At a glance:
- Author: Mario Vargas Llosa
- First Published: 1993
- Type of Work: Autobiography
- Genres: Nonfiction, Memoir
- Subjects: Politics, Socialism, Race, Abused persons, Authors or writers, Literature, Autobiography, Religion, Poverty or poor people, Catholics or Catholic Church, Presidents, South America or South Americans, Peru or Peruvians
- Locales: Peru
A FISH IN THE WATER recalls Mario Vargas Llosa’s failed three-year campaign for presidency of Peru between 1987 and 1990. An acclaimed author of labyrinthine, sometimes metafictional novels, Vargas Llosa finds himself popular enough to consider the presidency after publishing an article objecting to the Aprista government’s proposal to nationalize businesses of Peru. Vargas Llosa then writes up extensive plans for governing based on free market principles, enlists the help of two established parties to help give his political movement a national infrastructure, and gives rallies across the country promoting his cause. Problems soon arise, however, as Vargas Llosa proves a poor politician. Many Peruvians perceive him as aloof, questioning his writerly duplicity. Fluent on the page, Vargas Llosa finds he has difficulty conveying a strong sense of himself to the populace, who, under a barrage of negative publicity, grow to associate him with the rich. In part, this memoir constitutes Vargas Llosa’s attempt to defend himself as he could not do during his campaign.
Vargas Llosa defends slurs against his character by interspersing his campaign with early memories of his childhood in Peru. Readers learn of his father’s tyranny that instilled him with a keen sense of revolt against dictatorships, his early marriage to his Aunt Julia, and the many jobs he had to hold down in order the make a living. Vargas Llosa shares with the reader the evolution his aesthetics, his favorite writers, literary friendships, and the various experiences, such as his enrollment in a military academy, that form the autobiographical foundation of his novels. His discovery of Faulkner’s works leads him to pay close attention to complex narrative structures that would in turn help his fiction reflect the labyrinthine realities of Peru. The narrative of his youth counterbalances what might have been a dry and somewhat embittered political commentary with the successful apprenticeship of his writing career.
A FISH IN THE WATER is an engaging look at both particular people and the broad political spectrum of Peru. Although Vargas Llosa despairs of Peru ever lifting itself from its miasma of political repression and poverty, he does manage to convert his personal political loss into a successful and intriguing memoir.
Sources for Further Study
Booklist. XC, March 15, 1994, p. 1299.
Commentary. XCVIII, August, 1994, p. 54.
Kirkus Reviews. LXII, March 15, 1994, p. 385.
Library Journal. CXIX, May 1, 1994, p. 114.
The New York Review of Books. XLI, May 26, 1994, p. 19.
The New York Times Book Review. XCIX, May 15, 1994, p. 10.
Publishers Weekly. CCXLI, April 11, 1994, p. 49.
Time. CXLIII, June 13, 1994, p. 75.
The Times Literary Supplement. June 17, 1994, p. 11.
The Washington Post Book World. XXIV, May 22, 1994, p. 5.
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