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“Mendacious Inventions”, Veracious Perceptions: “The Peruvian Reality of Vargas Llosa's La Ciudad Y Los Perros*

  • Frederick M. Nunn (a1)


“The interpretation of our reality through patterns not our own serves only to make us more unknown, ever less free, ever more solitary.”

Gabriel García Márquez, Nobel Lecture, 1982

In the second half of this century, we have been told, the Latin American novel came of age. Authors no longer felt constrained to subject indigenous contents to alien forms. Instead contents suggested forms truly representative of societies, polities, and cultures in search of identity and struggling with numerous historic problems, some not even of their own region's making.

Although Latin American novels have long been recognized as important to the area's cultural development, as indicators of literary achievement, and as valuable sources for scholars, few works published between Machado de Assis's Dom Casmuro (1900) and Miguel Angel Asturias's Men of Corn (Hombres de maiz, 1949) could be described as aesthetic magna opera. In the long hiatus essayists took up the task of portraying reality, producing such classics as Euclides da Cunha's Rebellion in the Backlands (Os Sertões, 1902), José Vasconcelos's The Cosmic Race (La raza cósmica, 1925), José Carlos Mariátegui's Seven Interpretive Essays on Peruvian Reality (Siete ensayos de interpretación de la realidad peruana, 1927), Alberto Edwards Vives's The Aristocratic Fronde (La fronda aristocrática, 1927), and Ezequiel Martínez Estrada's X-Ray of the Pampa (Radiografía de la pampa, 1933).



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A version of this essay was presented to The Midwest Association for Latin American Studies, Lincoln, Nebraska, November 1984



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1 Brotherston, Gordon, The Emergence of the Latin American American Novel (Cambridge, 1977), pp. 57. Cunha’s masterpiece may now be complemented through a reading of Vargas Llosa’s historical novel of Canudos, , La guerra del fin del mundo (Barcelona, 1981), rendered into English by Lane, Helen R. as The War of the End of the World (New York, 1984). I have retained Spanish and Portuguese titles in the text and notes owing to the need to place works mentioned chronologically.

2 Donoso, José, The Boom in Spanish American Literature: A Personal History (New York, 1977), p. 10.

3 See, for example, Williams, Raymond, Marxism and Literature (Oxford, 1977), p. 54 ; Eagleton, Terry, Marxism and Literary Criticism (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1976), p. 6 ; Eagleton, , Criticism and Ideology (London, 1982), p. 74 ; and Eagleton, Literary Theory: An Introduction (Minneapolis, 1983), pp. 44, 47. As evidence of the impact of historico-political implications of the “new novel,” specifically one of Vargas Llosa’s works, on dependency theory, see Fenwick, M.J., Dependency Theory and Literary Analysis: Reflections on Vargas Llosa’s The Green House (Minneapolis, 1981).

4 Gallagher, D.P., Modern Latin American Literature (New York, 1973), p. 89.

5 In the specific case of Peru, one thinks next of Adolph’s, José B. A Round of Generals (La ronda de los generales, 1973), Ribeyro’s, Julio Ramón Change of Guard (Cambio de guardia, 1976), and Thorndyke’s, Guillermo The Tiger’s Stripes (Las rayas del tigre, 1973). All provide “alternative realities,” and express “mendacious inventions” and “authoritarian lies,” in each case quite successfully, without pulling punches. See also Luna, Norman, “The Barbaric Dictator and the Enlightened Tyrant in El otoño del patriarca and El recurso del método .” Latin American Literary Review, 7, 15 (Fall-Winter 1979): 2532 (hereafter LALR); and Castellanos, José and Martínez, Miguel A., “El dictador hispano-americano como personaje literario,” Latin American Research Review, 16, 2 (1981): 79105 for solid discussions of the authoritarian as fictional character.

6 Gallagher, pp. 89–91. See also Mcmurray, George, “The Novels of Mario Vargas Llosa,” Modern Language Quarterly, 29, 3 (September 1968): 329340 ; and Oviedo, José Miguel, Mario Vargas Llosa: La invención de una realidad (Barcelona, 1970).

7 See Donoso, passim.

8 See the marvelous evocation of Latin America’s “outsized reality” in García Márquez’s “The Crux of our Solitude” (1982 Nobel Lecture). Two modern Brazilian novels that provide classic case studies of outsized reality comparable to magisterial, García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude (Cien años de soledad, 1967) are Rosa’s, João Guimarães The Devil to Pay in the Backlands (Grande Sertão: Veredas, 1956), and Ribeiro’s, João Ubaldo Sergeant Getúlio (Sargento Getúlio, 1977).

9 See Mcadam’s, Alfred J. Modern Latin American Narratives: The Dreams of Reason (Chicago, 1977), passim, for comments on time in the linear and historical sense and stream of consciousness. See also de Baldussi, Rosa Boldori, Vargas Llosa: Un narrador y sus demonios (Buenos Aires, 1974). The citation is from p. 99. Brushwood, John S. ably places Vargas Llosa in a contemporary context in The Spanish American Novel: A Twentieth Century Survey (Austin 1975), pp. 253–56, 267–70, 282–84, 326–39. A valuable source for the study of Vargas Llosa is Rossman, Charles and Friedman, Alan Warren, eds., Mario Vargas Llosa: A Collection of Critical Essays (Austin, 1978).

10 Smith, Clifford R., “The Central Andes,” in Blakemore, Harold and Smith, , eds., Latin America: Geographical Perspectives (London, 1983), p. 253. Two perceptive essays that capture the telluric, grotesque, and naturalistic side of Vargas Llosa’s “setting” of a novel are Castro-Klaren’s, SaraHumor and Class in Pantaleón y las visitadoras ,” LALR, 7, 13 (Fall-Winter 1978): 6479 ; and Forsch, Marta Morello, “Of Héros and Martyrs: The Grotesque in Pantaleón y las visitadoras,” LALR, 7, 14 (Spring-Summer 1979): 4044.

11 In Marcha (Montevideo, 23 July 1971): 31, cited in Gallagher, p. 122.

12 See Colegio Militar Leoncio Prado, Memoria presentada por el director correspondiente al año académico de 1947, through Memoria…1952. The novelist’s record appears in the 1951 Memoria.

13 The remarks were made in 1969 and were not for attribution.

14 See the new work on the boarding school phenomenon by Chandos, John, Boys Together: English Public Schools, 1800–1860 (London, 1984). In his incisive La nueva novela hispanoamericana, 3rd ed. (Mexico, 1972), p. 39, Carlos Fuentes comments harshly on the perpetuation of adolescent male values by life in military shcools such as Leoncio Prado.

15 See Franco, Jean, The Modern Culture of Latin America: Society and the Artist (Baltimore, 1970), p. 254 ; and Lafforgue, Jorge, “La ciudad y los perros: Novela moral,” in Lafforgue, , ed., Nueva novela latinoamericana (Buenos Aires, 1969), pp. 209240.

16 The following discussion is based on a reading of the Spanish text, La ciudad y los perros (Barcelona, 1962) and the Kemp, Lysander translation, The Time of the Hero (New York, 1966). Excerpts are from the latter, hereafter cited TH.

17 Frank Dauster comments on the Slave, the Poet, and the Jaguar as representative of Peruvian social strata, thus placing the work in a historico-social continuum. See his “Vargas Llosa and the End of Chivalry,” Books Abroad, 44, 2 (Winter, 1970): 41–42.

18 See as examples, Prada, Gonzalez, “Discurso en el Politeama,” Páginas libres, 2 vols. (Lima, 1966), 1: 63–64, for his indictment of the “mendacious inventors’ of his age: politicians, priests and judges: Mariátegui, Seven Interpretive Essays on Peruvian Reality, trs., Urquidi, Marjory (Austin and London, 1971); Jarrín, Edgardo MercadoEl ejército de hoy y su proyección en nuestra sociedad en período de transición.” Revista Militar del Perú (Nov.-Dec, 1964): 120 ; and Nunn, Frederick M., “Professional Militarism in Twentieth Century Peru: Historical and Theoretical Background to the Golpe de Estado of 1968,” Hispanic American Historical Review, 59, 3 (August 1979): 391417.

19 TH, p. 310.

20 TH, p. 181.

21 TH p. 75.

22 TH p. 185.

23 TH, pp. 191–92.

24 TH p. 253.

25 TH pp. 214–15.

26 See TH, pp. 85–87, 91, 106–07, 135, 399.

27 TH p. 91.

28 TH p. 107.

29 TH, pp. 247–49.

30 TH pp. 274–83, passim.

31 TH p. 315.

32 On the presence of history in Vargas Llosa’s work see Fernández, Casto Manuel, Aproximación formal a la novelística de Vargas Llosa (Madrid, 1977); and the novelist’s own comments on the creative process in La historia secreta de una novela (Barcelona, 1971).

33 Llosa, Mario Vargas, “A Media Stereotype,” The Atlantic (February 1984): 22. See also his “In-quest in the Andes,” New York Times Magazine (July 31, 1983), for a brilliant analysis of the January 1983 killings of terrorists and journalists by Iquichano villagers near Ayacucho, killings which, in the novelist’s words, “have magical and religious as well as political and social overtones.”

* A version of this essay was presented to The Midwest Association for Latin American Studies, Lincoln, Nebraska, November 1984

“Mendacious Inventions”, Veracious Perceptions: “The Peruvian Reality of Vargas Llosa's La Ciudad Y Los Perros*

  • Frederick M. Nunn (a1)


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