Like Vargas Llosa's previous book, The War of the End of the World, this (far-more-readable) novel uses the illusions of revolution as its text and pretext: the subject is the reconstruction of the life and the impulses of a small-time Peruvian Trotskyite who got involved only once—but disastrously—in action. Written first as a series of interviews that a novelist-narrator is holding with those who knew the revolutionary manque Alejandro Mayta; and then by dint of artful pleating (you realize gradually that the contemplated work of fiction has begun without announcement, through a series of unmarked transitions), the book covers Mayta's tragic/comic life: his silly ideologies, abstruse and harmless; then his fateful meeting with a dubious Army lieutenant, Vallejos (who is perhaps a provocateur); Mayta's putative homosexuality; his decision to engage in an obviously doomed robbery of a small bank in a distant Andes backwater; the fiasco that ensues; capture and thereafter. Mayta, so marginal as to be nearly invisible, seems smaller the closer the novelist gets to him, a nice irony climaxed by anticlimax at the end: an interview with Mayta himself, now old, frail, no homosexual, resistant to even the tiniest myth about himself, dignity-less. It's the most resonant section of a book that seems more energetic than strictly necessary, something that might have made a good long story. Vargas Llosa's urge to explore his deterministic skepticism about the myths of revolution seems intellectually unimpeachable, especially in the Latin-American context he works from and in. But to North American readers, this book, like its predecessor, may seem not quite worth all the authorial effort.
Read full book review >