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.