A FISH IN THE WATER
Mario Vargas Llosa
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.