My first novel read by Vargas Llosa and loved it. He recently won the Nobel Prize in Literature and whom I heard interviewed by Elenor Wachtel (CBC Podcast) and just by this book alone I can see why he won.
This is one of his earlier works and his writing style is lucid, visual and an ease to read (in translation). The story follows an 18-year old writer named Varaguitas working for a Peruvian radio programme editing the news in the late 1950s. Whike studying law and to make some extra cash, the hero and a colleague spend their shifts cutting out newspaper articles to be read on the hourly newscasts. The story unfolds when they hire a well-known Bolivian screen-writer who creates a popular radio series. This is the era before television when radio programs, even in Peru ruled the masses. The quirky man is such a hit that fans throng to the radio building to see him day and night. They become friends in the oddest sense and their friendship is challenged when people notice the writer begins interchaging names of characters.
Enter Aunt Julia who becomes his love interest. Despite the fact she is divorced and 15 years his senior, the bond is believable since movies, the radio show and her interest in staying young tie the couple in love. I won't spoil their outcome but when Varaguitas' parents return from the U.S.A. when they hear they want to get married. Apparently, this part of the story is autobiographical as Vargas Llosa did briefly marry his aunt.
What keeps the book moving is the chapters alternate between the story of the aunt and the radio stories. Each develops in such a fascinating way that I admit I wish he had written a few more stories as they were so entertaining..
An excellent intro to a maestro of literature.
on December 28, 2003
This entertaining and humorous novel by the well known Peruvian/Spanish writer Mario Vargas Llosa is a thinly disguised account of his eighteenth year of life during the 1950's in Lima, Peru. The author, nominally a law student whose physical absence from classes is matched only by his lack of interest in same, begins a madcap romance with his 32-year-old "Aunt" Julia (related only by marriage, not blood), recently divorced from her Bolivian husband and returned to Lima to live with her family. The two must keep the "affair" secret from their extended family and his violent and domineering father who resides in the U.S. For help they turn to a cousin, the coquette Nancy, and her devoted would-be boyfriend, Javier. Young Mario ("Marito" or "Varguitas to his friends and Julia) works in the news department of the local radio station in the last years before television, and there meets Pedro Camacho, the station's new director and writer of over-the-top soap operas, also recently arrived from Bolivia. Camacho is a prolific and eccentric hack who lives only for his "art," while Mario is a would-be short story writer whose ambitious work product ends up in the waste basket because it fails to meet his own artistic standards.
As the plot unfolds Mario's life and Pedro's art spiral out of control, and both their lives come to resemble Pedro's fantastic on-air creations. Julia and the under-age Mario fall in love, their affair is discovered, and they begin a frantic search for a corrupt and/or ignorant magistrate who will marry them before the arrival of his revolver-toting father hell-bent on separating the two and sending Julia packing. Pedro develops a series of super-popular soaps (the 10:00 o'clock, the 11:00 o'clock, the 12:00 o'clock, etc., etc.) only to see his success threatened when the exhaustion brought on by his 24-7 work schedule causes him to confuse the characters and the plot lines.
Will the lovers-on-the-lam find a sympathetic magistrate somewhere in Peru before our hero's fire-breathing father catches up with them? Can Pedro Camacho sort out his soaps before outraged listeners deluge the station management with so many complaints that they fire him? Will Mario ever realize his life's goal of becoming a real artist? Can Pedro "get a grip" or will he descend into madness? For answers to those and other pressing questions, tune in tomorrow! . . . . No wait. You'll have to read the book.
on August 7, 2003
At its most basic level, Vargas Llosa's most famous novel is a portrait of the writer as a young man. The semi-fictional, semi-autobiographical Mario is a young student and would-be writer whose careers and aspirations are disrupted when he falls in love with his aunt-in-law, much to the horror of their many friends and relatives living in Lima. Pedro Camacho, an eccentric (to say the least) Bolivian scriptwriter, has been hired at the radio station where Mario works, and the youth envies the prodigious output of Pedro's intricate soap operas and hopes to learn from his new mentor the secrets of being an artist. The chapters alternate between descriptions of Mario's amusing and increasingly complicated life and Pedro's formulaic and decreasingly coherent scripts, as each character is gradually overwhelmed by the burdens and expectations they've created for themselves.
On a deeper level, "Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter" is about artistic failure: Mario's writing suffers because he is too busy living life to the fullest, while Pedro's well-being deteriorates because he barely experiences life at all. While Mario's life is the stuff of literature, his various attempts at short fiction are too concerned with artistic affectation: heavy symbolism and laborious overwriting doom his every effort. In contrast, the scriptwriter is so overwhelmed maintaining the pace of the scripts for ten different serials that he can't keep track of his own sense of reality, much less his fictional characters and elaborate plots. The final chapter, which some readers have found disappointing, actually completes this theme: the writer who balances a passion for life and devotion to art is the one who ultimately succeeds.
I was about a third of the way through this book when I realized that I'd already read it, about twenty years ago. I think the reason that this novel didn't make much of an impression on me when I younger is that, in spite of the book's literary themes and the author's competent prose, the book remains true to its soap opera motif. Also, other than the three main protagonists, Mario's many relatives and coworkers are as indistinguishable as the heroes and victims in Pedro's soap operas. Still, given the popular and critical success of this novel, I'm actually surprised it seems to be out of print, and the reader looking for a light, humorous romp through Lima will be well rewarded by hunting down a used copy of this book.
on July 28, 2003
When I really think about it, the worst thing I can say about Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter is that I did not want the book to end so soon. Like all great books, the story transported me to another place, in this case it is Lima in the 1950s. Here, aunts like fiction but they don't enjoy literature. And scriptwriters don't write literature, but produce large quantities of fiction.
Before the appearance of television, in Peru, the radio theatre (the ancestor of today's soap operas) was an important presence in the lives of the citizens of Lima. At Radio Central, a scriptwriter, Pedro Camacho, uses that stage to manipulate his audience's need for tales of horror and love.
At Radio Panamericana, a young news editor cuts articles out of the local newspapers and rewrites them for news bulletins. He checks his collaborator's appetite for catastrophes and falls in love with his aunt, a newly divorced Bolivian who comes to Lima in search for a profitable match.
The book is actually a slightly fictionalized account of Vargas Llosa's life as a university student. His unusual love story gets out of control, just as the prolific Pedro Camacho's radio scripts start to get out of the control.
I enjoyed the narrative a great deal, the interweaving of different stories involving Vargas Llosa's love story and the tales of the eccentric "scriptwriter".
His stories have a very important meaning - they are unforgettable depictions of Peru of the '50s, with well drawn characters. They act as representatives of Peruvian society, wealthy or poor, intellectual or not so intellectual, everyone with his or her own shortcomings and problems. They are all presented with tongue in cheek, in a well-written realistic story.
on April 8, 2003
Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter is without a doubt Mario Vargas-Llosa's most entertaining book, intelligent without being difficult and hilarious without being patronizing.
Some of the most subtle points are lost in translation -- "escribidor" in the original title, for example, has a sense of someone simply taking dictation or producing a text by rote compared to the word "scriptwriter" used in the English language version -- but that is the only significant weak point and is not enough to withhold a five-star rating for this wonderful book.
The book's account is semi-autobiographical, with two story lines alternating chapters -- a style employed in several other Vargas Llosa novels -- until they begin to link together like cogs in the gears of the narrative. But it is the way they mesh together that is part of the magic in this book. Without giving away the story line here, let it suffice to say that at certain points you'll find yourself smiling and flipping back through the pages uttering "but didn't he..." or "I thought that..."
The story itself offers a fascinating look at several aspects of life in Peru, one of the most complex and interesting countries in the world. But it does it effortlessly; using a love-torn teenage protagonist, a sexy older woman, an enraged father, an eccentric serial writer, and a compelling cast of misfit radio artists.
Though certain parts (especially the story of Julia) are well documented, the exact extent to which some of the rest of the book is based on real life is still being debated. Every once in a while in Lima, for example, an obituary will mention that its subject was one of the people the unforgettable Pedro Camacho might have been based on, and many old Peruvians have theories about the exact bar or town where certain scenes were set.
Like any writer, Vargas Llosa takes certain artistic license and some people have grumbled about inaccuracies in the text. But I shrug off those complaints: a novel is never meant to be an accurate historical document.
Nonetheless, if you are intrigued enough by the story in Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter to read more and you understand Spanish, the most important and entertaining of the complaints is by Aunt Julia (Julia Urquidi) herself, called Lo Que Varguitas No Dijo (What Little Vargas Didn't Say). She also authored a more academic version of the story in English, My Life With Mario Vargas Llosa.
on February 13, 2003
MVLL es considerado actualmente como uno de los más grandes escritores de la Literatura moderna y el eterno candidato a ganar el Premio Nobel. Su estilo ha innovado la narrativa y, valiéndose de técnicas ingeniosas, le ha proporcionado un dinamismo especial a sus novelas favoreciendo su lectura fluida y canivalesca -a pesar de los pequeños espacios de tiempo que me permiten leer, he podido devorar a cada uno de sus personajez con una avidez pocas veces experimentada con otros escritores.
En esta novela MVLL demuestra sus habilidades para entretener al lector a través de un humorismo sutíl que arrebatan carcajadas durante su lectura.
El título, "La Tia Julia y el Escribidor", refleja de manera amplia y rígida la temática de esta novela. Por un lado nos cuenta la historia de Julia (Urquidi) -cuñada del tio Lucho (Llosa) y, por lo tanto, su tia política- con quien sostuvo un amor desenfrenado que no admitia barreras ni prejuicios sociales (ella tenia 32 y él sólo 18) y el cual culminaría en un matrimonio original y divertido.
La otra historia referida, y que se desenvuelve paralelamente a la ya comentada, describe de cuerpo entero las concepciones que, el entonces novel escritor, tenia (y que con el tiempo se lo ha tomado más que en serio en la vida real) acerca de su profesión. Estas concepciones estarían disfrazadas de un personaje más que peculiar, Pedro Camacho "El escribidor". Pedro Camacho simboliza, según una opinión personal y más alla de lo cómico que nos pueda parecer este personaje, al escritor "ideal": escribe más de 15 horas al día, su vida está dedicada en cuerpo y alma a la invención de nuevas historias. Y el rasgo más importante: cual Mario Vargas Llosa, sus historias son vivenciales, es decir, surgen de cosas que ve o experimenta.
No acostumbro a recomendar libros ni escritores pero si a calificarlos. En ese caso diría que MVLL, sin temor a equivocarme, es uno de los mejores escritores de la actualidad y, al igual como todas sus novelas, "La Tia Julia y el Escribidor" mantiene esa calidad que caracteriza a las publicaciones de MVLL.
on October 10, 2001
Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter had been on my "to read" list for awhile. This entertaining and humorous book is about 18 year old Mario who lives with his grandparents in Lima, Peru. He has a large family with lots of aunts, uncles, and cousins. Mario's dream is to be a writer and he works as a news writer for a local radio station, while trying his hand at writing short stories in his spare moments. His Aunt Julia, moves to Lima from Bolivia after her divorce. She is 32 years old and not a blood relation (she is the sister of his uncle's wife). Mario and Julia start spending time together and Mario begins to fall in love with her, which is not something that the rest of their family would appreciate! At the same time, the radio station where Mario works hires a new scriptwriter from Bolivia named Pedro. Pedro writes the scripts and acts in the many radio serials that the station airs. Mario becomes friends with the odd scriptwriter.
The book is written so that alternating chapters tell the story of Mario and his friends and family and the stories in the serials. It is an interesting writing style and reminds me of a few other books that I have read including Blind Assassin by M. Atwood and If on a winter's night... by I. Calvino. I enjoyed this writing style very much and founf the book extermely enjoyable and recommend to anyone who may be looking for a different and light read.
on June 19, 2001
This is definitely an entertaining read, and very funny at that. The (autobiographical?) protagonist, Mario, falls in love with his "aunt" Julia (not a blood relation), the kind of relationship that is the stuff of radio soap operas - meanwhile, Mario's coworker and confidant is the enigmatic and pseudobohemian/pseudointellectual Pedro Camacho, the most popular radio scriptwriter in Peru. The rest of the novel consists of excerpts from Camacho's radio serials interwoven (chapter by chapter) with tales of Mario's scampering about with Julia.
My greatest frustration with the book is that it didn't use the full potential of the blurring of lines between "story" and "reality." Unfortunately, the interplay between "story" and "reality" was billed as the theme of the novel, whose chapters alternate between descriptions of "reality" and descriptions of Camacho's fictional world of radio serials. Camacho's various real-life prejudices - e.g., his vitriol for Argentina and his fears about middle age - do diffuse to the stories, but not in any deep or intriguing way, only for some comic interjections. Similarly, the radio serials are mentioned in conversations in the "real" portions of the novel, but not much is done with them.
I was really hoping for the book's last chapter to be a blend of the main story and the stories of Camacho's serials, but no such luck. Indeed, the final chapter, or maybe two chapters, seemed out of place, and not as clever and humorous as the rest of the novel. I was also hoping for Camacho to play more of a role in the story itself. As it stands, Mario's and Camacho's worlds don't really intersect, except for their meetings at cafes.
For a similar back-and-forth technique between "fictional" and "real," try "Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World," by Haruki Murakami. Or for a hilarious treatment of the making of radio serials, watch the (coincidentally, also Japanese) movie "Welcome Back, Mister McDonald."
In summary, this is an entertaining book, and a good story, but with wasted potential as far as higher literary aspirations; Vargas Llosa executes his clever structural idea quite sloppily.
on February 12, 1999
Aunt Julia and the Scripwriter is one of those rare books that can have you laughing your mind out and at the same time makes you think about some serious topics. Vargas Llosa creates funny situations and at the same time explains and conveys the anxieties of an aspiring writer; his fears, doubts, failures, and experiencies that inevitably leads him to the writing process. The second part of the novel are episodes of soap operas. It might seem--like another reviewer pointed out--that many of these stories are inconclusive. Although, in fact they are inconclusive, these episodes show the reader the mental chaos and ultimate downfall of their writer--Mr. Camacho--in his attempt to cover as many topics as possible.
In a way, these stories symbolize the disaster that trying to write about various topics at once cause, and to a certain extent, is a warning to aspiring authors to try to keep their writings within an established frame.
These two contrasting topics are depicted within a Peruvian society that Vargas Llosa portrays as racist, close minded, socially and economically uneven, and religiously fervent.
This book is a most read for any Latin American or person that wishes to visit Latin America and any aspiring writer because it uses Peruvian society as a microcosm of Latin America and depicts the anxieties of the writing process, respectively.
on September 30, 1999
You have to be in the right mood to appreciate the gothic soap opera chapters in between the 'real' story of Aunt Julia and the narrator's love affair. The story moves swiftly and amusingly along but at the end - I wish there'd been a lot more. Everything was wrapped up so abruptly and Aunt Julia's eventual fate hanging in the air - I sort of wanted to shake the narrator and ask for more, more gossip, more description (I only have a vague idea of what Peru looks like - it's not a lush travel book for people looking for exotica, but a very funny family romance) and most of all, a little more than pity for the scriptwriter's end. But I adored the soap opera's hysteria!