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La verdad de las mentiras (The Truth of Lies).

Born in Arequipa, Peru, in 1936, Mario Vargas Llosa achieved his first critical success with La ciudad y los perros (The City and the Dogs) in 1963 and went on to become one of Latin America's most highly acclaimed novelists as well as a respected playwright. In La verdad de las mentiras he grapples with a problem that has abosorbed him for many years: the nature of fiction.

La verdad de las mentiras is a collection of commentaries on twenty-five of the author's favorite novels and stories, preceded by an essay on the "truth" of fiction. For Vargas Llosa fans, these introductory remarks will probably be the most fascinating part of the book, for in them, the author elaborates on his concept of the character and purpose of fiction, thereby adding to our understanding of his work.

The Spanish Inquisitors banned novels from the colonies because they thought that the fabrications these books contained would be dangerous to the spiritual well-being of the Indians. Vargas asserts that the holy fathers were right to fear novels, which, although made up of lies, express hidden truths. Men and women, says Vargas, are never satisfied with their lot. Fiction allows them to play out their desires vicariously. This liberating process may lead to rebellion against authority, a fact the Inquisitors understood perfectly.

Whether a novel or story is based on fact or is a creation of pure fantasy, it always consits of lies, for the very process of writing fiction entails selection and embellishment, and, therefore, distortion. The "truth" of a novel does not depend on its adherence to facts, explains Vargs, but on its ability to persuade its readers. A novel is "true" if it causes the reader to enter into the illusion. A good novel fills the gap between real life and desire. The "lies" provide an alternative. They address the deficiencies in our existence and, thereby, constitute a protest against reality. This is precisely what the Inquisitors feared. Within the fictions that men and women create reside the seeds of revolt.

The works that Vargas Llosa analyzes are varied. The list includes Dubliners, by James Joyce; Manhattan Transfer, by John Dos Passos; The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald; The House of the Sleeping Beauties, by Yasunari Kawabata; One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, by Alexandr Solzhenitsin. The breadth of the material makes it impossible to synthesize, but the following synopses of the essays on Thomas Mann's Death in Venice and Albert Camus' The Stranger will provide an idea of how Vargas applies his concept of fiction.

In Death in Venice, a disciplined, decorous classicist, Gustav von Aschenbach, takes a trip to Venice after his wife's death and falls insanely in love with a young Polish boy named Tadzio, who is virtually oblivious to his existence. The old man's passion leads him to degrade himself horribly--he even wears make-up and dyes his hair-until he finally dies in a cholera epidemic. For Vargas Llosa, von Aschenbach's transformation reveals profound truths. The dignified classicist who has lived his entire life according to the rules of orthodox morality yields to the dark, perverse sensuality that lies within us all. His concept of life, man, art and culture metamorphize. For Vargas, the old man's death is an allegory of the abyss inhabited by violent, destructive forces into which our occult appetites can hurl us.

In The Stranger, an existentialist classic published in 1949, Meursault, blinded by the sun, kills an Arab on the beach. Indefferent to society and totally unrepentant, he is condemned to death. Critics have seen Meursault as an incarnation of liberty. By refusing to display the appropriate emotions at his trial, at his mother's funeral, and elsewhere, he demonstrates his rejection of social hypocrisy. His ferocious individualism awakens a sense of solidarity in the reader. However, Vargas points out that Meursault is not an idealist, but a man who functions at an almost animalistic level. In his view, Meursault is a harbinger of our own society. Although men and especially women possess unprecedented individual freedoms, this newfound independence has not made us happier, more responsible, or even less hypocritical. On the contrary, it has deprived us of sensitivity, spirituality, ambition, enthusiasm and a sense of solidarity. In Vargas' opinion, Meursault deserved to die.

Although many of Vargas' theses are open to debate, this is an engrossing, thought-provoking book that tells us as much about the author as about the works he discusses.
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Author:Mujica, Barbara
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 1990
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