Mario Vargas Llosa, the 2010 Nobel Prize laureate for Literature, has been one of my favorite Latin American novelists for several years, and I was recently offered the opportunity to be the teaching assistant for a literature course dedicated to the study of his work. I obviously couldn’t pass the offer up, given that I have loved almost all of his novels that I have read over the past few years and that I am eager to read even more of them. The class will give me the chance to discuss his work with others, as well as keep my teaching instincts active. As I go through the class, I will also be able to add some reviews of Latin American literature to the blog, and so I am introducing a new feature for the summer – a Focus on Mario Vargas Llosa.
Vargas Llosa is from Peru, and many of his early novels have to do with his perception(s) of Peruvian society – novels such as In the Time of the Hero (The City and the Dogs, in Spanish), The Conversation in the Cathedral, and The Green House. These early works are also amongst his most challenging novels to read because Vargas Llosa, like many of the authors of the Latin American Boom, was greatly influenced by the European and American Modernists – novelists like Virginia Woolf, James Joyce and William Faulkner who experimented with narrative form. The Modernists developed techniques like stream-of-consciousness writing and narrative time shifts which many readers find challenging, baffling, even frustrating. If you don’t mind working a little harder at first to acclimate yourself to these narrative forms, however, much of their work is quite interesting and beautiful.
As time has gone on, some of Vargas Llosa’s novels have adopted more traditional narrative structures and/or shifted to focus on more broadly international landscapes. That is not to say that novels such as The Storyteller, Death in the Andes, The Feast of the Goat, or The War at the End of the World are “easy to read” novels, either, though. Many Latin American novelists tend to produce very dense, long novels – and Vargas Llosa is no exception. But in my opinion, these novels are also quite rewarding: I have learned a lot about different cultures, lives lived in rural poverty and under dictatorships, and been challenged to consider ethical questions that arise when two cultures are confronted with one another.
Obviously, these aren’t novels that you read for the same kind of entertainment as when you pick up a Fantasy or a Romantic Adventure, but even so, they have compelling stories that are entertaining in a different way. Some of his novels, such as Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, are more light-hearted, but all share several things in common: engrossing stories and characters, compelling situations that draw the reader into another world. Vargas Llosa has written novels in many very different genres, and I find his work interesting in part because I believe that it is important not to confine yourself, as a reader or a writer, to the same genres. As I search for new reading material, my main desire is to find compelling, engrossing stories.
So although Vargas Llosa’s novels are very different reading material than most of the books that I have reviewed so far on my blog, I invite you to learn more about the work of this Nobel Prize-winning author as I re-read some of his novels and discover others for the first time. You may or may not feel inspired to join me in reading some of these dense novels, but I encourage you to at least check out my reviews as I move forward through the class – hopefully my reviews will give you some insight into the world of Vargas Llosa in and of themselves.
Check back over the next two months (or so) for thoughts and reviews on several of Vargas Llosa’s novels, including In the Time of the Hero, Conversation in the Cathedral, The Storyteller, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter and The Bad Girl. I may add more to that list as I move forward, as well.