Alfredo Bryce Echenique. Permiso para sentir: Antimemorias II.
IN 1993 Alfredo Bryce Echenique published a first volume of memoirs, Permiso para vivir (Antimemorias), which enjoyed wide readership throughout the Spanish-speaking world. By now, it is no secret that much of Bryce's novels privilege a first-person narrative, creating a number of memorable alter egos who all seem to converge in the literary persona that the author has created for himself: that of a world traveler, that is, who has lived extended periods of his life between France, Spain, and the United States but who always longs to return to the one place that remains at the center of his creative endeavors--Peru, with its many social contradictions and troubled history.
Permiso para sentir follows this same path. As in Permiso para vivir, where the "I" narrator requests permission to live and tell his life story of Bryce Echenique the writer, in this second volume, the request is for a new sentimental journey--and an intense sentimental journey it is. In the first part of his 600-page narrative, "Por orden de azar," Bryce reminisces freely on such subjects as the student riots in Paris of 1968, his childhood and adolescence in Lima, his early years in Europe as an aspiring writer, his intense love life, etc. Equally important are the many anecdotes he shares on the writers he befriended early on in Paris (Mario Vargas Llosa and Julio Ramon Ribeyro among them) as well as of others he also came to know and admire (Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Augusto Monterroso, Guillermo Cabrera Infante). The most intense remarks, however, appear in the second half of the novel, "Che, te dice la patria," which deals with Bryce's return to Peru in 1999 with the intention of permanently residing there after thirty-five years in Europe. Such a decision proved to be a painful and even traumatic one for the novelist. Present-day Lima was no longer the idyllic city he left behind in 1964. Instead, he faced a burgeoning, chaotic, and unfriendly metropolis that mirrors the many gaps between the haves and have-nots in Peru. He minces no words in criticizing the ruling class and Peruvian politicians (including Fujimori's corrupt regime in the 1990s), who are to blame for Peru's social inequalities and the many failures it has faced as a modern nation.
Despite such a bitter reality, humor and nostalgia share a common stage in Bryce's sentimental journey, where friendship stands out as a personal ethic for the author and whose prose is always nurtured by a spiraling, digressive orality that brings out the great storyteller that he is. As in his first book of memoirs, he cites Andre Malraux's Antimemoires to question the alleged veracity of autobiographical writing as an exercise in self-instropection: "Las unicas autobiografias que existen son las que uno se inventa," Bryce claims, for it is only the capricious act of memory, with an added dose of fiction, that will allow for people, places, and life events to remain in time, thanks to the written word.
In the long run, Bryce does come to terms with the many people and places that have crossed paths with the relentless traveler portrayed in Permiso para sentir, this writer of many "ires y venires." At times such a task proves to be difficult and even painful, especially when discussing the Peruvian national scene. In the end, however, Alfredo Bryce Echenique knows he must continue moving about freely between Peru and Europe in order to be the vital storyteller that he is, always willing to share a new adventure with his readers, as in his best works of fiction.
University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee