Peruvian author and Nobel Prize Winner Mario Vargas Llosa is one of the most accomplished Latin American authors of the 20th century. Although currently living in Spain, Vargas Llosa’s native Peru has never been far from his mind. In 1990, Vargas Llosa even ran unsuccessfully for the office of President of Peru against Alberto Fujimori. While his political career never took off, his literary one has earned him near-universal acclaim. Vargas Llosa is a very prolific author, but this guide will sketch out the main details of some of his best-known works.
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THE TIME OF THE HERO
Published in Spanish as The City and the Dogs, The Time of the Hero was Vargas Llosa’s debut novel. The novel is set in the Leoncio Prado Military Academy in Lima, where Vargas Llosa himself was educated. A biting satire, The Time of the Hero mocks Peru’s rigid military code, exemplified in the character of The Jaguar. The Jaguar is a vicious young cadet who leads a group known as The Circle. When a cadet named Cava steals a test at Jaguar’s urging it unleashes a series of events with grave repercussions for all involved.
THE GREEN HOUSE
Another one of Vargas Llosa’s famous early works is The Green House. The eponymous green house is a brothel run by Anselmo and La Chunga. In addition to these characters, Vargas Llosa explores the travails of a native girl named Bonifacia who manages to escape from a convent only to end up in the brothel. Fushía, another narrator, exploits the local indigenous people for his work in the illegal rubber trade.
AUNT JULIA AND THE SCRIPTWRITER
Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter is set in the Peru of Vargas Llosa’s youth. A loosely biographical novel, Aunt Julia’s protagonist is Mario, who works at the Panamericana Radio Station. Mario develops a romantic relationship with the much older “Aunt” Julia (actually the sister of his biological uncle’s wife). Interspersed through the romance are the radio soap operas, or novelas, written by the eccentric Pedro Camacho. A committed auteur, Camacho dons costumes and affects mannerisms related to each soap opera he writes. As the novel progresses Camacho begins to lose all distinction between his art and the world.
THE WAR OF THE END OF THE WORLD
The appropriately apocalyptic The War of the End of the World is set in 19th-century Brazil. The plot concerns Antônio Conselheiro, an itinerant preacher who formed an intentional community known as Canudos in the Brazilian province of Bahia. Vargas Llosa explores the colorful residents of Canudos, including The Lion of Natuba and the Little Blessed One. Eventually, however, Conselheiro’s radical messages alarm the authorities, who resolve to wipe Canudos off the face of the Earth.
CONVERSATION IN THE CATHEDRAL
Considered by some to be Vargas Llosa’s greatest work, Conversation in the Cathedral is a sprawling account of Peru in the 1950s during the dictatorship of Manuel Odría. The narrative is framed around a discussion between a young man named Santiago Zavala and Ambrosio, his father’s chauffeur. Over the course of the pair’s conversation, Santiago begins to learn the extent of his father Fermin’s complicity in the actions of Odría’s dictatorship.
Quizbowl is about learning, not rote memorization, so we encourage you to use this as a springboard for further reading rather than as an endpoint. Here are a few things to check out:
The Maoist insurgency group The Shining Path plays a critical role in Vargas Llosa’s Death in the Andes, and the country is still grappling with their legacy.
Vargas Llosa’s literary talent earned him not just a Nobel Prize but membership in some exclusive clubs.
Mario Vargas Llosa wrote The Feast of the Goat, a book exploring the legacy of the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. The murder of the Mirabal sisters was one of many atrocities committed during Trujillo’s reign.
Vargas Llosa ran for President of Peru in 1990 against political newcomer Alberto Fujimori. Learn more about Fujimori here.
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