Vargas Llosa, Mario (Vol. 15)
Vargas Llosa, Mario 1936–
Vargas Llosa is a Peruvian novelist, critic, journalist, screenwriter, and essayist. His writing is concerned with the hypocrisy and corruption of Peruvian society and politics. Violence is a recurring motif in his work, which Vargas Llosa believes reflects a society "where the social structures are based entirely on a sort of total injustice that extends to all aspects of life." His fictional works are noted for their structural complexity and innovative presentation of both time sequence and narrative structure. (See also CLC, Vols. 3, 6, 9, 10, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 73-76.)
John M. Kirk
[The] highlighting of the more "colorful" episodes in Vargas Llosa's novels … has resulted in the impression that the writer's overriding concern is to show merely the sordid and perverse aspects of life in contemporary Peru.
Without any doubt [a] strong—and at times overbearing—interest in the more unusual details of human sexuality is a common ingredient of Vargas Llosa's work, but fortunately, in the last analysis, this represents a relatively insignificant feature of his novels. There are far more important (but less spectacular) qualities in the Peruvian writer's work, and in fact no better compendium of these can be found than Conversation in the Cathedral itself….
Few contemporary Latin American novelists have been as expansive in writing about their personal interpretation of literary and political theory as Vargas Llosa. The essence of this former aspect can be summarized quite simply: the writer is basically a rebel, a man who is unhappy with the world that he sees around him, and who therefore writes in order to make people conscious of the problems facing their society. The corollary of this interpretation deals with the writer's own situation: having already illustrated society's ills it is now time to reveal his own obsessions, or, to use Vargas Llosa's own expression, "to exorcize one's personal devils." (p. 11)
The intention of the novel, he claims, is to reflect...
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Vargas Llosa attempts the breakthrough into a new expression that aims to portray or perhaps even to create what he calls "total reality" by means of the "total novel."… Vargas Llosa seems to be struggling toward something new, something more apt as an expression of contemporary Spanish American reality. But the experimentation often seems to be only that, an attempt at the "new," which of course does reflect the Latin American zeitgeist exceedingly well. The problem with his methods is that he is working with elements tried and true handed down by the nineteenth century as daring innovations which, however, have become our regnant canon. We no longer riot over Brahms. (p. 30)
Mario Vargas Llosa has sought out the simultaneity suggested by the space-time continuum in his novel Conversation in The Cathedral. This long book encompasses any number of moments, which the author has daubed for identity through the use of three verbal tenses or times. After a rather banal prologue in present time which fittingly sets the tone for the whole novel, action ultimately moves to the brothel-bar named La Catedral because of the proximity of the episcopal see, although the symbolic possibilities are obvious and legion. It is precisely this beginning which imparts the genius loci of Lima, which cannot help but be affected by the dank and dismal gray cloud cover that so often cloaks the city…. Vargas Llosa sees to it that this atmosphere of...
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In Vargas Llosa's comic novel [Captain Pantoja and the Special Service], Pantoja, captain in the Peruvian army, is sent to the backcountry city of Iquitos to implement a special service for soothing the troops' lust so set to boiling by the jungle heat, spicy foods, and the incredibly beautiful women of Iquitos. With dedication and probity, Pantoja, an officer whom the term "regular army" fits perfectly, sets out to develop a complex and elaborate operation which will provide the men with special service on a regular basis….
Vargas Llosa distances the reader from the characters and their action by telling more than half of the novel through military reports, newspaper items, and radio broadcasts. In the chapters where he uses scenes of dialogue, the author distractingly jolts the reader back and forth between several scenes occurring simultaneously. These devices do not conceal but heighten the fact that the novel's plot is skimpy and the pace slow.
The book's satire of the military's mindless adherence to procedures and the pitiful slaves to which this reduces men is linked with another satiric motif, contrasting the love tied up in crucifixions with the love a woman gives a man, a theme which apparently still needs arguing in Peru….
Captain Pantoja and the Special Service [praises] the strength, courage, and faith of men who are made fools by the fools who command them. Vargas...
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