(Jorge) Mario (Pedro) Vargas Llosa 1936–
Peruvian novelist, short story writer, critic, essayist, and journalist.
Vargas Llosa is one of the younger writers associated with "El Boom," the flowering of Latin American literature that occurred in the 1960s. During this time, such authors as Gabriel García Márquez and Julio Cortázar reached international prominence, and several other Latin American authors enjoyed immediate acclaim with their initial works of fiction, Vargas Llosa and Carlos Fuentes in particular. This almost simultaneous production of major works by a number of authors led to sudden critical and popular recognition of the important contributions to modern literature being made by contemporary Latin American authors.
Like most of the writers linked with El Boom, Vargas Llosa freely experiments with the form and structure of the novel and short story in order to attain a distinctive method that can reflect the more colorful qualities of life in Latin America. He has been particularly praised for his successful experiments with narrative structure. Specifically, Vargas Llosa employs disordered chronological development, rapidly shifting narrative perspectives, and complex structures to mirror the political, social, and personal chaos of his settings and characters.
Vargas Llosa first gained critical attention with La ciudad y los perros (1963; The Time of the Hero), which satirizes the way of life in a Peruvian military academy. This partly autobiographical novel explores the cultural concept of machismo and its effects on individuals and society. Some readers viewed the military academy as a microcosm for Latin America, and many were impressed with Vargas Llosa's observations on how machismo contributes to the violent political and social realities of Peru and Latin America. La casa verde (1966; The Green House), his next novel, won wide critical acclaim and established Vargas Llosa as an important literary figure. In this novel, seemingly disparate stories are interwoven in a narrative structure that mixes objective and subjective perspectives and gradually becomes a unified whole. The Green House is set, in part, in the jungles of Peru, and draws upon myths and legends of both past and modern Peruvian culture. While some critics attacked the multitude of characters in this novel as undeveloped, most praised Vargas Llosa's technical procedures which convey an ambiguous view of reality through the fragile and mysterious identities of the characters.
Conversación en la catedral (1969; Conversation in the Cathedral) was also favorably received. In this novel, as in earlier works, Vargas Llosa subordinates cohesive plot development in favor of a structurally complex narrative. In his presentation of a world torn by corruption and social friction, Vargas Llosa uses a montage-like structure with rapidly shifting points of view and quick changes of setting. Critics were impressed with his ability to employ such techniques which are more often associated with cinema than with literature. However, some readers and reviewers found the novel's labyrinthine structure difficult to penetrate.
With Pantaleón y las visitadoras (1973; Captain Pantoja and the Special Service) Vargas Llosa's satirical fiction became more humorous. While some critics claimed that this novel lacked the intensity and social significance of his earlier works, many praised his deft use of irony to achieve comedic effects. La tía Julia y el escribador (1977; Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter) furthers Vargas Llosa's use of humor. While this novel is structurally less complicated than his earlier works, Vargas Llosa's manipulation of point of view is of primary importance. Half of the chapters are overtly autobiographical, relating events in Vargas Llosa's life as a young man. The alternate chapters are works by a soap opera scriptwriter whose elaborately complex plots and dedication to his art are fantastic, yet they mirror the real life situation of Vargas Llosa's persona. As with Captain Pantoja and the Special Service, Vargas Llosa uses comedy to satirize those people and institutions whom he had previously disparaged. Critics noted that Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter contained a thematic richness and density not found in Captain Pantoja and the Special Service.
(See also CLC, Vols. 3, 6, 9, 10, 15 and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 73-76.)