Mario Vargas Llosa

THE LAUREATE: Here he is. I’ll write this later, because when I finish this, I need to jump right into the next thing.

MY EXPERIENCE WITH HIM: I read Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

WHAT I READ: The War at the End of the World.REVIEW: The War of the End of the World is an epic novel on a grand scale about one of the more bizarre incidents in Brazilian history, the War of Canudos. For those who don’t read links or don’t trust Wikipedia, what essentially happened is that, in the 1890s, a preacher leading a millennial cult made up of the poorest and most wretched castoffs of provincial Brazilian society occupied an abandoned plantation (I think that’s a good approximation of hacienda, but I could be wrong) and built a city there. The Republican party in that state put word around that it was a monarchist rebellion and used that lie to bring national military force against it to strengthen their own position . The rabble of Canudos destroyed three expeditions, but the fourth, which involved some eight thousand soldiers against about twenty thousand people, mostly non-combatants, mostly starving, proved fatal. The only extant first-hand accounts of the war were on the side of the army, and painted the people of Canudos in a very unflattering light. Mario Vargas Llosa has taken this material and written it to humanize the people who fell into Canudos.

The biggest theme that comes out is that, for the people on the absolute bottom of the social ladder, the only way for them to take control of their lives is to join these insane, irrational experimental societies. Slavoj Zizek would call them the “part of no part,” the people who are so low on the ladder that they effectively do not officially exist. But this shared degradation cuts across all other boundaries, and all it takes is the right catalyst to drastically restructure society. That’s basically what happens. Incidentally, the book is also an excellent summary of everything that was horrible about South American politics in the 20th century, with the possible exception of the US sending thugs to beat up union banana pickers for Chiqita and then again for Dole. Incidentally, for fans of musical theater or making fun of Russell Crowe, The War of the End of the World is very similar to Les Miserables, except where Victor Hugo was clearly getting paid by the word and felt the need to stretch things out beyond all reason, Mario Vargas Llosa had this great story to tell and it just happened to take a long time. So, yes, there are diversions, but the random stories about priests and bandits or whatever are four or five pages, and they all play important roles in the story later on. So, yeah, tightly plotted Les Mis with more machete decapitations.

RECOMMENDED: Absolutely. I liked Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, I liked this, I think I just like South American novelists in general.

WHAT’S NEXT: The only collection of Erik Axel Karlfeldt’s poetry I could find in English

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