Distant Stars by Roberto Bolano

Roberto Bolaño died three years ago at the relatively young age of 50 , at the pinnacle of his career as a writer and before he could be better known in the English knowing world.

The translation into English of his By Night in Chile a few years ago marked his arrival in the English world. Distant Stars is the next book translated into English. His collection of short stories Last Evenings on Earth has been published recently and the translation of his most ambitious posthumus work 2666 is eagerly awaited.

The theme of Distant Stars is the same as the By Night in Chile, the over two decades of unbridled exercise of power by the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet after the violent overthrow of the socialist government of Salvador Allende on that other, less remembered, 9/11 of 1973.

The theme has been attempted by other writers, notably by Ariel Dorfman in The Last Song of Manuel Sendero, who made a vastly more experimental attempt at capturing the brutality of those years. In contrast, Distant Stars is a relatively simpler novel, closer to Dr Faustus by Thomas Mann, but less verbose and less tedious.

Mann had taken the analogy of the folk legend of Faust and Mephistopheles where a musician signs a pact with the devil (in this case Nazi Germany), to illustrate the immorality of those who had been accomplices of the Nazi regime. Bolaño, in this work, takes the case of an avant garde poet, Carlos Wieder. In the process he also offers insights into the lives of that generation of poets that was torn apart by the dictatorship: “Madness was not exceptional at that time,” he remarks, when Carlos Wieder inaugurates a new form of poetry by writing one and two liners poems in the sky on an airplane.

While Carlos wins accolades from the regime, other poets meet with a different fate. “The good news was that we had been expelled from the university, the bad was that almost all of our friends have disappered”, the narrator’s friend Bibiano observes. There are many incidents that recount the “melancholy folklore of exile- made up of stories that are fabrications or pale copies of what really happened”.

Carlos meanwhile goes on to experiment with other forms of ‘literature’ till it becomes so grotesque that even the supportive regime finds it difficult to continue to stand by him. Bolaño unmasks the gory details, and Wieder’s participation in the brutalization of the Chilean soceity during the dictatorship. Wieder’s unwritten pact with the devil becomes evident.

Bolaño scores with the fact that he is able to evoke a series of sub texts that are pregnant with possiblities. The following narration, for example, by the Indian maid of one the victims of the Wieder’s murderous crimes indicates a new trajectory that deserves a different treatment altogether.

The maid makes an appearance in the court against the defendent Carlos Weider when his crimes are discovered.

Over the years her Spanish had dwindled. When she spoke every second word was in Mapuche… in her memory the night of the crime was one in the long history of killing and injustice. Her account of the event was swept up in a cyclical, epic poem, which, as her dumbfounded listeners came to realize, was partly her story, the story of the Chilean citizen Amalia Maluenda, who used to work for the Garmendias, and partly the story of the Chilean nation. A story of terror…. Remembering the dark of the crime, she said she had heard the music of the Spanish. When asked to clarify what she meant by “the music of the Spanish,” she replied: ” Sheer rage, sir, sheer, futile rage”.

Cross posted here.

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The Writer who wanted to play Football

With the World Cup round the corner, one cannot but help think of Eduardo Galeano, the Uruguayan writer who wanted to be a football player and is the author of classic The Open Veins of South America and also, Soccer in Sun and Shadow.

At the beginning of Soccer in Sun and Shadow, Eduardo Galeano despairs the professionalization of soccer: what he calls the “voyage from beauty to duty” (2). In this “voyage” he sees the suppression of the beauty, creativity, and freedom of play in favour of winning and profit. Professional soccer “imposes a soccer of lightning speed and brute strength, a soccer that negates joy, kills fantasy and outlaws daring” (2). The same can be said of professional hockey, where playmakers become the targets of bruisers with cement hands, and are forced out of the game through injury. But getting back to soccer, as Galeano says:

Luckily, on the field you can still see, even if only once in a long while, some insolent rascal who sets aside the script and commits the blunder of dribbling past the entire opposing side, the referee and the crowd in the stands, all for the carnal delight of embracing the forbidden adventure of freedom. (2)

It is this “adventure of freedom” that Galeano looks for in soccer, the aptly nicknamed ‘beautiful game.’

From: Shakespeare’s World Cup.

A recent interview at DemocracyNow.

AMY GOODMAN: How does soccer and politics intertwine?

EDUARDO GALEANO: Everywhere, every day, soccer is a source of power nowadays. Silvio Berlusconi is the result of the success of the Milan club in Italy. And almost all politicians in the Latin countries have close relationships to not only president or politicians, but even military dictators. One of the first acts of General Pinochet in Chile was to become president of a very popular soccer team, Colo-Colo, because he knew perfectly well that soccer is a source of prestige and power.

Excerpts from his book Soccer in Sun and Shadow.

A review of his book Upside Down.

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As the World goes up in Smoke

John Banville compares two otherwise un- related authors, the Chilean Roberto Bolaño and the Albanian Ismail Kadare in a review of Bolaño’s recently published Last Evenings on Earth and Ismail Kadare’s The Successor:

The work of Kadare and Bolaño merge in that gesture, that indifferent fumbling for another cigarette, as the world itself goes up in smoke.

There is a whole lot of other reviews in the Spring edition of The Nation.

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Eternal Curse on the Reader of These Pages

Best known for the novel Kiss of the Spider Woman, and about whom the Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa once said : “Of all the writers I have known, the one who seemed least interested in literature was Manuel Puig (1932-90).”

The plot of Manuel’s novel (the first one that he wrote in English) Eternal Curse on the Reader of These Pages is seemingly staightforward.

An Argentenian revolutionary, a trade union- organizer actually, is tortured after the military coup in 1976. He manages to find his way to a sanatorium in the United States via a human rights organization. Here he is allotted an attendant who takes him around in his wheelchair. The novel is little more than a series of conversations, a continuous dialogue between the two as the attendant Larry takes Ramirez around New York.

But as the novel progressed, I found the plot somewhat convoluted and the novel crashing to an uncertain end- the reader is urged on not so much by the plot but by the layers of reality and unreality that are unsheathed between the dialogues.

The novel has no other text except 223 pages of dialogue, five letters, one will and one job application.

The plot is rendered meaningless in the web of psychological trajectories that Puig weaves for the reader.

There is nothing sinister about the novel itself despite the title. But it has dark undertones throughout, peppered and enlivened with deep insights that make one aware of the sensitivities of this writer “least interested in literature.”

I found the novel stylistically very innovative and confirmed the view that Latin American Literature is not all about magical realism. It is enriched by a galaxy of writers with very distinctive styles.

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Tagore and Latin America

In school, I was initially exposed to Charles Dickens and Jules Verne, as I grew up the literature that really enraptured and then shaped my thinking was from Russia and later from Eastern Europe but above all from Latin America, a continent I knew neither as part of my education nor did I know the languages- Spanish and Portuguese. Yet, I took to Garcia Marquez and Mario Llosa, amongst others, as fish to water.

In a reversal of historical fact, it was the Latin American writers that lead me to some of the Anglo- Americans- Faulker, for example was via Carlos Fuentes. Still I have to state, with all due respect to Anglo- American literature, that the Anglo- Americans do not touch a raw nerve in me as do the Latin Americans.

Perhaps I will one day try and rationalize the natural affinity. Till then, see two interesting links below.

An interesting essay on the fascination for Tagore in Latin America. Link via SPATLIT.

How did Rabindranath Tagore come to be so well known and beloved in Latin America, a continent so different from India? Well, maybe because they are not so different.

And another interesting report from India from the same site .

While Akademi secretary K. Satchidanandan championed against the ‘monolithic, stereotypical concept of the Latin American novel’, Chilean critic Jaime Collyer asserted: ‘The myth and the hoax, this magic-religious interpretation of the world are as much a part of Spanish America as its actual discovery.’

The Sahitya Akademi, which is publishing Spanish-Hindi bilingual editions of Gabriela Mistral, Pablo Neruda, Octavio Paz and contemporary poets, has sought help from other publishers in this mammoth task.

The Perón Novel by Tomás Eloy Martínez

The joys of being a dictator are immense!

One enjoys an almost god- like stature while weilding power, and subsequently a writer comes along and writes a novel on the dictator- forcing him to live through not so much the god- like side of the story but much more intensely the other side of the Janus face- the one that is dark and clumsy and often remains under a cloak during the lifetime of the dictator.

In the poem The Novelist Auden writes on how the novelist must live through the existences of his characters:

Encased in talent like a uniform,
The rank of every poet is well known;
They can amaze us like a thunderstorm,
Or die so young, or live for years alone.
They can dash forward like hussars: but he
Must struggle out of his boyish gift and learn
How to be plain and awkward, how to be
One after whom none think it worth to turn.

For, to achieve his lightest wish, he must
Become the whole of boredom, subject to
Vulgar complaints like love, among the Just

Be just, among the Filthy filthy too,
And in his own weak person, if he can,
Must suffer dully all the wrongs of Man.

Stalin had Solzhenitsyn’s The First Circle that captured the pyschological portrait of the man, and we have had Garcia Marquez’s The Autumn of the Patriach based on the archetypal Latin American dictator and more recently Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Feast of the Goat on the Dominican Republic’s Trujilo.

Tomás Eloy Martínez, author of Santa Evita and more recently, The Tango Singer, traces the life of the Argentinian strongman and founder of Peronism and the Peronist Party, Juan Perón, and layer by layer unravels a man who is little more than a scheming demagogue.

In his recent brilliant work Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution, Richard Gott makes the following observation:

The history of Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s was so dominated by the eruption of military dictatorships of the right that it is easy to forget the existence of another tradition. For on many occasions, in the nineteenth as well as the twentieth century, radical officers have appeared with the interests of the people at heart, ready to do battle on their behalf with local landlords or foreign capitalists.

It is to one of these eclectic traditions that Perón belonged. His inspiration came from the National Socialism of Hitler in Germany but more than that of Mussolini in Italy- that is a form of national socialism without the concentration camps.

Martínez does well to dig out this and other such influences on the mind of the military captain Perón who went on to become the President of the republic via a military coup and whom was himself overthrown subsequently in another one. While the formative years of Perón are well dwelt on, and so are the moments soon after his return in 1971, the actual years of his rule and the long 18 years of his exile do not get the same attention.

Still the novel is a fascinating read and Martínez’s mastery of his subject and on the craft of the novel are evident, making for a pleasant reading. It has certainly been my best read from Latin America in the last few months.

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The Tango Singer by Tomas Eloy Martinez

A review of The Tango Singer by Tomas Eloy Martinez, author of The Peron Novel and Evita.

But the year now is 2001, when the Argentine economy collapsed. Graphic descriptions abound of a city under siege by the migratory poor, camped on the streets, desperately attempting to find food or beg a living – a city of ragged shadows and bonfires on corners, of a political structure in crisis. The city that Martel maps out for Cadogan is an even bleaker one, superimposed on an even blacker past. It is this recent history that Cadogan explores through a variety of subplots.

Link via SPALIT.

An interview with Martinez here. An excerpt:

I ask him about what the limit is for the manipulation of the historical reality into fiction, and he shoots me back my own question, eruditely mentioning Tolstoy and Victor Hugo: “What historical reality are you talking about? I don’t think there is any historical manipulation in Tolstoy’s Napoleon in War and peace or in Victor Hugo’s in his Les Miserables, neither is there in the Julien Sorel [character in The Red and the Black] of Stendhal, who is based, as is well known, on a real person. Writing novels is the freest act of the human spirit and it is up to the reader to discern novels from history books.”

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Hay Festival in Cartagena

The Hay festival is moving across the world now, this year to Cartegena, Colombia. Interestingly half of its turnover are accounted for by the Spanish speaking world. Gabriel Garcia Marquez- “Colombia’s best known export after cocaine”, is the chief patron at the festival. The British presence is marked by two un- British names: Hanif Kureishi and Vikram Seth.

The Hay festival Cartagena is an altogether different proposition. Long-eared donkeys pull carts through the 16th-century walled city. Vendors shout at the inhabitants of the burnt ochre houses. At every corner stand armed police. Rumour has it that for every one in uniform, two more in plainclothes stand idly watching over the city. For this week Cartagena – or Cartagena de Indias to give it its full name, known as La Heroica – has special visitors. Authors from Britain, Europe, and North and South America have converged on the dank, narrow streets of this Colombian city for the four-day festival.There are the new writers of Latin America such as Colombia’s Jorge Franco, who places Romeo and Juliet in the mean streets of Medellín. There is Francisco Goldman, born in the US, who writes in the Spanish of his Guatemalan parents. There is the waspish intellect of Spain’s Enrique Vila-Matas. And then there are the British. Hanif Kureishi sits in a hotel lobby receiving visitors with surly charm; Vikram Seth plops himself down in a chair, almost disappearing.

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Conversations: Edith Grossman and Mayra Montero

Edith Grossman, famous for her translations of Garcia Marquez and Vargas llosa, besides the translation of Don Quixote two years ago, in conversation with Cuban novelist Mayra Montero.

Montero : You know that musicians as well as authors are always looking for their own language. But it’s more than the language. It’s something to do with ethics and aesthetics.

Grossman : Ethics and aesthetics. Which brings us back to what we were saying earlier about language and story — what, in fact, does an author have to say about the world, and how does he or she express that vision? Ethics and aesthetics — the blend of the two is the essence of all art, isn’t it? For the writer as well as the translator.

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In Love with Latin America- Essays by Mario Vargas Llosa

A review of the new collection of essays by Mario Vargas Llosa (google translation in English, original in French link via the Literary Saloon). The book is not available in English. It is a pity that the English language world is bereft of many of the writings of this great Peruvian storyteller.

Marquez, his rival of sorts, finds mention in the collection:

Marquez is treated for what he is: a writer able … to realise in memory, the imagination or the control of the men a “multiple and oceanic” world.

Even in bad, machine translation, the words (“multiple and oceanic”) are mesmerizing.

a previous post,here.

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Mario Vargas Llosa- an interview with LePoint

Mario Vargas Llosa‘s google translated interview in LePoint (original in French). He is as lively as ever ! (minimally edited, italics mine):

[Answering a question on where he actually lives, as he travels often between Lima, London, Paris, Madrid]:

Essentially, I live where I am… And let us say that I am especially in four places where I carry out the same life: Lima, Madrid, London, Paris… Lima, it is for the memories of my youth. Paris or Madrid, it is to feel the pulse of Europe which moves.
But London, it is the ideal to work, because the writers, over there, are not socially very significant and nobody thinks of disturbing them… Borges, very anglophile, adored these British conversations “which start by abolishing the confidence and which end up removing the dialogue”… He was right: it is in London that I write most easily. In does Paris, one speak too much, you do not find?

[On the observation that his room is clinically neat and clean, resembling a dentist’s office]:

Yes, I am very organized: alarm clock, walk, reading of the newspapers, shower, writing, public library or coffee, then writing. Always the same thing, the same rate/rhythm. I do not have the choice…, I become claustrophobic and, then, I transform myself into a special correspondent here or there… A writer should not be locked up too a long time with his phantoms. It would be unhealthy…

[On Flaubert]:

Ah, Flaubert! I place his work above all, but I would not have liked to live his life.

[On his visit to Gaza during the recent withdrawl]:

… What I saw was atrocious… Worse than the worst of the shantytowns of Latin America… And the future is announced badly for the poor people which stagnate there. Sharon had reason to get rid of Gaza, but any remainder to be made for the Palestinians. The misfortune of these people, it is not to have known to give a leader to Mandela, an undeniable and enough charismatic man to force to them his to rise at a certain ethical altitude, as it was the case, in Israel, in the Seventies.

[On Iraq]:

I am always at the same point: on a moral level, I delighted by the fall of a dictatorship, this at the price of a war was; on a practical level, I deplore the amateurism of the Americans in their management of this post-war period. As for the position of France, I immediately had the intuition that it was less “pure” that its leaders did not claim it.

In France admittedly Vargas Llosa would pass for a man of the right – though he was on the Left once. Like all the intellectuals coming from Sartrism and become Camu-ists. Previously, in another life, he believed himself to be a Marxist- and then, with the turning of the Seventies, had very slowly inflected (to the Right).

My eyes started to open in 1966, when I discovered the treatment that Fidel Castro held to the homosexual Cubans. The “UMAP”, where one locked up these alleged “social patients”, were true concentration camps. From only one blow, reality moved away from the ideal landscape which I had imagined. Then, all went very quickly: Castro supported the Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia and, finding me myself in Moscow little before the event, I understood that if I had then been Russian or Cuban, they would have thrown me in prison, or killed, or exiled… Not easy, you will agree, to believe durably in a system which holds this kind of thing to the intellectual who still believes himself “of left”…

[On why he continues to live the life of an intellectual on the Left, despite his right- wing politics]:

You know, an intellectual, in general, it is somebody who aspires to a perfect world, and the perfection meets better in the Utopia that in reality. From where its instinctive mistrust at the place of the democracy – or the market economy -, which organizes, precisely, a company of the least evil, therefore of the imperfection. Earlier, let us say that I was utopian. Today, I am still one, in all, except in policy…

This renouncement of the totalitarian perfection of the Utopias, or this resignation with “less the democratic evil”, did it affect your work of novelist?

Yes, of course: literature always prefers the ideal and chaos with any social contract founded on wisdom. It prefers, if I then to say, sublimates it with prose! Usually, the “ordered” companies produce a very poor literature – especially if one compares it with the literatures given birth to by the dictatorships. Look at the Latin America of the caudillos or Russia of the goulags: the writers were more interesting there than in Switzerland or Sweden! For what concerns to me, let us say that I tried to confine my are delirious of man and novelist to the only space of my books. As soon as I become again citizen, I endeavour to forget what excites me when I imagine or when I dream…

[The final parting words do not lack in punch either]:

The sun inhabitant of Madrid declines now on the plaza which leaves its torpor. The “movida”, alive, is enjouée always there. And Vargas Llosa undoubtedly will walk in the feverish streets of the evening. On the threshold, we still have time to specify two or three things. Did it read the last novel of Houellebecq? “Yes, it is more picturesque than deep…” the Nobel? “let us not even think of it…” the erotism? “a proof of civilization” Sarkozy? “a small hope for France”. Islamism? “the major danger of our time” Günter Grass? “the author of only one chief-of work” On Garcia Marquez, finally, it will be as laconic as with his practice – “it is a very great writer” – by making silence, once more, on the reasons (not policies) of their fachery.

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El Infierno by Carlos Martinez Moreno

El Infierno
by Carlos Martinez Moreno

readers international, 1981

El Infierno is a chapter by chapter descent into the hell that Uruguay was during the military dictatorship in the seventies. Carlos Martinez Moreno, along with Eduardo Galeano is one the important Uruguayan writers of the 20th century.

The novel is an account of the ‘operations’ of the government as well as the leftist gurrillas. It is in the nature of a fictionalized documentary, and black and dark besides. Martinez Moreno was a defense lawyer and, as the blurb says, created his Dantesque vision from the evidence available to him as part of the many legal cases that he handled.

The theme of political upheavals, military dictatorships and Left- wing and millenarian opposition to the establishment in Latin America has been explored elsewhere in the more well known works of Garcia Marquez (the brilliant ‘Autumn of the Patriarch’ and ‘The General in his Labyrinth’), Mario Vargas Llosa (‘The Feast of the Goat’, ‘The Real Life of Aljandro Mayta’, the epic novel ‘The War of the End of the World’), Ariel Dorfman (‘The Last Song of Manuel Sendora’) and Carlos Fuentes, and of course by Eduardo Galeano himself. While extremely readable (and quite short at 266 pages), I would not place El Infierno in the same class though.

A banker kidnapped by leftist guerillas recollects in the novel:

Once they (the kidnappers) tested my sense of humour by quoting from Bertold Brecht’s phrase about which was worse crime: robbing a bank or founding one. ‘Well, you may well be doing something to close it right now.’ They laughed. They were amazed that a banker had heard of Brecht. They liked the story about the German who remained indifferent when they came for the Communists because he was not one, and when they came for the Jews because he was not one, and saw it was too late when the Nazis came for him. We are often astonished by what others, incredibly know…

This conversation during the Cold War era could have been held anywhere in the world, when the Left had a shared folklore and iconic heroes like Che, Salvador Allende and Ho Chi Minh. During the last 15 years, the advocates of a more just world no longer have such heroes while world- capitalism has its ‘universal’ icons. I think it was Manuel Castells in ‘The Rise of the Networked Society’, who referred to the fact that while capital is increasingly centralized, the forces in opposition to it are increasingly fragmented.

Incidentally, this day while the world rightly remembers 11 September 2001, a few also remember another tragedy that lasted 17 years following the coup in Chile on 11 September 1973.

The Feast of the Goat

Here is a review of Mario Vargas Llosa’s novel that I wrote three years ago. Somewhat ‘dated’ by blogging standards it sure is, but then one has to be fair to one’s favourite author…

The Feast of the Goat
By Mario Vargas Llosa
Translated by Edith Grossman
Faber and Faber, London, 2001
£ 10.99, Indian Price £ 6.50

In an interview given to Gabriel Garcia Marquez sometime after the Zapatista peasant rebellion in Mexico in 1995, its masked Marxist leader sub commandante Marcos explained that after Cervantes and Shakespeare it were the contemporary Latin American writers who moulded the minds of his generation. Besides Garcia himself and others, he named Mario Vargas Llosa, quickly adding that he influenced, “despite his ideas”.

This somewhat cryptic comment heightens the tribute to Llosa as he was the right wing presidential candidate during the Peruvian elections in 1990- an election that brought Alberto Fujimoro to power and infamy. But more than that, Llosa has been for decades the most eloquent literary voice from Peru, its leading storyteller, a novelist in the magical realist genre of Jose Borges, Garcia Marquez, Isabelle Allende and a host of other Latin American novelists.

The novel under review is the latest offering from Llosa- it is a tale woven around the last days of the Dominican Republic dictator Rafael Trujillo, who ruled the tiny country with an iron hand for thirty-one years before his assassination in 1961. For most part of his reign he had been supported by the US administration and hailed as the bulwark against Communism in Latin America. His brutality and ruthlessness was legendary as was his mania for cleanliness.

It was in the backdrop of Fidel Castro’s 1959 Cuban revolutionary movement that the US started to distance itself from a dictator who had destroyed all institutions in the country and supplanted them with a single one- himself. His highly blemished record on human rights left little options even for the US to support him.

The novel, in Llosa’s trademark style of interleaving multiple narratives and sequencing of events across time describes the events as seen through the eyes of his detractors and conspirators, Trujillo himself and most pertinently, through the eyes of Urania Cabral, daughter of a former Trujillo confidant and who left the country at the age of 14 after her father had fallen into disgrace.

The conspirators are mostly drawn from the circle of the middle level functionaries in the Trujillo administration and personify the old adage that a system falls not only when those who have been left out in the cold oppose it, but when those at the helm realize that the system is no longer sustainable and their convictions crystallize sufficiently for them to join hands and overturn it. Trujillo’s assassins are mostly the second-generation beneficiaries of the regime, those who have not known any other system except Trujillo’s blood- sucking tyranny.

On the other hand, Trujillo sees himself as a man of destiny who has been directed by God Himself to lead his country out of the darkness into a modern civilized nation. He fancies that his countrymen would still be living in the dark ages were it not for him. Indeed with the help of his benefactor, the United States, he did manage to bring symbols and elements of modern life to his country.

Urania Cabral who returns to visit her country for a week provides the third perspective. She returns to the Dominican Republic after 35 years as a 49- year old spinster, a leading professional who has worked with the World Bank and now lives and works in Manhattan with a leading law firm. Why has Urania never married? Why has she never responded to the numerous letters written by her father, relatives and friends over the years? Why does she continue to detest her father who supported her financially as long as he could and helped her to leave the county?

Llosa keeps the reader guessing as he leads him into the intricate maze of the plot and sub- plots. Llosa’s style has elements of a classical symphony- a fugue that keeps on playing till it stretches the reader, only to reward him with a crescendo as Urania’s reasons for her strange behaviour become chillingly transparent.

The novel ends with Trujillo’s assassins being let down by the Chief of the Armed Forces who had agreed to proclaim a civil- military takeover after Trujillo’s assassination. He has been so tamed in all these years that he finds himself incapable of taking the right decision at the opportune moment and only ends up being implicated and brutally tortured and killed by the former dictator’s vengeful son. All but two of the conspirators meet an identical fate.

Trujillo’s family is allowed by the former puppet President Ballaguer to shift millions of dollars out of the country (a step that Trujillo never took himself nor allowed his family to take). The former dictator’s protégés transition the country to a democratic state, under the benevolent eyes of the US administration.

Who finally won? Was it Trujillo who all said and done and despite his brutal assassination at the age of 70 had had the opportunity to put his country on the fast track to his conception of a modern country, whatever be the actual effects of his regime?

Was it the conspirators who despite their capture managed bring an end to the brutal regime? Or was it the protégés who followed the dictator all his life, reaped the benefits under his tutelage and then survived his assassination to emerge as the leaders of the democratic nation?
Urania Cabral, despite the horror that will hang over her all her life does manage to escape to the US and live an independent life.

Is it, yet once again, the victory of political chicanery that wins over courage and brilliance?
Llosa does not pose this question himself but the reader is automatically led to it. It is the same question that Llosa has asked again and again in his works. Most notably in his epic tragedy “The War of the End of the World” as well as lesser known works like “Death in the Andes” and in “The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta”, a novel that places itself in a sort of a trilogy with Joseph Conrad’s “Under Western Eyes” and Arthur Koestler’s “Darkness at Noon”.

In his attempt at examination of a Latin American dictator and paint his fictional portrait, Llosa brings to mind, most obviously, Garcia Marquez’s “The Autumn of the Patriarch”. In its portrayal of those close to Trujillo the novel brings to mind Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s “The First Circle”.

In the story that Llosa has chosen to tell in this novel, the reader is left with multiple versions of the truth and no one-dimensional answers. As in his other works, the reader is left perplexed. Llosa has raised as always, disturbing questions that haunt and leave us groping for answers.

The Last Song of Manuel Sendero by Ariel Dorfman

An Experimental Novel on a Real Tragedy

I started reading the book with gusto and expectation. I had heard a lot about this Argentina born, Chilean citizen who had grown up in the United States of America and now lives in Chile ‘whenever possible.’ Then the book itself is about the Chilean socialist and democratic revoultion of September 1973. Salvador Allende, the Socialist President who came to power by democratic means and whose rule within weeks was overturned by the military Junta supported by the United States and much of the ‘civilized world’. Dorfman was supporter of Allende. Allende himself, as is well- known, preferred to die a heroic death defying the upstart Chilean army- he was the stuff that legends are made of.

But the novel was somewhat of a letdown, and despite my grim determination to read through the novel, and many years after I renounced another novel midway- The Satanic Verses by Rushdie whom I admire as much as I do Dorfman. Like the Verses, the Last Song is allegorical, and is populated by a number of characters that defy space and time and a lot of rationality besides. The main theme of the novel is that a number of babies in their mothers’ wombs decide not to be born till the world is worth living. There is Grandfather who joins in with the babies, apparently he is able to be their contemporary by his ability to live in nostalgia. Then there are characters who find documents from the time of Pinochet’s regime ten thousand years henceforth and try to construct a historical record of the period.

Also in the bovel is a character called Carl Barks, evidently the opposite of Karl Marx. He is a cartoonist from the Walt Disney corporation and is hired by the Pinochet regime to create the image of the contemporary Chilean man. Obviously, as a caricature.

The novel brims with ideas and creative techniques, except that there are just too many of them and the novel seems to jump across them without seeming to tie the threads together.

I found the maze undecipherable and too stressful even for my not so limited patience. I spend a number of months trying to persist in reading a work- fiction or otherwise- if required, but finally, as I was mid- flight to San Francisco, and gazed down at miles after miles of the ravines in New Mexico and the deserts of Nevada, I gave up.

May be I will return to the novel again.

On the theme, however, I found ‘In Chile by the Night’ by Roberto Bolano a far better, simpler and enjoyable read. I didn’t review the novel then, and you may be referred to the amazon site for the same.

The Lesser Known Classics

Some of the best books that I feel I have ever read happen to be some of the lesser known books and I have often wondered why they are not as well known and read more extensively. Perhaps it has to do much more with the mood of the times, the acceptance of certain ideas and a host of other factors.

I have without doubt enjoyed the great classics as well- ‘War and Peace’, ‘The Brothers Karamazov’, ‘Swann’s Way’, ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ et al. But I have been equally mesmerized by others, perhaps I will write about them in more detail later, but here is a quick list of such books:

The Real Life of Alejandra Mayta by Mario Vargas Llosa
Life and Fate by Vasili Grossman
The War of the End of the World by Mario Vargas Llosa
The Story Teller- again by MVL,
Embers by Sandor Marai
The Leopard by de Lampedusa

In my view Llosa is a writer still largely and unfairly ignored by the English reading public

There area few others too, like the recently resurrected Andrei Platonov (The Foundation Pit, Soul and Happy Moscow). However, unlike the more specialized interest that Platonov may hold, the ones listed above surely carry more universal theme and significance.