Last reviewed: June 2018
October 23, 1883
March 28, 1962
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Gustavo Adolfo Martínez Zuviría, known in literature as Hugo Wast, was born in Córdoba, Argentina, in 1883. While still a university student he wrote his first novel, Alegre, published in 1905. Then he went on to become a doctor of laws, in 1907, and joined the University of Santa Fe as professor of economics and sociology. Politics also attracted him, and he served several terms in the Argentine Congress. He was the longtime director of Argentina’s National Library; later he served as minister of education.
After two juvenile attempts at novel writing, he published a serious novel about unmarried love, Peach Blossom, in 1911. Afraid that the critics of Buenos Aires would scorn any work of a provincial author, he signed it with an anagram of his first name, from which he made “Hugo Wast.” The novel proved a success. During the next forty years, Wast published thirty-three books, many of them through a company that he organized. His books have appeared with Spanish and Chilean imprints in nearly three hundred editions, and nearly a million and a half copies have been sold. In addition, some seventy translations have appeared in eleven different languages.
Wast’s best-selling novel, The House of the Ravens, won for him a prize from El Ateneo in 1915. For Black Valley he won the gold medal of the Spanish Academy, which later made him a corresponding member and enlarged its dictionary by the inclusion of words from his writing. Stone Desert was awarded the Grand National Prize of Argentine Literature for the year of its appearance.
Wast’s novels can be divided into several groups. One series, for example, covers the history of his country from the earliest days of exploration and conquest, as told in Lucía Miranda, through the struggle for independence shown in Myriam la conspiradora (Myriam the conspirator), the period of the dictatorship dramatized in La corbata celeste (the blue necktie), and into the future in later novels.
Wast’s training in economics and sociology is apparent in his problem novels set in rural regions and in his fictional treatment of urban problems in others. He had young readers in mind for several novels, especially the amusing 1924 work Pata de zorra, named for a fortune teller who tries to help a university student pass his examination in Roman law. It is for the number of readers whom Wast’s writings have attracted, rather than for any particular influence he has exerted on his contemporaries, that he merits a place in Argentine literature.