Authors: Gustavo Sainz

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Mexican novelist

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Gazapo, 1965 (English translation, 1968)

Obsesivos días circulares, 1969

La princesa del palacio de hierro, 1974 (The Princess of the Iron Palace, 1987)

Compadre lobo, 1977

Fantasmas aztecas, 1982

Paseo en trapecio, 1985

Muchacho en llamas, 1987

A La salud de la serpiente, 1991

Retablo de inmodernaciones y heresiarcas, 1992

La muchacha que tenía la culpa de todo, 1995

Salto de tigre blanco, 1996

Quiero escribir pero me sale espuma, 1997

La novela virtual: Atrás, arriba, adelante, debajo y entre, 1998

Con tinta sangre del corazón, 2000

A troche y moche, 2002


Gustavo Sainz, 1966 (autobiography)


Gustavo Sainz (saynz), Mexican novelist, critic, and journalist, is best known as a founder of the literature of la onda, a mid-1960’s countercultural movement in Mexico representative of the growing restlessness of youth and defined particularly by a lack of concern toward Mexican national identity.{$I[AN]9810001647}{$I[A]Sainz, Gustavo}{$I[geo]MEXICO;Sainz, Gustavo}{$I[tim]1940;Sainz, Gustavo}

Sainz’s early life was marked by the absence of the mother he did not know until adulthood and the influence of the father who raised him. Engaging his son in adventures such as mountain climbing, Sainz’s father shared his love of literature that eventually spawned an interest in language and writing. Nonetheless, poverty and a broken home were hardships, and the difficulties of his adolescence would later be reflected in his early work.

Between 1959 and 1962, Sainz published a number of short stories. He attended the National Autonomous University of Mexico, where a grant from the Centro Mexicana de Escritores allowed him to complete and preview the novel Gazapo. Initial reaction to the work was negative; however, when it was published several years later, the program’s director and others praised the book and welcomed Sainz’s entry into Mexican letters.

Published in 1965, Gazapo portrays a week in the lives of a group of middle-class teenagers in the Mexican capital. Seeking refuge in his mother’s vacant apartment, Menelao and his friends play out their fantasies through a series of conversations. Sainz employs several techniques to develop the narrative of the novel, most notably the fragments of tape recordings from which the protagonist splices together his own novel. The collage of real and imagined scenes defines the character’s emotional and sexual self-obsession. Gazapo captures the language and nuances of adolescence in rebellion against meaninglessness and sheer boredom.

Gazapo was an immediate best-seller in Mexico and was translated into English, French, German, Italian, and Portuguese. Although its fragmentary narrative, thematic concerns, and youthful appeal were criticized by some as overly trendy, others praised the work as marking an important chapter in Mexican literary history. Sainz, along with fellow Mexican author José Agustín, was dubbed a leader of la onda (the happening). This new literature was a colloquial expression of disillusionment, self-indicting and without solutions. Criticized by some as “adolescent,” the literature of la onda lacked the socially comprehensive and epic qualities of Latin American modernism, characterized by writers like Mario Vargas Llosa and Carlos Fuentes, and the unambiguous language of Gazapo heralded the emergence of postmodernism in Mexican literature.

In 1968 Sainz received a Rockefeller grant to attend the International Writing Program of the University of Iowa, where he wrote his second novel. Obsesivos días circulares, complete with a qualifying self-disparaging epigraph, was considered by most to be a disappointing second effort. The language, tone, and complexity were criticized as pretentious, and the work attained little recognition aside from serving as evidence that the author had broken with the genre of la onda.

More favorable attention fell on his third novel, The Princess of the Iron Palace, which presents the recollections, dreams, and frustrations of a former department store salesgirl in Mexico City. The novel received critical acclaim and was awarded the prestigious Xavier Villaurrutia Prize for Literature. Sainz’s continued success led to a Guggenheim grant to fund his next novel. Published in 1977, Compadre lobo tells the story of a writer and an artist in love with the same woman. Although the work garnered Sainz another grant, this time from the Tinker Foundation, the author himself described Compadre Lobo as a “botched . . . narrative essay,” and most critics agreed.

A string of novels followed, including Fantasmas aztecas in 1982, his most experimental work. Set during the excavation of an Aztec temple, the narrative moves through numerous unsuccessful attempts to differentiate past from present. Though not widely read, Fantasmas aztecas was praised for its wit and depth. His next novel, Paseo en trapecio, was a commentary on Mexico narrated by a ghost.

Sainz has continued to receive the critical praise of his admirers. Rejecting his association with la onda of the 1960’s, Sainz matured as a writer in the 1980’s and 1990’s, and he continues to contribute to the Mexican literary landscape. The process of writing, the function of language within a text, and the role of the writer are recurring concerns in his novels.

BibliographyD’Lugo, Carol Clark. The Fragmented Novel in Mexico: The Politics of Form. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1997. Sainz is one of several writers discussed in this study that links the fragmentation of narrative to an underlying fragmentation in political and social life that belies the myth of Mexican national unity.Fernandez, Salvador. Gustavo Sainz: Postmodernism and the Mexican Novel. New York: P. Lang, 1999. Provides a comprehensive analysis, attempting to draw some general conclusions about the body of Sainz’s work.Gyruko, Lanin A. “Twentieth Century Fiction.” In Mexican Literature: A History, edited by David William Foster. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994. In English, an excellent overview of twentieth century Mexican fiction with some reference to the place of Sainz.Williams, Raymond L. The Postmodern Novel in Latin America: Politics, Culture, and the Crisis of Truth. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995. In his chapter on the Mexican writers, Williams places Sainz in the “first wave” of the Mexican postmodernist movement.
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