´When an author from Paraguay writes about his village´
Born in Asunción, Paraguay, in 1933, the publicist, novelist, essayist and dramatist Juan Bautista Rivalora Matto spent more than 20 years in exile in Argentina. In 1979 he went back to Paraguay and began work as a journalist and publisher. On dying at the age of 58, he left an extensive literary oeuvre, focussing on the contemporary political situation and the history of Paraguay.
The story-teller, essayist, dramatist, journalist and publisher Juan Bautista Rivarola Matto was born in Asunción in 1933 and, like many other critical intellectuals from Paraguay, spent a long time in exile. In 1979, after more than 20 years, he returned from Buenos Aires to his homeland, where he keenly took up journalism and literary activity. He published work in the daily paper ´Hoy´, wrote for ´ABC Color´ and was the chief editor of the weekly paper ´El Pueblo´.
Only a year after his return, Juan Bautista Rivarola Matto joined Alvaro Ayala in founding the publishing firm NAPA. Though NAPA had to close after four years for economic reasons, he and his colleagues edited in this brief period 42 books by authors from Paraguay. This was a cultural and political initiative which roused story-telling in Paraguay from its village-sleep and left it awake for decades.
Aside from many publications in newspapers and magazines, especially on literary and historical themes, Juan Bautista Rivarola Matto left an extensive literary work, in which he focused on the contemporary political situation and the history of his homeland, Paraguay. For Matto, literature was a kind of resistance to prevalent repression in a land which in the course of its political development knew no democratic structures till 1989. Only in May 1989 did the first presidential and parliamentary elections take place. In his novel ´La isla sin mar´ (1987) he portrays realistically though fictively the military dictatorship under General Alfredo Stroessner. (Under Stroessner from 1955 to 1989 Paraguay suffered the longest dictatorship in Latin America.)
From Juan Bautista Rivarola Matto´s point of view, Paraguayan authors continually faced a situation which forced them to become politically active. ´This involvement is unavoidable in a land like ours,´ he said during a podium-discussion on 24th October, 1989, in the House of World Cultures in Berlin. ´Even if one of us writes a poem for his girlfriend, the problems of our land are there in the background. I have always been a politically committed person, not only as a writer. The whole of Paraguayan literature has this trait and has greatly influenced the people. Again and again it has played the role of a herald and contributed notably to the downfall of the dictatorship.´
Juan Bautista Rivarola Matto focused not only on the contemporary political situation in Paraguay but also on its history. In his trilogy of novels ´Yvypóra´ (1970). ´Diagonal de Sangre´ (1986) and ´La isla sin mar´ (1987) he wrote about the three-alliance war against Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, in the course of which Paraguay lost nearly half its population and a third of its territory.
Yet Juan Bautista Rivarola Matto was concerned with more than the history of only his homeland: ´When an author from Paraguay writes about his village, he describes the whole world.´ (in: Volksblatt, 29 10 1989)
Like many other Paraguayan authors, Juan Bautista Rivarola Matto tried to find solutions to the fact that two languages are spoken in Paraguay. Even nowadays nearly 40% of the population speak only the native language Guarani. For this reason Juan Bautista Rivarola Matto published some of his novels in both Spanish and Guarani.
For his novel ´San Lamurte´ (1986), Juan Bautista Rivarola Matto was awarded the ´Premio Gabriel Casaccia´ a year before publication. For his two dramas ´El Niño Santo´ and ´Vidas y Muerte de Chirito Aldama´ he was awarded the ´1er. Premio v° Centario 1991´ and - ten days after he died in Asunción - the ´2do. Premio V° Centaenario 1991´.