(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Based in part on Vargas Llosa’s experience as a cadet in the Leoncio Prado Military Academy in Lima, Peru, from 1950 to 1952, The Time of the Hero is a fictionalized portrayal of a group of adolescent boys at the school during a three-year period which coincides, roughly, with the author’s own stay there.

The Time of the Hero is divided into two parts, of eight chapters each, and an epilogue. It has four narrators: an omniscient third-person narrator; two first-person narrators, Jaguar and Boa, whose identity is discovered only in the last part of the book; and a fourth voice, that of Alberto, who communicates with the reader through several internal monologues.

The book begins during the boys’ third and last year at the school. They are there for various reasons. Alberto’s father, a middle-class dandy, somewhat dismayed at his son’s interest in books, decides that what the young man needs is an education that will prepare him for adult life in the real world; the Leoncio Prado, the father believes, will do precisely that. Ricardo Arana is there because his absentee father considers him effeminate; the boy has been reared by a devoted mother and an aunt, and the father insists that he is in need of the discipline and toughening that a military education can provide. Jaguar, who comes from a family of thieves and is a budding juvenile delinquent, ends up in the academy as an alternative to reform school after he is caught stealing. As the novel begins, an omniscient third-person narrator relates how several boys are about to carry out a carefully planned maneuver designed by Jaguar, the undisputed leader of the school’s student gang known as “the Circle.” Their aim is to steal an important chemistry exam. They succeed in getting the exam but break a window in the process, thus exposing the theft. Pending the discovery or confession of the guilty parties, school authorities suspend all leaves.

The severing of the lifeline with the outside...

(The entire section is 819 words.)