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Mario Vargas Llosa. Travesuras de la nina mala.

Mario Vargas Llosa. Travesuras de la nina mala. Lima, Peru. Alfaguara. 2006. 375 pages. ISBN 9972-847-97-7

RICARDO SOMOCURCIO, the protagonist of Travesuras de la nina mala, Mario Vargas Llosa's recent novel, is a middle-class Peruvian whose sole ambition since early in life was to live in Paris. Ricardo sees his dream come true when he moves to the French capital in the early 1960s, making a living as a translator. During his teenage years in Lima in the 1950s, he meets Lily, a flirtatious adolescent, known as la chilenita, with whom he falls madly in love. However, when Lily's false identity as a Chilean is suddenly revealed, she disappears. There begins the long amorous saga between Ricardo and la nina mala that lasts four decades, during which time she will change her identity repeatedly. La nina mala will first reappear in Paris in the early 1960s, as la camarada Arlette, on her way to revolutionary Cuba. From Cuba, she will return to Paris as Madame Arnoux, after marrying a French diplomat in Havana. Later, Ricardo finds her again in London in the 1970s, this time as Mrs. Richardson, the wife of a British aristocrat, and yet once more in Tokyo, where she is known as Kuriko, the lover of a sordid Japanese mobster. Each new meeting between the two lovers reignites Ricardo's love frenzy, until the mysterious nina mala turns into an obsession that controls his heart and mind.

Humor and tragedy are carefully woven in a linear narrative depicting a relationship filled with treason, melodrama, and eroticism. Through la nina mala's multiple identities, Vargas Llosa also pays homage to one of his literary masters, Gustave Flaubert, who in L'education sentimentale includes an adventurous character known as Madame Arnoux. Much like la nina mala, Madame Arnoux appears and disappears in the life of Frederic Moreau.

Vargas Llosa's novel also chronicles important political and social events in contemporary Europe (i.e., Paris as the haven for many Latin American revolutionaries of the 1960s; the swinging London of the 1970s; the post-Franco Spain of the 1980s). At the same time, Peru's unstable political history, ranging from military regimes in the 1960s to fragile democratic governments in the 1980s, is also portrayed.

A novel of lighthearted, humorous moments, with many dramatic twists and turns in its plot, Travesuras de la nina mala also reflects on the craft of fiction. As the novel progresses, Ricardo's identity as a translator quietly evolves into that of an author. As such, he informs the reader of his long amorous saga with Otilia (la nina mala's real name), a woman who has given him through her many identities "el tema de una novela." In turn, la nina mala becomes a tragic heroine in the best tradition of many rebels of the nineteenth-century European novel. Like Emma Bovary, she is a woman with a nonconformist lifestyle who lives not only according to her own moral code but is also willing to go down in life defending her staunch individualism.

In Travesuras de la nina mala, Vargas Llosa once again displays his well-known talent as a storyteller and puts together a fine work about the many faces of love, twentieth-century history, and the art of fiction.

Cesar Ferreira

University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
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Author:Ferreira, Cesar
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jul 1, 2007
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