Books by Mario Vargas Llosa

SABERS AND UTOPIAS by Mario Vargas Llosa
ESSAYS & ANTHOLOGIES
Released: Feb. 6, 2018

"Insightful essays express guarded hope for Latin America's future."
Essays on Latin American politics reflect 5 tumultuous decades. Read full book review >
THE NEIGHBORHOOD by Mario Vargas Llosa
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Feb. 6, 2018

"A colorful but confusing and ultimately disappointing work by a great writer."
Sex, money, scandal, and power dance through this uneven tale of gossip and politics among the high-enders and media lowlifes of Lima, Peru. Read full book review >
NOTES ON THE DEATH OF CULTURE by Mario Vargas Llosa
ESSAYS & ANTHOLOGIES
Released: Aug. 11, 2015

"Of a piece with late writings by Hilton Kramer, Hugh Kenner, and even Steiner; sometimes pat but offering fresh interpretations and sharp criticisms of things as they are."
From the renowned Peruvian novelist and essayist, a survey of where Western culture finds itself these days—which is mostly nowhere. Read full book review >
THE DISCREET HERO by Mario Vargas Llosa
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: March 10, 2015

"This master storyteller ensures that the book is continually intriguing and charming. Yet taken together, the two narratives don't make a strong whole, rather more a theme and variation that can seem sometimes dangerously close to what Rigoberto at one point calls his side of the story: a soap opera."
The Nobel laureate weaves together the tragicomic misfortunes of two families and several friends in this tale of crime, passion and avarice. Read full book review >
THE DREAM OF THE CELT by Edith  Grossman
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: June 12, 2012

"A dazzling novel of great intensity and power. "
The Celt in question is Sir Roger Casement, who advocated on behalf of oppressed natives of the Congo and of Amazonia, but when he turns his attention to the Irish Troubles in 1916, the British feel he's gone too far, so he's caught, tried and executed. Read full book review >
THE BAD GIRL by Mario Vargas Llosa
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Oct. 15, 2007

"A contemporary master remains at the top of his game."
The Peruvian-born author's latest novel is an impressive logical extension of the seriocomic romances (e.g., Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, In Praise of the Stepmother) that are among his most appealing books. Read full book review >
THE WAY TO PARADISE by Mario Vargas Llosa
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Nov. 1, 2003

"It's hard to believe, but Vargas Llosa just keeps getting better. What are the Swedes waiting for?"
With matchless empathy and insight, the great Peruvian author analyzes two contrasting quests for the ideal. Read full book review >
THE LANGUAGE OF PASSION by Mario Vargas Llosa
ESSAYS & ANTHOLOGIES
Released: June 1, 2003

"Vargas Llosa's many admirers will share that pleasure with this fine collection."
Reviews, travel journalism, and assorted feuilletons from the noted Peruvian novelist (The Feast of the Goat, 2001, etc.). Read full book review >
THE FEAST OF THE GOAT by Mario Vargas Llosa
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Nov. 1, 2001

"A landmark in Latin American fiction."
The Peruvian master (The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto, 1998, etc.) now turns to the bloody reign (1930-61) of the Dominican Republic's dictatorial president Rafael Trujillo—and its aftermath. Read full book review >
LETTERS TO A YOUNG NOVELIST by Mario Vargas Llosa
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: June 1, 2001

"A fine addition to an important body of work that looks more and more Nobel-worthy as the years pass."
Sharp insights abound in this gathering of 11 closely related essays on fictional technique and the attitudes underlying it, by the eminent Peruvian-born author of such contemporary classics as Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter (1982) and The Feast of the Goat (2001). Read full book review >
THE NOTEBOOKS OF DON RIGOBERTO by Mario Vargas Llosa
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: May 28, 1998

Vargas Llosa's most enjoyable novel since his Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter (1982)—with which it shares the motif, used elsewhere in his fiction, of a teenager's romantic fixation on his beautiful stepmother. The story's set in Lima, where middle-aged insurance executive Don Rigoberto's happy marriage to his luscious young second wife Lucrecia (amusingly pet-named "Lucre") has been temporarily rocked by Lucrecia's indiscretion with her handsome stepson Alfonso ("Fonchito"), a politely deferential "little pagan god" whose ingenuous questions about male-female interrelationships arouse the distraught Lucrecia beyond boiling point. Simultaneously, Don Rigoberto fills his "notebooks" with impassioned sexual arcana and fantasizing: arguments with a militant "feminist sect"; "diatribes" against "Rotarians," who repress sexual energies, and "Sportsmen," who misspend them; and the like. The line between reality and invention is repeatedly blurred, as Vargas Llosa juxtaposes such entries with accounts of Lucrecia's efforts to resist Fonchito and of her previous a submissions to Don Rigoberto's erotic importunings (persuading her, for example, to "enact" the subjects of famous infamous paintings, and—in a dazzling illustration of what a great writer can do with an extended dirty joke—to undertake, then describe a "chaste" vacation enjoyed with a former lover). If the Marquis de Sade had had a sense of humor, he might have anticipated such delights as this novel's urbane fetishism ("A Tiny Foot"), appreciations of love in unexpected places (a "formidable sexual encounter" between mating spiders), and uproarious deadpan dialogue ("I went off last night."/"Where to, stepmama ?).. It's all so outrageously entertaining that one must concentrate scrupulously to notice how brilliantly Vargas Llosa uses Don Rigoberto's notebooks to comment on a daunting variety of general cultural as well as sexual topics. An Anatomy of Eros unlike any other fiction. Its author may need a cold shower; all the fortunate reader needs is the time and place (preferably bed) to sample its very considerable pleasures. Read full book review >
Released: May 28, 1998

Vargas Llosa's most enjoyable novel since his Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter (1982)—with which it shares the motif, used elsewhere in his fiction, of a teenager's romantic fixation on his beautiful stepmother. It's set in Lima, where middle-aged insurance executive Don Rigoberto's happy marriage to his luscious young second wife Lucrecia (amusingly pet-named "Lucre") has been temporarily rocked by Lucrecia's indiscretion with her handsome stepson Alfonso ("Fonchito"), a politely deferential "little pagan god" whose ingenuous questions about male-female interrelationships arouse the distraught Lucrecia beyond boiling point. Simultaneously, Don Rigoberto fills his "notebooks" with impassioned sexual arcana and fantasizing: arguments with a militant "feminist sect"; "diatribes" against "Rotarians," who repress sexual energies, and "Sportsmen," who misspend them; and the like. The line between reality and invention is repeatedly blurred, as Vargas Llosa juxtaposes such entries with accounts of Lucrecia's efforts to resist Fonchito and of her previous submissions to Don Rigoberto's erotic importunings (persuading her, for example, to "enact" the subjects of famous infamous paintings, and—in a dazzling illustration of what a great writer can do with an extended dirty joke—to undertake, then describe a "chaste" vacation enjoyed with a former lover). If the Marquis de Sade had had a sense of humor, he might have anticipated such delights as this novel's urbane fetishism ("A Tiny Foot"), appreciations of love in unexpected places (a "formidable sexual encounter" between mating spiders), and uproarious deadpan dialogue ("I went off last night."/"Where to, stepmama?"). It's all so outrageously entertaining that one must concentrate scrupulously to notice how brilliantly Vargas Llosa uses Don Rigoberto's notebooks to comment on a daunting variety of general cultural as well as sexual topics. An Anatomy of Eros unlike any other fiction. Its author may need a cold shower; all the reader needs is the time and place (preferably bed) to sample its very considerable pleasures. Read full book review >
MAKING WAVES by Mario Vargas Llosa
ESSAYS & ANTHOLOGIES
Released: June 1, 1997

A strong selection of the 60-year-old Peruvian novelist's (Death in the Andes, 1996, etc.) journalism and literary essays, spanning 30 years of prodigious, passionate creativity. Such collections of fugitive works by great writers are tricky: Some seem to consist largely of pet peeves and fragmentary musings. That's not the case here. Vargas Llosa writes with compelling insight, verve, and intelligence about even the most modest matters. He is a cosmopolitan figure, having spent a great deal of time in Europe and the US, and the wide range of his knowledge and experience is frequently on display. He writes with vigor and clarity: Essays produced in the 1960s and '70s on, say, the difference between Comus and Sartre, are just as alive and relevant now as when he wrote them. Naturally, Vargas Llosa writes a good deal about politics, especially South American politics. ("The raison d'etre of a writer," he reminds us, "is protest, disagreement, criticism.") Though politicial essays are especially prone to seeming dated and irrelevant, in Vargas Llosa's hands the opposite is true. He cannily brings out the element of the permanent that inhabits the ephemeral. But perhaps his best efforts in this book are the literary essays. He turns his analytic gaze on Doris Lessing, Grass, Dos Passos, Faulkner, Cortezar, Bataille, Bueuel, de Beauvoir, Joyce, Bellow, Rushdie, and Hovel, among others, to considerable effect. In addition, he has interesting things to say about such diverse topics as Lorena Bobbit, the British school system, and the grave of Rin Tin Tin. The collection is also of interest because it offers an intimate chronicle of Vargas Llosa's intellectual life, tracing his trajectory from the political left to the right, a transit he has made with admirable honesty and self-criticism. A fine collection demonstrating that, like his American colleague John Updike, Vargas Llosa has done some of his finest writing in essays and reviews. Read full book review >
DEATH IN THE ANDES by Mario Vargas Llosa
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Feb. 1, 1996

An impressive panoramic portrayal of his native country is created with masterly economy in this intriguing political detective story by the celebrated Peruvian author (In Praise of the Stepmother, 1990; the autobiography A Fish in the Water, 1994, etc.). The story details the investigation performed in a remote Andean territory by two government Civil Guard officers: weary, cynical Corporal Lituma (who appeared in Vargas Llosa's Who Killed Palomino Molero?, 1987) and his young adjutant, Tomas Carreo. Three men have mysteriously disappeared and are presumed murdered. Suspicion falls initially on the Marxist Shining Path guerrillas, whose terrorist activities range from disrupting a star-crossed highway project to stoning innocent tourists to death. But Lituma also suspects a putative local "witch" and her Falstaffian husband (pointedly named Dionisio), rumored to practice both cannibalism and human sacrifice. The novel rockets energetically from one scene and set of characters to another, powered by Vargas Llosa's distinctive structural device: A story told by one character to another simultaneously presented through authorial omniscience in the present-tense. The guerrillas are observed from outside, and they prove all the more menacing and mysterious for that. Several subplots linger hauntingly in the memory, most notably those involving a woman environmentalist whose devotion to a variously funded reforestation plan brands her as an "intellectual who betrays the people," and a gentle retarded man who watches with horror as a herd of the vicueas he protectively tends is, for ostensibly political reasons, slaughtered. The vigorous, fractious narrative is skillfully unified by a painstakingly rendered contrast between its two major characters: Lituma's profane testiness is oddly engaging, as is his moonstruck partner's romantic fixation on a thug's mistress who has more than one surprise in store for her hopeful young lover. A terrific novel: dramatic and varied, rich in incident, characterization, and atmosphere, and disturbingly forthright in its political and human implications. One of Vargas Llosa's best books in years. Read full book review >
A FISH IN THE WATER by Mario Vargas Llosa
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: May 1, 1994

In this artful political and literary memoir, the 57-year-old Peruvian author (In Praise of the Stepmother, 1990, etc.) and presidential candidate demonstrates the conflict between ideals and politics, art and power. Switching between his personal and his political lives, Vargas Llosa depicts his stormy childhood divided between his mother's loving family and his abusive father, who sent the boy first to a Catholic school, where a priest's sexual abuse turned him against sex and religion, and then to a military school, where he won respect for the love letters and erotica he provided his classmates. By 16, he was a working journalist for the sensationalist press, and, after entering the state-run university — notorious in the '50s for its lapsed academic standards, student unrest, and impoverished socialist thinking — became a research assistant for a historian of Peru. At 19, he married his 32-year-old aunt (described in Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, 1982), a choice he came to regret on his first trip to Paris, which he won in a writing contest. The alternate political chapters start with his decision in 1987, aged 50 and an accomplished writer returning from a long residence in Europe, to address a demonstration of a new political party, the Freedom Movement. He later became the party's presidential candidate, and describes his platform as a visionary program of social, educational, and economic reform capable of empowering the lower classes and rescuing Peru from the authoritarian and militaristic government that destroyed its spirit and its culture. He campaigned under the threat of terrorism, kidnapping, and violence that, he writes, chacterize Peruvian politics. Vargas Llosa's narrative skill and novelist's eye animate the unfamiliar politics, people, and culture of Peru. Essential political as well as literary reading. Read full book review >
IN PRAISE OF THE STEPMOTHER by Helen Lane
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Oct. 1, 1990

A particularly mandarin performance by Vargas Llosa this time out, art- and sex-imbued, with color reproductions of paintings that set the tonal ranges of the chapters. Alfonso is a Lima high-school boy, the son of a wealthy sensualist, Don Rigoberto, and the stepson of Rigoberto's new wife Lucrecia. The married couple have a blissful sex life, into which Alfonso intrudes a seemingly innocent, angelic, but hormonally charged presence the likes of which Lucrecia finally can not resist. The book's denouement is very French, tartly cynical. But Vargas Llosa spends the real wealth of his prose—some of it spectacularly distilled, some a bit goopy, all superbly translated by Lane—in a serrated group of meditations. These either are on the paintings referred to (Don Rigoberto and his wife assume different personae in their love play—thus the figures in the paintings) or on the art-body nexus: Rigoberto's pre-sex ablutions are a homage to the body as perfection. The Laclos-like ending throws a cloud of doubt over the jeweled celebration of art and sex, and thus gives the book a welcome echo of psychological ambivalence. But readers will find themselves more intrigued by the silkiness of Vargas Llosa's control (in this respect, he has become Calvino's heir), by the suavity of his allegorical turn of mind. Read full book review >
THE STORYTELLER by Helen Lane
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Nov. 1, 1989

Vargas Llosa is so skilled and intelligent that when a merely good idea gets caught in his head, it has a tendency to be played out (Updike's another writer like this). The War of the End of the World (1984) was just such an idea cumberously overproduced, and this smaller book's another: maybe not coincidentally, both have to do with Indians and ethnology. The narrator is a Peruvian writer visiting Florence who walks into a photo gallery one day and finds an exhibition about an Amazonian tribe, the Machiguenga. One picture shows what the caption says is the tribal storyteller—and the narrator has the dizzying feeling that he knows exactly who this is. Back in Peru, as a student, a close, friend of the narrator's was Saul Zuratas: Jewish, birthmarked, and a passionately self-immersed anthropologist, obsessed with the Amazonian Indians. Saul eventually went to Israel, and the friendship dwindled—but who was this in the picture if not the man himself?. Vargas Llosa interlaces the story with some actual Indian storytelling—confusing at first in its mimicry of primitive rhetoric and cosmogony; then overly clear as Saul-the-storyteller goes on to retell in Machiguenga-style Kafka and Old Testament tales. The point about storytelling's crucial role as something more life-defining than simple entertainment or trance is made smartly enough, but you sense that the whole book has hinged on this one not-so-startling notion (not startling at least from this fine writer). Unsatisfying and cobbled-up. Read full book review >
WHO KILLED PALOMINO MOLERO? by Alfred Mac Adams
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: June 1, 1987

A comic police-procedural, of all things—far lighter in tone than the equally investigatory The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta but also a better example of how deftly and smartly Vargas Llosa can cut the fictional cards (and how deeply he's been thinking about the properties of narrative). In Peru during the 50's, a young Air Force cadet is found murdered and mutilated. The half-breed cadet, Palomino Molero, was draft-exempt yet joined the military anyway. Why? For love, it seems—love for the colonel's daughter, a love that for a number of reasons (race, class rank) cannot be. But is it reason for slaughter? It falls to two absolutely hapless hick Civil Guards—Officer Lituma (the narrator) and Lieutenant Silva—to investigate the case, and it's on their wheels that the fun zooms. Silva is lust-crazy for a particular local (quite hefty) married woman, and spends most of his time thinking, talking, and dreaming of her. Meanwhile, he "interrogates" various witnesses and suspects in the cadet's murder, getting them to answer questions he never asks, to make connections he's too sex-woozy to have formulated. Through it all, though, Lituma is convinced that Silva is another Sherlock Holmes. The denouement—involving the colonel of the cadet corps, and a spurned suitor of the daughter's—is ambiguous (is anyone telling the real story?): this conclusion circles back to Silva and Lituma's approximate style of truth-finding, as though Vargas Llosa is suggesting that any testimony is true, whether "objectively" false or not. More in the vein of Aunt Julia and the Screenwriter than his other recent novels, the playfulness is the thing here, and hard to resist. Read full book review >
THE PERPETUAL ORGY by Helen Lane
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Dec. 1, 1986

A vivacious and wonderfully immoderate study of the great novel and its creator by the Peruvian novelist. Vargas Llosa is the author of Conversation in the Cathedral among others. This is the first work of his non-fiction translated from the Spanish. The book is divided into three parts, each representing a different mode of criticism. The first is subjective, a "classic" approach of sorts, but so boldly idiosyncratic it bears little resemblance to its forebears. The second is an objective exegesis of the text's method, grammatical style, temporal structure, narrative perspective, etc. The third is a historical analysis, assessing the impact of Flaubert's innovations in the context of literature before and after. The first section is an ideal introduction, forthwith airing all of his predilections. He admits, for example, to an unironic appreciation for melodrama of the most vulgar and stupid sort, and opines that a realistic work demands these touches of bad taste. In the second part, without minimizing the standard observations—of Flaubert's materialism, obsession with dualities, narrative objectivity—he offers fresh insight. He ranges far from the text—to discuss the Nouveau Roman, Sartre, the cinema—but his digressions are always pointed. One of the book's salient virtues is the numerous sparkling quotes culled from Flaubert's voluminous correspondence. Even when Vargas Llosa is purportedly applying science to the text, he is playfully subverting all claims to objectivity, and it is his "impressionism" that is this book's great strength. A lively study of the writer's craft. Read full book review >
THE REAL LIFE OF ALEJANDRO MAYTA by Mario Vargas Llosa
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Jan. 1, 1985

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 >
THE WAR OF THE END OF THE WORLD by Mario Vargas Llosa
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Sept. 4, 1984

With few of the sly narrative flourishes that distinguish most of his fiction, Vargas Llosa now offers a vast historical novel tightly focused on an 1890s rebellion in the Bahia state of Brazil—by followers (called jagunÇos) of an apocalyptic religious figure, dubbed "The Counselor," in the little town of Canudos. And though much of this novel is surprisingly drab and flat, the extraordinarily punishing, unremitting scenes of battle and carnage bring the book's lesson home all too vividly: the madness that can horribly grow out of any small fanaticism and power-base. The Counselor's followers in Canudos are both poor peasantry and societal dregs—bandits, circus geeks, failures, whores—but his manifest saintliness harmonizes them. When the republican-government officials of Brazil, however, learn that money is no longer being used at Canudos, they foolishly suspect that this is a monarchist plot that is merely using the people at Canudos as pawns; furthermore, this myopia—which utterly ignores the religious basis of the very Christian experiment there—is compounded by the hysterical influence of an important newspaper publisher. Inevitably, then, Canudos will be crushed—yet not without resistance: one, then two massive and bloody government assaults fail. Then a third succeeds—and since it occurs after The Counselor's natural death, it leads to a terrible decision by the holdout jagunos to slaughter their own innocents, women and children and the aged, rather than allow them to face the depredations of the "Freemason" soldiers who are attacking so successfully. What is ultimately sacrificed, murdered, therefore, is the spiritual quality of Canudos; extremity turns it into ideology—and more death. But this powerful conclusion, unfortunately, is a very long time in coming; in its first hundreds of pages, the novel is often stiff, dull in dialogue, precisely detailed but with little aura of atmosphere and scene. In sum, then: an odd combination of cardboard and passionate horror—with grim, rich rewards for those readers willing to plow through the book's early, stodgy chapters. Read full book review >
AUNT JULIA AND THE SCRIPTWRITER by Helen Lane
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: July 1, 1982

Of all the major South American novelists, Vargas Llosa may be the sunniest: he never tries too hard to hold back a sophisticated yet honest amusement at how oddly life usually moves around; his stories of 1950s Lima and Peru have a vernal lilt as well as an expected complexity. And this large new novel is both contrapuntal and positively jaunty. The (apparently autobiographical) narrator, Marie, is not yet 21, working as a newswriter for a mediocre Lima radio station—when his young, divorced aunt-by-marriage, Julia, arrives in town from Bolivia for a little amorous adventure on the rebound. . . only to find herself a wild oat sown by Marie, who puts a move on her right away. Julia, piqued by the novelty, goes along. And the flirtation turns into real romance, then into scandal, and—finally—into a brief but entertaining-for-as-long-as-it-lasts marriage. This bubbly romantic improbability is only one layer here, however—because interleaved with it are gothic yet hilarious radio soap-opera scripts written by yet another Bolivian export to Lima: Pedro Camacho, a humorless, 50-year-old, Argentine-hating troll who quickly becomes the hit of the town with his gory yet full-spirited tales of murder and obsession and ruin. (So intense and devoted is he that he even dresses up as his characters would while he writes, throwing himself utterly—and with priestly artistic purity—into his trashy but beautifully filled-out work.) Each serial, which Vargas Llosa presents as a throbbingly rococo story-summary, is more grotesque and ghastly than the next—until, at one point, Camacho, riding the crest, becomes so ornate and involved that he starts forgetting names and traits of his characters, confusing them; and eventually he has to resort to mass destruction (stadium riots, earthquakes in church) to kill everyone off and thus start clean. Two curves, then, meet in this book: the ascending, rather silly one of Marie and Julia's affair, and the grand-guignol descending one of Camacho's fall into incoherence and failure. And though the anything-but-heavyhanded Vargas Llosa doesn't stick a pin at the meeting point, you're aware of it nonetheless: storytelling is as subject to inexplicable natural laws—entropy, gravity, decomposition—as anything else. All done with the fondest savoring of the virtues of truly popular culture, innocence, imagination: a graceful, untaxing, sweetly subtle book. Read full book review >
THE CUBS AND OTHER STORIES by Ronald J. Christ
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Aug. 29, 1979

Catching up on some earlier Vargas Llosa. The title novella recounts the adolescence and, later, the self-destructive young adulthood of "P.P." Cuellar, who as a boy was attacked by a Great Dane in the locker room of his Catholic boys' school and partially castrated (". . . the shits, the my Gods, the get outs, the screams, the get losts, the get goings, the brothers' desperation, their terrible fright"). Though handsome, he obviously keeps himself distant from girls, compensating by being ever wilder and daring and foolish and turned-in to himself. As a tale it's only so-so, interesting chiefly for its cascading, breathless style. The six short stories that fill up the rest of the book mostly concern a barrio—gang—of upper-class young Lima, Peru, students: fights, contests, a school rebel-lion (possibly a preliminary sketch for Vargas Llosa's first novel, The Time of the Hero). Nicely rendered into English—no easy task in "The Cubs"—this early work is open and airy, graceful but hardly compelling. Read full book review >
CAPTAIN PANTOJA AND THE SPECIAL SERVICE by Mario Vargas Llosa
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Jan. 9, 1977

Plugged in together here are Vargas Llosa's two favorite thematic wires, prostitution and the military; the music that results is of a much lighter variety than the basso profundo of his earlier books. Captain Panteleón Pantoja is the very model of the perfect officer in the Peruvian Army, circa 1956: he neither smokes, drinks, nor makes illicit whoopee. Who better, so goes the thinking of the brass, to send to a small Amazon outpost where the garrison has been raping every local woman in sight? Captain Pantoja is ordered to devise a system of "specialists" whose job will be to drain off the troops' hots, and in no time there springs up a whole "Special Service" of hookers and pimps, all working for the army and shuttled about by plane and boat to the outreaches and the stray horniness therein. Running around the countryside meanwhile is a rogue evangelist by the name of Brother Francisco who advocates crucifixion as a purifying rite and who acts for the author as a balancing, complementary hysteria to "Pantiland"—Pantoja's roving cat-camp. Vargas Llosa tells the story through dreams, Army bulletins, newspaper stories, and a severely telescoped narrative (". . . enters the Paradise Ice Cream Shop, asks for coffee with milk, hears Captain Pantoja asking him isn't that the professor, the wizard? answers that's him"), but there's a sort of desperation of means here: anything to inflate a rather quiet joke. The quasi-scientific posturings of the modern military mind do come off smartly, but the satire is so local, tailored to such modest dimensions, that this is a book which seems forever to be clearing its throat before trying to involve us once again. Read full book review >
CONVERSATION IN THE CATHEDRAL by Mario Vargas Llosa
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Jan. 8, 1974

Vargas Llosa takes the epigraph for his tome from Balzac: ". . .the novel is the private history of nations." Peru, in this case, is the giant chessboard on which the author moves his knights, rooks and pawns in so many gambits and set pieces with the object of checkmating the unseen military dictator General Odria. Santiago Zavala, the son of millionaire capitalist and politician Don Fermin, despite all the advantages, has "fucked up" as a mediocre writer of editorials for a sensationalist Lima daily newspaper. His accidental encounter with ex-chauffeur Ambrosio and their drunken conversation in a cheap bar (the Cathedral of the title) is the premise for the quadraphonic narration of the seamy events, both political and personal, that determined the fates of the Zavala household and the government. What Santiago discovers about his upstanding genteel father one night in a brothel where he is investigating the brutal stabbing of the lesbian mistress of the Director of Public Order is enough to shatter the ideals of the most naive of Communist sympathizers. . . . Vargas Llosa is an ambitious and impressive craftsman, but Cathedral runs to more grandiose and effusive proportions than his types can sustain and lets down to a series of disconnected yawns. Even the politics are so simplified that everyone — left, right, reform, coalition — looks stupid. On the whole a disappointing performance from a novelist whose earlier Time of the Hero and Green House were superior. Read full book review >
THE GREEN HOUSE by Mario Vargas Llosa
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Jan. 2, 1968

The Green House is a big, sprawling symbolic novel about dream and reality, the city of Piura and the Jungle and desert which embrace it, and the shabby folklore and quixotic adventures which make up its human condition. Vargas Liosa writes with uninhibited energy and an obstinate interest in all the long scheme-filled, lyrical and melodramatic doings and undoings that make up his tale. But he is primarily a naturalistic novelist, a Peruvian Zola, and between the dialogue (" 'There are some things that can burn more than cane liquor, Lituma, 'Joselino said, in a low voice") and the checkered events (a score card is what is needed after the first chapter), little of the intended epic or metaphysical fantasy reaches the reader. Scenes overlap, merge, disappear, return (the nouvelle vague film is the international style, alas), and all sorts of characters (mostly exotic or grotesque stereotypes) sing their arias of innocence, corruption, thwarted hopes, and banal affairs. The mysterious brothel, the Green House, burned to the ground by Father Garcia and then rebuilt, lures one and all (including sweet Bonifacia who leaves the not-so-sweet nuns for bawdy martyrdom), until its perhaps magical properties fade with the death of its founder, the harp-playing stranger, Anselmo. The novel, which won the Romulo Gallegos Award, is a heady overwrought mixture of misty sociology and fable. Read full book review >
THE TIME OF THE HERO by Mario Vargas Llosa
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Aug. 26, 1966

Not since Calder Willingham's End as a Man has there been such an unflinching view of life within a military academy, this time in contemporary Peru where 1000 copies of this book were burned at the Leoncio Prado Military Academy, its site. Here all the indurated brutality of the army combines with the random cruelty of adolescence, particularly apparent in their ritualistic hazing. The story, which is actually quite straightforward, begins with the theft of a chemistry examination and polarizes around two boys; the gentler Ricardo whom they call The Slave; his only friend, Alberto, the Poet, in whose interests the paper is stolen. Ultimately Ricardo will rat on the offender, only to be shot, fatally, during field exercises. Alberto's claim that he has been murdered in reprisal is quickly silenced. If this reduces the book quite simply, the intention has been deliberate: critical commentary to the contrary ("states of mind, the contradictory realizations...the painful confusions of adolescence") — much of it takes place on an external level and the characters are not very markedly individuated. It is easier to be impressed than involved—Llosa, a young writer, uses direct experience authentically, authoritatively Read full book review >