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Born Guilty

(Hijo de ladrón)   

First published in Chile in 1951, the novel Born Guilty caught on quickly and established the name of its author. Its most important innovation was to treat a subject matter characteristic of realist fiction—the lives of thieves, vagabonds, prisoners, outcasts, and impoverished laborers—using experimental forms of narrative construction. The temporal structure of Born Guilty, which follows an intricate plan, has particularly attracted critical study.

Rojas’s innovations were essential to the modernization of the Chilean novel, which had long been dominated by regional realism. Thematically, Born Guilty gained notice for portraying a first7person account of a man who’s undocumented, has no family connections, and who is unwilling to accommodate his identity to the satisfaction of authorities. With its existential themes and intricate structure, the novel was able to appeal translations. In 955, an English translation by Frank Gaynor, appeared in New York. While Rojas wrote other works, three of which feature the same roaming protagonist who narrates Born Guilty, he continues to be known above all for this one novel.


“Born Guilty, by Manuel Rojas, is the greatest Chilean novel of the twentieth century. The reason it’s so good is because the narrative find its form –somewhat fragmentary– in the urge to tell a story; it doesn’t find it in literary tradition or in narrative procedures.”

— Alejandro Zambra 


“A crowd lives in his novels. New characters appear and disappear in every page. This could be a fault in any other novelist, but it’s useful for him—the best expression of his philosophy, where men equate each other without losing their uniqueness, where fates are fleeting and unimportant, and biography, such a bourgeois and nineteenth century genre, dissolves into an art of life and poverty.”

— César Aira 

“Born Guilty is already a canonical novel” 

— Diamela Eltit 


“Lost into the waves of a make-up memory, that could perfectly be his own, Rojas formulates a poetry of realism, a narration with an urgent lyricism that has the clarity of immediacy, the precision of pain, and the excitement of the everyday, either as a miracle or as a wonder.”

— Álvaro Bisama

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