"At what precise moment had Peru fucked itself up?" exasperatingly asks Conversation in the Cathedral, the highly acclaimed novel of Mario Vargas Llosa, "one of the finest novelists of twentieth century Spanish America," and the 2010 Nobel Laureate. Although the question remains unanswered in the novel, it pervades each facet of life in Peru under military regimes (1948-63), especially the Ochenio Odrista (1948-56),3 like a driving force investigating everyone and everything in this paradigm of Latin American corruption, and tracking each aspect of Peruvian reality (and metaphorically, of Latin American reality) to its extreme failure and ruin. The book becomes not only an immense mural of Peruvian life (and the Latin American situation) but also a fierce denunciation of the corruption and immorality engulfing different strata of society, under a dictatorship and its instruments of entrenching itself in power. As Santiago Zavala, a rich businessman's son, and Ambrosio Pardo, the Zavalas' Negro chauffeur, converse and reproduce fifteen years of misery under military rules, especially the "Ochenia," over rounds of beer at the Cathedral (a cheap bar-brothel), Conversation reels off a cinematic story of violence and militarism, greed and corruption, deceit and betrayal, oppression and perversion, racial discrimination and class conflict. The reader-pieced reminiscences also provide an encompassing portrayal of Peruvian life in the vast variety of its geographic locations, of its real life-drawn characters, and of its societal conditions. And their reflections' focus on the Odria dictatorship affords incisive investigation into its debasing socio-political system, as well as a most scathing indictment of these networks that have caused Peru's (and similarly-situated Latin American and Third World countries) brutalization and nurtured the agents of such brutalization.
Thus, Vargas Llosa's ultra-complex structure and desacralized language eloquently denounce the Peruvian social truth he eloquently re-creates, and affirm his creative genius.
Adelaida Lucero, University of the Phillipines, Phillipines
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