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A Writer's Reality.

In A Writer's Reality Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa returns to a subject that has fascinated him for years: the creative process. However, this book--based on eight lectures he delivered in English at Syracuse University--is not merely a recap of other books on related themes, such as his 1990 collection of critiques and essays La verdad de las mentiras (The Truth of Lies). Instead, A Writer's Reality is a perceptive, methodical exploration of the human need to generate fiction and of the factors that led to the creation of six of the author's own novels.

The first chapter is devoted to Jorge Luis Borges, who for Vargas Llosa, was not so much an influence--since his style was so personal as to be inimitable--as an example of innovation. Vargas Llosa admires the musicality of Borges' prose, as well as its precision and concision. He points out that in contrast to the wordiness that usually characterizes Spanish writing, Borges' style is distinct for its frugality. But while Borges is intensely cerebral, he is also a master storyteller. Vargas Llosa is fascinated with the Argentine's gift for compression--for packing layers of meaning into a short text--and with his use of Argentine mythology. On the other hand, he criticizes Borges' ethnocentricity. "The black, the Indian, the primitive often appear in his stories as inferior, wallowing in a state of barbarism ..." he writes. However, in Vargas Llosa's view, this does not diminish his immense contribution to the development of a new Latin American literature.

In his chapter on early Peruvian writing, the author draws some interesting conclusions about the conquistadors' need to embellish their acts in the chronicles. He is certainly not the first to point out the relationship between the chronicles and the novels of chivalry, but his views on the consequences of this sort of "enhancement of the facts" are unique. The Inquisitors banned fiction from the colonies, Vargas Llosa reminds us, because they viewed novels as dangerous for the spiritual development of society. But, comments the author, the Inquisitors could not imagine that "the appetite for lies, that is, for escaping objective reality through illusions, was so powerful and so deeply rooted in the human spirit that once the novel could not be used to satisfy it, all other disciplines and genres in which ideas could flow freely would be used as a substitute--history, religion, poetry, science, art, speeches, journalism, and the daily habits of the people." As a result, the author concludes (only partially tongue-in-cheek), Latin Americans became so used to embellishing the truth, to mixing fantasy with reality, that it made them "impractical and inept in political matters."

Vargas Llosa takes a courageously politically incorrect stance here. Latin Americans have routinely reinvented history, he says, blaming all of the region's problems on the Spaniards and the colonization process. But, he concludes, "The vertical and totalitarian structure of the Tahuanitinsuyo (Inca empire) was without doubt more harmful to its survival than all the conquistadors' firearms and iron weapons." Without diminishing the achievements of the native populations or the abuses of the Spaniards, Vargas Llosa stresses that even after independence was achieved in the Americas, the abuses continued. "One of our worse defects, our best fictions, is to believe that our miseries have been imposed on us from abroad, that others, for example, the conquistadors, have always been responsible for our problems ... Did they really do it? We did it; we are the conquistadors."

The remainder of the chapters deal with specific novels. Two of the most engrossing--those on Pantaleon y las visitadoras (Captain Pantoja and the Special Service) and Tia Julia y el escribidor (Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter)--describe how the author came to incorporate humor into his novels. But in his discussion of La Guerra del fin del mundo (The War of the End of the World), which he describes as his favorite of his novels, he returns to the subject of Latin American political instability. La Guerra, he explains, represents a departure from his themes in that it takes place, not in contemporary Peru, but in nineteenth-century Brazil. Inspired by his reading of Os sertoes, by the Brazilian writer Euclides da Cunha, Vargas Llosa began to research a certain political uprising in rural Brazil during the last century. His goal was to explore the nature and manifestations of intolerance in Latin America--but not only the oft studied intolerance of the Church, the government or the masses, but the less recognized intolerance of the intellectual elite. In the last chapter, which deals with Historia de Mayta (The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta), Vargas Llosa discusses fiction as ideology. "One day I reached this conclusion," he writes, "that ideology was the way |Latin Americans~ incorporated fiction into their lives." The story of Mayta, he says, is a novel about ideological fiction and literary fiction and how they converge.

In A Writer's Reality Vargas Llosa displays profound insight not only into his own writing, but also into the fiction/reality of Latin America. He has taken some provocative positions that are sure to generate heated discussions in both political and literary circles. In doing so, he is fulfilling perfectly his function as a writer.
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Author:Mujica, Barbara
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 1993
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