Book Notes: Vargas Llosa’s Story of Mayta

This is a novel by the greatest Peruvian writer that is usually dismissed by critics and scholars. It’s considered to be a political hatchet job, Vargas Llosa’s attack on Leftists he is known to despise.

In reality, though, the novel is amazing and has nothing whatsoever to do with facile political judgments. Vargas Llosa always said it’s his most literary novel, and it’s true. The craftsmanship is phenomenal. But as usual with Vargas Llosa, the literary experimentation doesn’t come at the expense of the plot or the ease of reading.

The writer’s portrayal of the leftist guerrilleros is actually extremely generous. He leaves room for no doubt that they are sincerely motivated by feeling the pain of the downtrodden. I don’t share Vargas Llosa’s belief in the profound goodness of the earnest, self-sacrificing revolutionaries like Mayta. But I admire the author’s capacity to look at them kindly.

Forget the damn guerrilleros, though. It’s just a really, really good novel. It’s tons of fun to read, which is really all that matters. Everything that Vargas Llosa wrote before somewhere around 2005 is great. Since then it went a little downhill but that’s normal given his age.

5 thoughts on “Book Notes: Vargas Llosa’s Story of Mayta”

  1. The only book by Vargas Llosa I’ve read is Conversation In The Cathedral many years ago. I recall it was good, so I’m not sure why I never picked up anything else.


        1. That was where I started liking him less, although it’s an interesting novel and it does popularize the Euclides da Cunha source, and I appreciate that. But it’s where, to me, V-Ll starts to get homogenized & join world lit., exoticize the marginal, etc., whereas in the earlier work what I really like is the value/empathy given all voices. I’d love to know what you think about Conversación en la Catedral, it’s one of my favorite novels ever. All of his stuff is enjoyable, he really does know how to write, and I find his things hard to put down once I start – a sign that I like them or that they are good – although I don’t find all of it “great”


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