Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
The Storyteller is an intriguing, often disturbing exploration of the Machiguengas, a real, indigenous, nomadic tribe in the Peruvian Amazon, and of the encroachment of modern life and values into their environment and culture. Mario Vargas Llosa frames this exploration as a quest for information about both the tribe and a Jewish student from Lima who may have been absorbed into it.
The narrator resembles Vargas Llosa himself. Like the author, he is a Peruvian novelist who vacations in Florence, Italy, and who once hosted a Peruvian television magazine. Although the narrator is never explicitly identified as Vargas Llosa, such identification is neither denied nor contradicted. Within the fictional world, many factual particulars of the novel suggest that it is written in the author’s own voice.
At the beginning of the novel, the narrator, on vacation in Florence and immersed in a reading of the works of Dante, wanders into a photographic exhibit on the Machiguengas, an indigenous people of eastern Peru. The tribe has long fascinated him and once played a central role in an ongoing debate he had with a friend at the university, Saúl Zuratas. In one of the photos, the narrator sees a native storyteller who strongly resembles Saúl. This prompts an account by the narrator of the two students’ friendship.
Saúl was an intense young Jewish man with an enormous purplish birthmark that covered half his face and earned him...
(The entire section is 860 words.)
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The Storyteller (Magill's Literary Annual 1990)
Mario Vargas Llosa’s ninth novel, The Storyteller, centers on the mystery of Satil Zuratas, a hideously birthmarked Peruvian Jew who becomes fascinated with a little-known Indian tribe of the upper Amazon. As in many of Vargas Llosa’s novels, a detective story becomes a complex inquiry into a number of wider issues. The ethics and implications of developing the Amazon region are scrutinized, and cultural values and the importance of their articulation through storytelling and novel writing are explored.
As the novel begins, the unnamed narrator, who, like Mario Vargas Llosa, is a well-known Peruvian writer, relates how he has come to Europe to get away from Peru for a while “to read Dante and Machiavelli and look at Renaissance paintings for a couple of months in absolute solitude.” In a small gallery in Florence, a display of photographs of the Peruvian jungle catches his eye, and when he looks closely, he recognizes scenes of the Machiguenga tribe which he visited only three years earlier. The narrator is especially fascinated by one photograph that shows a group sitting in a circle: “All the faces were turned, like radii of a circumference, toward the central point: the silhouette of a man at the heart of that circle of Machiguengas drawn to him as to a magnet, standing there speaking and gesticulating. A storyteller.”...
(The entire section is 1642 words.)
Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Vargas Llosa initiates The Storyteller with the presence of an author-narrator who, while strolling the streets of Florence, sees an exhibit of photographs depicting Peruvian Indians. He notices that one of the photographs shows what he believes to be a Machiguenga storyteller surrounded by his listeners. This encounter prompts him to recall a journey to the upper Marañón River in the Peruvian jungle and his keen interest in the Machiguenga Indians. At the same time, the photographs unleash memories of his Jewish friend Saúl Zurata at San Marcos University, who was well versed in the ways of the Machiguenga.
In the second chapter, the story leaps to the past; the reader becomes acquainted with Zurata, who, from the beginning, appears to be a specially marked individual. He bears an enormous wine-colored birthmark that covers the entire right side of his face and that earns him the nickname Mascarita (Little Mask). Although he is apparently not bothered by unkind comments on his external appearance, and although he seems open and uncomplicated, the reader suspects that he secretly harbors feelings of alienation. One comes to this conclusion when the narrator points out Zurata’s singular affinity for Franz Kafka’s writings, especially Die Verwandlung (1915; The Metamorphosis, 1936), which he knows by heart. This short story by Kafka centers on Gregor Samsa, a character who is so alienated from his world that one morning he...
(The entire section is 479 words.)