Ernesto Sabato, a famous Argentinean writer, died at the age of 99 today. Sabato may not have been the most talented Latin American writer (which is not surprising since the amount of literary talent in Latin America is overwhelming), but if I had to recommend a single Latin American novel for somebody to read, I would recommend Sabato's short novel The Tunnel.
I don't claim that the literary quality of this novel is higher than that of many other amazing Latin American writers. However, the importance of The Tunnel resides in the profound insight it offers into the nature of machismo. (The feminist in me will always defeat the literary critic, the academic, the educator, and every other facet of my personality, and I confess this freely.) The workings of the mind of a woman-hater, whose main goal in life is to perpetuate his passionate belief in female inferiority, are described in minute and terrifying detail. As you look into the diseased mind of Castel, the women-hating protagonist of the novel, you realize exactly where the horror of machismo comes from.
As I have written on various occasions, I was initially going to dedicate my life to the study of Latin American literature. Soon, however, I realized that I wasn't going to be able to deal with how machista the entirety of Latin American literature is, so I switched to Peninsular Studies. So many extremely talented authors from Latin America celebrate and prettify male chauvinism that it just gets tiresome. Sabato, however, goes so deep into the mind of a woman-hater that all you can do as a reader is shrink away in horror. That, I believe, is extremely valuable because I cannot think of another Latin American writer of either gender who does anything even close to this.
On a personal level, The Tunnel was one of the first novels in Spanish I ever read. I was in my early twenties, and the novel really helped me to understand what informs and nourishes male chauvinism. Many things that I was seeing around me became very clear. Actions of some of the men I knew transformed from highly mysterious to crystal-clear in their machismo. I strongly believe that this novel should be required reading for all young women. There are aspects of machismo that, at a first glance, might even seem (and often do) attractive to many young women. Understanding how male chauvinism works would be an invaluable skill for the life of any woman.