.
To imbue Sarmiento with modernity, Crowley finds it necessary to downplay Facundo—recognized as his outstanding literary achievement —while at the same time emphasizing his Travels, letters and assorted newspaper articles. While these are reviewed in a very lively manner, this approach raises the larger question of whether Sarmiento belongs in Twayne’s Rulers and Statesmen Series with Bernardo O’Higgins or in the present series with Jorge Luis Borges. Crowley’s own emphasis—she admits the Sarmiento letters may not have literary value—and the Library of Congress classification point in the former direction.
Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, therefore, falls between biography and anthology. The result is a somewhat uneven and disorganized work confusing for both the specialist and the general reader. Historians may find the biographical materials repetitious or chronologically unsound. Also irksome are injudicious title translations and the absence of journal references in the bibliography. Still, this sympathetic treatment of the enigmatic Argentine author-statesman will further boost Rockland’s effort toward establishing Sarmiento as a major figure in United States as well as Latin American cultural history.