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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. Vargas Llosa has collaborated with both José María Gutierrez and Rui Guerra on the screenplay adaptations of their novels. (See also CLC, Vols. 3, 6, 9, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 73-76.)
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[Conversation in the Cathedral] (together with [Vargas Llosa's] earlier novels) is a splendid and admirable proof of how three apparently disparate impulses—moral rage, authorial autoindulgence, and severe discipline—can combine into an harmonic whole of shattering power and icy autonomy. Read anything by Mario Vargas Llosa and you will be amazed by the contrast between the heat of the corruptions or perversions narrated and the formal and linguistic frost glittering over them….
The society described [in Conversation] is one of corruption in virtually all the shapes and spheres you can imagine: products and consequences of a dictatorship and the (human) instruments it employs to perpetuate itself. Yet, the language is—with the exception of a few passages that do not ignite—matter-of-fact, almost flat, without pressures of expression, almost casual—even in the most orgiastic and perverse moments!…
[If] you can name it, Conversation has got it. And pervading it all, pulsating in everything, even in the most perverse parts of the spectrum of Peru's "quality of life," peeping from actions and reflections, there is masochism…. The tone and rhythm of the passages shaping such scenes stay cool. Yet the language never becomes diffuse or imprecise because this technique of a seemingly casual style is the apt expression of the underlying lament in Conversation: horror and terror, evil and hopelessness on the one, even virtue and courage on the other, the mutinous end of the power-stick, become stale in a society that has been "all fucked up."
"At what precise moment had Peru fucked itself up?" asks the second sentence of the novel. On … the last page, we still do not really know the answer. Ultimately, because there is no definite answer, there is no "precise moment" either. (p. 13)
Similarly, the reader must decide who should be declared the protagonist of the novel…. Black Ambrosio might indeed be seen as the axis-character. If, however, you go by which character affects the greatest number of the other characters in the book, you will want to take Cayo Bermúdez as the center…. Finally, Zavalita himself might be considered the axis, for his is the story of an individual "fucking-up" that represents the Peru in the novel and, obviously, of much of Latin America, past or present.
Perhaps it is better to speak of a triangle, then, instead of axes. The three main characters are its angles; its contents, the fictional space of the novel…. [Even] this structure is too clean-cut, because all three men often act, or fail to act, for motives that remain ambiguous to the end. But, then, ambiguity is one of Vargas Llosa's specialties. (pp. 13-14)
[The] manifold actions of a multiple cast roll out and against each other, filling the expanding fictional reality in what José Miguel Oviedo has called "dialogue-waves." And these proliferating interactions precisely document the superb technical skill for which Vargas Llosa is famous, famous enough to have been called the Buckminster Fuller of novel-writing….
Vargas Llosa still believes in telling a story (or possibly several). For Vargas Llosa, Walter Kerr's dictum of a few years ago—namely, that "aboutness is out"—or the French bit about "a text is a texture," are definitely not the essence of fiction-writing. On the contrary, he tells fascinating stories and tells them marvellously. True, they are often gross, stark, perhaps even melodramatic, and invariably full of sex; but so is the quality of life in Latin America. (p. 14)
[All] of Vargas Llosa's fiction is highly charged with sex. The present novel … deals with a wide variety of it; yet, sex is never used gratuitously. It is a determinant of many of the actions and embroilments the book narrates. What is more, the sexual corruption can be seen as a symbolization of the general corruption of the Peru of Conversation. Peru, Vargas Llosa appears to say, was a brothel at that time. And, indeed, a good number of the major characters at one time or another meet in or visit madam Ivonne's establishment. There is still more to this: in Vargas Llosa's fiction, sex is often the only satisfaction or fulfillment to be obtained any more. All other aspirations in Latin American lives either die or drag on in frustration and fear. (pp. 14-15)
This brings me to a controversial subject concerning Conversation: is it a political novel? I think it depends on what is meant by politics—and not so much on what a political novel is. If we leave the concept "politics" vague, relying only on the associations which probably come to most people's minds when they hear the word—the acquisition of power in order to change a given communal reality, combined with the wheeling and dealing that arises out of the acquisition—then Conversation is political only in the very crudest sense: the acquisition and retention of power by violence…. I believe that all [the political activities in the novel] only show an amazing political naiveté among the young people engaged in them….
In Conversation, ironically enough, the non-violent, let's say ideological or theoretical politics, end in and with a love-story. Conversation in my mind is not a political novel in the traditional sense, especially if we except the ingredient of violence as a dimension of power. The novel is evidently a political fact, however: its very existence is a criticism of a past regime, and, implicitly (although hardly very implicitly), of such methods as the regime employed which may, perhaps, still be fashionable in Peru, in Latin America, or anywhere for that matter. (p. 15)
Wolfgang A. Luchting, "Masochism, Anyone?" in Review (copyright © 1975 by the Center for Inter-American Relations, Inc.), Spring, 1975, pp. 12-16.
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JOSÉ MIGUEL OVIEDO
[The appearance of military characters] is reiterated with insistence [in the novels of Vargas Llosa], almost in a manic way; they operate by means of saturation and concentration in narrative texts which, on the other hand, appear crammed full of characters, filled to the brim with entire human populations. Among that mass, however, the military stand out with an unmistakable brilliance which is not just that of their uniforms: they are there to tell us something, a great deal, about the author, his imaginary world, the key notions to his intellectual conduct. (p. 16)
What can explain this … seduction by the military and their hierarchies? Why do they captivate the author's imagination? What role do they play in the text and context of his works? In the first place, the world of the military appears to be ruled by the principle of rigor: military structure is a closed structure by nature, with its secret and self-sufficient codes, almost a freemasonry founded on symbols, values and purposes which the rest of society does not share or does not completely know. The military system is thus presented with an aura of prestige before the eyes of civilians and their institutions, whose principal weakness is a lack of unity and internal cohesion, a tendency to dissent. In the name of the sacred principle of order, the military society can always make the Spartan harshness of its rules even more severe: that will never destroy it; what can destroy it is, on the contrary, the excessive liberty of its members. Vargas Llosa's creative perception recognized this from the beginning. But in addition, the rigor of the military frequently would go beyond the limits of military statutes and reproduce itself, deformed and monstrous, on the other side of the social body. What allowed the military to survive destroyed the essence of civilian life, asphyxiating it under the hateful norms of imposition and supremacy that many times have been singled out as great regulators in the narrative world of Vargas Llosa.
Vargas Llosa's readers already know how the novelist's characters like to confront each other, disputing something very valuable one time, something contemptible at another, many other times nothing—except the bare fury and intensity of the challenge. Life has them confront each other; it throws them against each other, like dogs who fight over the prey, and it gathers them in perfectly recognizable groups…. Vargas Llosa's imaginary world assumes the form of a pyramid filled with people trying to find the top, ruining others or simply trying not to fall further down, heroically hanging on by their fingernails. The human contacts are casual but intense, more than a relationship, a friction on the vertical plane between those who are ascending and those who unfortunately are descending, perhaps forever. Even those who are not military personnel know in their own hearts that there are levels and ranks which are perfectly established in this life; to ignore them would be foolhardy, and failure to take advantage of them would be a weakness that would only result in more attacks and mistreatment.
The experience of that implacable net of impositions and hierarchies represented by military life leads to another which also exercises a special fascination for the inhabitants of the author's novelistic space: that of absolute power, which succeeds in converting a man into a master who, finally, does not have to submit to anyone else and is self-governing according to a code which makes others into his slaves. To reach the summit of the pyramid is everyone's secret ambition, but rarely does anyone realize it. In fact, reaching the top does not presuppose an escape from the iron rule of the pyramid but rather a confirmation of it; almost no one in Vargas Llosa's novels triumphs alone. That is why there are gangs, clans and violent fraternities: to be the master also implies, in a sense, being the best servant of the rule, feeding the pyramid's hierarchies with the systematic exercise of humiliation, exploitation and degradation. The Circle in The Time of the Hero; the champs, the fiefdom and harem of Fushía, and the rubber mafias in The Green House; Cuéllar's group in Los cachorros (The Puppies); the courtiers, bureaucrats, police and murderers of Odría's regime in Conversation in The Cathedral; and even Pantaleón's visitadoras—all are fraternities conceived and organized so that the pressure from the boss can be felt with equal force down to the lowest rung. (pp. 17-18)
However, in the novels by Vargas Llosa there are always individuals who enter into a fight with the hierarchies (military, political, religious), who try to disregard their rules and explore for themselves the tempting world outside. There are several traitors to the cause, but none ever enjoys his triumph; generally they are destroyed by the same act with which they intended to liberate themselves, or they are sadly reabsorbed by the hierarchy, degraded by their double abdication. Their gesture is consumed in the vacuum and in the end is valueless, like Jum's rebellion in The Green House, except to reinforce the system of abuses and to justify the hardening of the mechanisms of repression and defense. (p. 18)
Vargas Llosa's novels imply, in this manner, a subtle criticism of heroism. Perhaps for this reason the great figure who embraces and integrates all of these violators of the general norm, the most unredeemed, conflictive and contradictory character, is the intellectual, who, within the author's personal system of thought, is always defined as a marginal character, a sniper and perhaps as an undesirable who has lost all his rights in society. Intellectual figures exist in Vargas Llosa's works, but they are not very visible because they usually fail in the promise to be intellectuals and become frustrated. In reality, they are phantoms or aberrant parodies of intellectual conduct: their fight against the hierarchy of abuse and supremacy has left them indelibly marked, even in the middle of their rebellion.
It is very interesting to discover how the complex impact of military, religious and political reality has been produced in the key steps in Vargas Llosa's intellectual development, and how that hard experience has been reflected in the relation that exists in his novels between the bosses of the hierarchies and its most irreducible traitors, artists and intellectuals, whose dissidence appears signified by a ridiculously grandiose name. Each key experience in his life is marked by a fundamental experience with the hierarchies, and each one of them is expressed artistically by means of very characteristic figures…. (pp. 18-19)
[In The Time of the Hero the] fight against the militarized hierarchy is so intense and systematic at Leoncio Prado that the rebels have their organism, the well-known Circle, which also has its own hierarchy….
[The] real traitor to the Circle is Alberto [the Poet], who never completely submits….
Once in the school, Alberto creates a revealing mechanism of defense: to survive among the corrupt, he generates his own source of corruption; this is a rather parodic manifestation of literary activity, a type of parody which is repeated throughout Vargas Llosa's works. (p. 19)
The adventures of the military hero (Gamboa) and the intellectual traitor (Alberto) end in a very similar fashion, diluted and blurred, in a form of moral stagnation: Gamboa loses his faith in his institution but resigns himself to continue serving it; Alberto silences his youthful rebellion in a bourgeois conformity which repeats the paternal cycle…. (p. 20)
Alberto asphyxiates (and makes a profit from) his rebellion by writing and selling pornographic novelettes; Zavalita [in Conversation in The Cathedral] also selects a substitute, something more decorous, for true action: journalism. That this activity is at the same time a falsification and a parody of literature is extremely suggestive. As he is told by Carlitos, the veteran newspaperman who knows him best, perhaps Zavalita is just a frustrated writer, a man whose world is words and the contradictions of reality which they bring forth: "You should have stuck to literature and forgotten about revolution, Zavalita."…
The incapacity of the intellectual to assimilate himself to a given order, his moral discomfort in the presence of the principles of the hierarchies, the link which is established between these orders (dictatorship, bureaucracy, military) and corruption, his problematic attitude and his bad conscience, the nostalgia of concrete action beyond his specific activity—all of this is pictured in a very moving way through the inquiry which the protagonist undertakes in Conversation in The Cathedral. (p. 21)
Pantaleón Pantoja is a singular case in Vargas Llosa's gallery, especially because he is a "constructive" character, an artist of action, a perfectionist of duty. In Pantaleón y las visitadoras the protagonist appears initially as a defender of the strictest order, of the blind subjection to rules and respect for superiors in the military hierarchy…. However, if we examine Pantaleón's conduct more closely and take note of the nature of the mission which he assumes, we can see that the author has left very obscure and profound clues in this character.
Pantaleón's task is a logical impossibility: introducing the pleasures of secular life inside the limits of the austere military life. The Servicio de Visitadoras is simply a prostitution service; under his impeccable appearance, Pantaleón is doing practically the same thing that Anselmo, from The Green House, was doing with his bordello in Piura: undermining the very foundations of a closed society. (pp. 21-2)
Pantaleón, with his manic professional zeal and his exclusive passion for perfection, is also a caricature of the intellectual as conceived by Vargas Llosa. His love of order and efficiency and the absorbing effort which he dedicates to his task make of this character a Flaubertian being who identifies completely with his duties, even to the point of metamorphosis. (p. 22)
Pantaleón's purpose implies (although it might not appear so) the total subversion of the system: where now an ideal of moderation and discipline rules, he and his visitadoras want to impose a sensual and Epicurean lifestyle. He is, after all, "the Emperor of Vice,"… whose dream, according to Captain Mendoza, "is to be the Great Pimp of Peru."… Against Order, he promises Chaos, Orgy, Feast, Revolution. He does not write pornographic novelettes: he makes them reality for the users of the Servicio created by him.
In this, as in all the novels by Vargas Llosa, the orgiastic idea (the bordello) and intellectual dissidence (literature) interchange with each other and violently oppose the idea of a closed and autocratic order of the barracks, the convent or power. The Pantaleonistic language … and the official rhetoric of the Peruvian regime are insidiously similar, for both conceal a falsification or a dangerous confusion: that of channeling the subversive impulse inside the restrictive framework of a bureaucratic and paternalistic order to whose needs for self-perpetuation and control all else is subordinated….
The profound conviction that neither author nor literature can ever be conformist is something the author has never abandoned, precisely because his life has been shaped under the constant pressure of repressive hierarchies, whose negating concept of what is human he has tried to picture first with passion, then with pathos, later and finally with humor. (p. 23)
José Miguel Oviedo, "The Theme of the Traitor and the Hero: On Vargas Llosa's Intellectuals and the Military," translated by Richard A. Valdés, in World Literature Today (copyright 1978 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 52, No. 1, Winter, 1978, pp. 16-24.
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[Going] beyond the simple boundaries of a superficial reading of the plot [of The Time of the Hero]—in which "the city" and "the school" appear as the central spaces of the narration—other darker, more profound, more functional and more labyrinthine worlds emphasize the ambiguous characteristic of duplicity (personal, temporal, conceptual and functional), so that the same characteristic will be the center of contradiction, the grounds for two opposite poles, for two strata that fuse together and split apart simultaneously and constantly during the narrative process. This gives rise to a dual structure which is bipolar, oppositive and presented in a clear process of diminution that will continue fragmenting into two halves….
The asymmetry of the formal structure that Vargas Llosa utilizes in the novel has been pointed out with some insistence, as if—on managing as he pleases a great number of technical elements—the arbitrariness of the author exercised complete dominance over it and unbalanced the narrative discourse with marked anarchy…. On the other hand, there are those who point out the constant presence of the author suffocating his creation, the actions of his characters and the way in which episodes and protagonisms are arranged within the novel. Nevertheless, it is here, at this exact point of conceptual confluence, that I see that Mario Vargas Llosa has tried to situate the narrative totality: between ambiguity and determinism. This conceptual duality accentuates even more the standard of bipolarity that sums up the novel at whatever level one tries to arrive at analytical dissection. (p. 68)
It is … in that "mixture of two totally different philosophies: social determinism and existentialism," perceived by [George R.] McMurray, that the factor is rooted which forces the characters many times to configure as luck or ambiguity (but by their own will) those actions or reactions that function as key elements in The Time of the Hero. The same factor, independently of the strings that the author controls through the complicated mechanism of creation, forces each concept in The Time of the Hero (attraction or rejection, confinement or dissociation) to provoke its opposite, makes each concept function in the role of its opposite in order to contrast the problematic and maladapted personalities of the protagonists and to define them in bipolarity, in the symbiosis of violence and serenity, of appearance and secrecy, the fusion that marks within the novel the pendulum-like movement taking it from one concept to another, from one pole to its opposite. (pp. 68-9)
[Two] distinct worlds move within the novel: the world of appearance and the world of secrecy…. These two worlds are within the same forge of the narrative structure of the work, shaping, to a greater or lesser degree, the symmetry or asymmetry of the elements that constitute the novelistic whole….
[The] proportionate, symmetrical, objective characteristics [of the first eight chapters] shape an interior world which responds to secret codes, to different readings of the world of appearance. As an inherent consequence of these same characteristics, there flows, in this first part of the novel, a fundamental concept …: secrecy. If we examine part two of the novel, the second eight chapters, we will observe in it characteristics opposite to those indicated in the first part of the novel. Here reign subjectivity and spontaneity…. [In] the first eight chapters the action is somehow moved along by a personal and collective consciousness which respects to the greatest extent those secret codes that shape the world of the cadets [from the military school, Leoncio Prado, the setting of the novel]…. [Only the cadets] within their different personalities, can consent to and complete the secrets which they themselves offer in order to shape and constitute a different world, distant, opposed to that of appearance with rules imposed from without, at first from a familial basis and later from the school's military basis.
Consequently the code of values of the cadets is basically supported by secrecy: all the cadets are, to some extent, accomplices of all the clandestine acts of the Circle; they all participate in its benefits and its prejudices. But the cadets, as a group, merit a more profound study, in this case, with respect to their behavior. Without a doubt they are the group of actors that has the most meaning in the work. The world of The Time of the Hero is completely tinged by pressure from the cadets who act as the real, the only protagonists in the story. Around them revolve action and relationship; they direct the dynamism of the narrative discourse, marking the point of action and the counterpoint of relationship; they impose their perspective. Other characters in the work, who are many times only excuses to explicate the plot that connects the adolescents, are arranged in relation to the cadets and their behavior; they will be the ones actually responsible for their action, for the choice of their "situation." They are, finally, the authors of a secret code of values, of their secret world, a world closed, blind, without the solution of continuity, a world which connects them with a universe created by themselves…. (p. 69)
[The] cadets, as a collective entity, not only carry out the complicated mechanisms of the content, nor are they limited to manipulating only the functionality of the anecdote: upon analysis, there exists a gradual parallelism between the internal coherence of the cadets' world—which, I repeat, is founded on secrecy—and the proportionality of the formal structure of The Time of the Hero. On attending the disintegration of the code of values they secretly invent and sustain in the Academy, we are attending the slow dissolution of the proportionality of the formal structure of the novel, still prevailing in almost all of part one…. [It] will be from the basis of the dissolution of those codes—which have made possible the union between the cadets and their secret world—that the proportionality, the certain regularity in the structural levels of the novel, disintegrates in order to give way to the formal incoherence of the structure. Thus it can be determined that the concept of secrecy exercises a structural function in The Time of the Hero.
When does the regularity, the structural proportionality of the novel, begin to crack? Two episodes mark the boundary of this rupture: first, for personal reasons, Ricardo Arana, "the Slave," denounces the theft of the chemistry test (part one, chapter six). The collective complicity breaks down, and, second, the same Arana suffers a fatal accident during military maneuvers (part one, chapter eight). But these are only conjectures, and only the collective complicity has broken down here. The cadets and the reader will not realize, until much later, that those two episodes are marking the beginning of the dissolution of the honor code…. It will be from the point of the news of the Slave's death (part two, chapter one) that the novel's plot, moving toward its denouement, shows us—to us the readers and to the officials of the school—the secret world of the cadets. Simultaneously that process of conceptual dissolution will influence directly the structural parameter of the work. The irregular behavior of the principal group of actors in the novel leads simultaneously to an irregular structure at formal levels.
This functionality of the concept of secrecy in the formal structure of the novel constitutes, without a doubt, one of the fundamental characteristics and, at the same time, one of the most outstanding stylistic features of The Time of the Hero. (p. 70)
J. J. Armas Marcelo, "Secrecy: A Structural Concept of 'The Time of the Hero'," translated by Mary E. Davis, in World Literature Today (copyright 1978 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 52, No. 1, Winter, 1978, pp. 68-70.
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JOSÉ MIGUEL OVIEDO
If writing about himself, exposing himself as in "una ceremonia parecida al strip tease" (Historia secreta de una novela), is what Vargas Llosa has done up to now under various disguises, then [La tía Julia y el escribidor] constitutes an exercise in boldness and brazenness. Half of La tía Julia is the account of an episode from the writer's youth … and the writer does not even hide behind a character: the protagonist is unmistakably named Varguitas o Marito, which introduces a perturbing element in the work of a novelist who has made Flaubertian objectivity a trademark in his writing. The other half of the novel (that which corresponds to the escribidor of the title) presents the story of Pedro Camacho, a picturesque type who earns his living as a writer of soap operas and whose "texts" are of a morbid and exaggerated unreality.
This bipolar structure (similar to that of La ciudad y los perros [The Time of the Hero]) has an appearance of simplicity at the beginning: a clear contrast between the episodes that we can call "autobiographical" (the odd chapters) and the "imaginary" episodes (the even chapters, with the exception of chapter twenty, and the conclusion), between the private life of one protagonist [Marito], and the outrageous fantasies of another [Camacho], encouraged and shared by a mass audience…. [The] autobiographical part of the novel is important, because it progressively connects—thanks to a favorite technique of the author (the vasos comunicantes)—with the world of Camacho, where everything is efficient and submitted toward an end: to feed the voracious public that listens to his soap operas. There is a comic paradox in the novel: on the one hand we see a writer who scarcely writes, who speaks of writing but engages in other activities; on the other hand we see someone who evidently does not have anything to do with literature but who is highly productive and enjoys all the status of that métier.
There are two basic elements in Camacho that make him a parody of the real writer: the distortion that his life suffers as a consequence of his writing, making everything appear as a stimulus for him to produce his stories; and the methodological excess, the endless fanatical devotion which he uses to write his lamentable scripts…. Through Camacho, Vargas Llosa not only has made a tragicomic and melodramatic portrait of the writer of novels; he has gone even further and has produced a criticism of realism in the novel, of his realism.
Throughout the book we are shown how the willingness of the narrator to remain strictly faithful to the episodes of his adolescence is inevitably impeded: the filtering of the novelistic structure changes the meaning of the real experience and transforms it into "literature," as if this linking with life were nothing more than an accident. And, at the same time, Camacho's world of fantasy, which appears disconnected not only from his life but from any contact with reality, shows fissures through which are revealed secret obsessions, aversions and perversions that allow us to view his soap operas as the story of his disturbed mind. A victim of the vicious activity of writing, ascetic in his morals but perverse in his dealing with reality, Camacho is the living incarnation of Vargas Llosa's well-known theory of the novelist and his demonios.
It is especially this level of autoanalysis by the writer in the act of writing, this operation by which fiction consumes itself, which makes La tía Julia y el escribidor interesting and which compensates in part for the absence of something which until now has been typical of the author: intense technical innovation. Curiously, more than his previous novels, La tía Julia should be read in light of Vargas Llosa's two books of criticism, Historia de un deicidio and La orgía perpetua, because it answers the same two questions: how and why someone writes a novel. (pp. 261-62)
José Miguel Oviedo, in World Literature Today (copyright 1978 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 52, No. 2, Spring, 1978.
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Mario Vargas Llosa has the ability to work on many different levels. On the one hand, he can produce a complicated study of Flaubert—"The Perpetual Orgy," published in 1975; on the other hand, he can write an uproariously slapstick novel ["Captain Pantoja and the Special Service"] that reads like a Peruvian "Catch-22" or "M∗A∗S∗H." What Mr. Vargas Llosa borrows from Flaubert is his stylistic technique; in this case, the use of several third-person narrators and the device of making a place his central character: Flaubert's Paris becomes Mr. Vargas Llosa's Peru. Like Flaubert, he is fascinated by the shady role of the intermediary in society, the person who carries out commands and never questions why they are given….
Clearly, Mr. Vargas Llosa is laughing at his native Peru [, satirizing its social clichés and sexual mores.] His wacky novel is well aided by the sleight-of-hand vernacular style of the translators, Gregory Kolovakos and Ronald Christ.
In his earlier, more somber works, "The Green House" and "Conversations in the Cathedral," Mr. Vargas Llosa was also obsessed by a cast of characters that included pimps, whores, shady journalists, scandal and a corrupt military. But neither in those novels nor in the present one are his whores tough Brechtian heroines waiting for the black ship to take revenge against the overstuffed bourgeoisie, nor is Captain Pantoja a rebel "outsider" like Joseph Heller's Yossarian….
For North American readers to understand Mr. Vargas Llosa's preoccupation with whores and with intermediaries like Pantoja, they will need to be reminded of certain traumas that Latin American history has left behind. The psychic scar borne by Mexico and by certain parts of Latin America is the strong consciousness of being partially peopled by the illegitimate offspring of Indian mothers who were raped, shamed and converted into whores by the Spanish conquistadors. (p. 11)
Barbara Probst Solomon, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1978 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 9, 1978.