This is Mario Vargas Llosa’s last book, published in 2006. I recognize that I felt curiosity for this book since the first moment I’ve heard of it. And I also recognize that I knew from the beginning that this was not the greatest novel of all times, nor his greatest novel, but still, I wanted to read it. So I did.
WARNING: This part of the post might contain spoilers.
They say it’s a love story, but I still can’t see any love in this novel, at least my eyes cannot see it. The story starts when Ricardo was a teenager living in Lima, in Miraflores, the neighbourhood where he grew up. He knows Lily, a Chilean girl and he likes her. All normal until now. Ricardo always dreamt about living all his life in Paris, so he eventually leaves Peru and moves to Paris where he starts to work as a translator for the UNESCO. A few years after he moved to Paris the false Chilean girl, now a young woman, appears again in his life. This time as a guerilla fighter. They meet, they spend some time together, they share the bad a few times and then she leaves. This is when the story becomes a repetitive description of all the appearances and disappearances of the bad girl whose name is always different, whose stories are always surprising (and invented most of the times). The only thing that is constant is her cruelty and her coldness towards Ricardo, “el pichiruchi” who is always trying to forget about her but as soon as she appears again he becomes one more time a foolish lover who believes again and again the lies of the bad girl.
I said that I see no love in this book, it’s true. In my opinion Ricardo is not in love with the bad girl, this self-destructive feeling cannot be love, but a sick obsession who makes him forget all the mischiefs of the bad girl as soon as their lips come together into a kiss to which most of the time the bad girl doesn’t even respond. The guerilla fighter, than wife of an important UNESCO representative, than lover (slave?) of a japanese gangster named Fukuda who almost kills her with his passion for perversions always came back to the “pichiruchi” when she had problems, or when she didn’t have them, just to hear some of those nice things that “men nowadays don’t say anymore”, but she wouldn’t stay with him forever because she couldn’t get used to a mediocre life as a “loving” wife of a two bit translator. Ricardo knew that from the beginning: she would leave again in search of a rich man to make her feel like a queen, but as much as he tried to he never really managed to forget about her, or at least stay away from her. There is still a good part for Ricardo in this story: even if she could’t live as a loving wife of a two bit translator, she could die this way, so at least he had her with him until the end.
This is not the greatest love story of all times, I have heard of better stories, but still, Mario Vargas Llosa does a very good job in writing it. Even if the story itself is not great, the way in which Vargas Llosa writes it is quite peculiar and I can say I liked it. Every time he starts a new chapter he does not start from the moment in which the previous chapter ends, but from a subsequent moment so you cannot avoid asking yourself what happened in this lapse of time so basically you cannot stop reading. He then comes back to what happened and then continues the story. This happens in almost all the chapters and for me, this is what made me read the book in three days (which is quite fast taking in consideration the fact that Alex doesn’t leave me much time for reading).
Also the book has lots of historical content, which is easy to read and quite revealing, and this is what makes you say, when you finish the book “At least I’ve learned something”.
Although, as I said before, it’s not a great novel, it’s an easy reading book which might entertain you for a while. So if you have the opportunity you should read it to see a completely different Vargas Llosa in action.