Conversation in the Cathedral – Mario Vargas Llosa (1969)


“Few Latin American writers have attempted to create so ambitious and complicated a body of work as Mario Vargas Llosa. In one decade (his first novel was published in 1963) this 38‐year‐old Peruvian has published three long novels, two short ones and a collection of short stories. Linked by common themes and structures, these six volumes can be seen as one work—one of the largest narrative efforts in contemporary Latin American letters. With an ambition worthy of such masters of the 19thcentury novel as Balzac, Dickens and Galdós. but with a technical skill that brings him closer to the heirs of Flaubert and Henry James, Marlo Vargas Llosa has begun a complete inventory of the political, social. economic and cultural reality of Peru. This inventory is necessarily controversial. Very deliberately, Vargas Llosa has chosen to be his country’s conscience. Following Jean‐Paul Sartre’s recommendations to the intellectuals of 1945, Vargas Llosa has written books that reflect a world in decay, contaminated by the exploitation of the Indian and the worker, a world victimized by foreign imperialism and by the native bourgeolsie’s complicity in this exploitation. As he stated when he received the Remulo Gallegos Award for Literature in Venezuela in 1967, Vargas Llosa believes that literature is fire, that the writer’s function is to contribute to the destruction of a dying world in order to lay the foundations of another world where social justice will not be merely a utopian ideal. Because of his socialist convictions and his ready defense of them, he has always been attacked by his country’s right wing forces. … From this point of view. Vargas Linsa seems to he the perfect cliché of the Latin American writer: a revolutionary, a non‐conformist, using his work for extra‐literary functions. To a certain extent that image is accurate, as can be seen in the subject of this vast new novel, now published in a smooth translation by Gregory Rabassa. In fact, ‘Conversation in The Cathedral’ is a meticulous panorama of the Peru of the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, when General Odria’s dictatorship was like a cancer that ate into the very marrow of Peruvian society.  …”
NY Times: A massive novel of Peruvian realities (March 23, 1975)
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