There’s a tragedy in Mario Vargas Llosa’s writing that is hard to endure. A brutality that is too common; a ridiculousness which might be funny if it were not so harsh and wicked. They are joyless novels, at least the ones I have read; with lust but without love – camaraderie without friendship – nature without wonder – politics without hope. Vargas Llosa’s novels are profoundly political, because Latin America is a profoundly political place. Politics as cancer; politics that destroys families – politics as a desperate race to the bottom – without philosophy except some tired Marx thrown as an excuse for the lack of thought. Envy advanced through the politics of greed. Position, the politics of repression.
I recently read Vargas Llosa’s auto-biography from birth to his run for the presidency. It answered a lot; Peru is not an easy place to grow up, now or then. Velasco or Castillo, what’s the difference? Who cares? Nothing changes – except more animals die; more generations are lost; more marriages destroyed by alcohol and drugs and the constant gut-wrenching violence of every day life that leaves the people exhausted.
Nothing has changed in Latin America either. Vargas Llosa’s book, which I’m reviewing here “Harsh Times” is about Guatemala in the 50s and 60s. Could very well have been written about Venezuela or Nicaragua today. Drugs and stupid self-dealing soldiers and a population struggling to make their way. A lost generation, then another and another and another again – the only ones saved because they flee to the United States and abandon the morass. Like Vargas Llosa, saved – in his case by Europe. Paris and Spain, dragged back into the mess to run for President, and thankfully to lose. Because politics in Latin America does not change, and politicians become all the same – but we have Vargas Llosa’s books! And that is more important.
I can’t wait until I read a Latin America novel brimming with wonder. If you know of one, please send it along. Hope and wonder are the only things that will save those 600,000,000 souls. And their leaders are a wonderless lot indeed.
Oh ya, and on “Harsh Times” – it’s now my favorite Vargas Llosa novel. About Guatemala in the 1960s and how the US and the Dominican Republic intervened to oust President Jacobo Arbenz. About the personalities involved, mistresses and soldiers and spies all. How they died and some lived, as the world turned and everything stayed the same in their wonderless lands.