More on Vargas Llosa
I wonder if Vargas Llosa's recent provocative comments about indigenous movements may not be an act of jealousy -- probably unconscious -- in the face of all the attention being given to his one-time hero, friend and rival Gabriel García Márquez? (Years ago, Vargas Llosa wrote a 600-page biography of GGM, admiringly calling him a "deicide.")

Over the years, I've made notes on my readings of Vargas Llosa's fiction (which I find fascinating). Most are handwritten, and I haven't yet transferred them to my website file of readings. Here is one, though, that I had in a computer file and have just uploaded, if you want to see my take on (and quarrels with) his Historia de Mayta.


Gabriel García Márquez
Just a reminder, now that Gabo is so much in the news with the translation of Volume I of his memoirs. If anybody who does not read Spanish is interested in getting all the in-jokes and more of the context of his most famous novel, there's a pretty good "Monarch Note" available from Barnes & Noble on One Hundred Years of Solitude. I wrote it.

In the first volume of his memoirs, Vivir para contarla (2002), Gabriel García Márquez writes (this is my translation): "my library has never been much more than a working tool, where I can consult instantly a chapter of Dostoyevski, or verify a fact about Julius Caesar's epilepsy or about the mechanism of an automobile carburetor. I even have a manual for committing perfect murders, in case one of my poor characters ever needs one." He also says of the North American novelists he was reading while writing his first novel, La hojarasca (1955; translated as "Leafstorm"), that he read them with "insatiable curiosity" to discover how they were written. He read them first "right side up, then backwards, and I submitted them to a kind of surgical disemboweling until I uncovered the most deeply hidden mysteries of their structure."

I loved that description. I think that's the way any serious writer must work.

One Hundred Years of Solitude (Monarch Note)


The two Mario Vargas Llosas
My faithful correspondent Daniel del Solar has forwarded an article datelined Quito, about reactions by indigenous leaders to a talk by Mario Vargas Llosa. The Peruvian novelist and one-time candidate for president recently (once again) criticized them severely for radical actions in Ecuador, Peru and -- most recently and dramatically -- Bolivia.

I don't believe that Vargas Llosa is "racist" (though that word has shifting meanings), but he has long been a neo-conservative (in US political terms) and may even have become a neo-liberal (in Latin American terms), which is worse. Many years ago, in a very public debate, his tocayo (meaning someone who shares your first name), Mario Benedetti, pointed out something that is still is true of Vargas Llosa: His fiction is far to the left of his "public intellectual" statements. It is as though he can only feel what the disadvantaged feel when he imagines them as characters, and when he steps before a microphone or a lectern as himself, he must distance himself from them. Sometimes he becomes aware of this conflict, or split vision, even within a novel -- like the quite amazing Historia de Mayta. Mostly, though, he is empathic in his fiction and coldly, very coldly, analytic outside it.

For the author's own words: Artículos de Vargas Llosa

For an article by another of my friends, Peruvian historian José Luis Rénique, which puts Vargas Llosa in an understandable context: Flores Galindo y Vargas Llosa: Un debate ficticio sobre utopías reales


Revolution and Venezuela's audacity
Last night I finally saw the movie I've needed to see for months, the one that shows just how the attempted coup against Hugo Chávez was foiled by a combination of spontaneous popular mobilization and courageously decisive action by military men loyal to the constitution. The opposition, almost all white and backed by the richest sectors, controlled all the private TV stations and took over the single state channel, Canal 8, to present a totally distorted view of the government and then of their own coup. But even without TV to tell them what was going on, the masses moved from the barrios to the presidential palace to confront and surround the usurpers, and the palace guard then decided on their own to retake the place and put the coup-makers under arrest. But it was a very tense 48 hours, and without (1) the decision of Chávez to avoid the threatened bombing of the palace by accepting arrest by the military and (2) the decisive action of a few young soldiers, it could have ended as bloodily and disastrously as the coup in Chile 30 years ago. Powerful film. Makes very clear the strength and directness of the connection between Chávez and the masses.

For a note on my brief, intense conversation with Hugo Chávez in March, 2002, the month before the coup: Chatting with Chávez

For images and background of the movie: The Revolution will not be Televised
Armistice Day
Today, November 11, 2003, is the 85th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended the bloody carnage we now remember as World War I. It was the war that brought us into the 20th century, destroying utterly the empires of Austria-Hungary, Russia and the Ottomans, and postponing the imperial pretensions of Germany. It was supposed to be the war to end all wars. And yet, imperial ambitions surged again, in Germany and in Japan, which threatened the remaining empires of France (in Indochina and North Africa), Britain (in Hong Kong, Burma and India, and Egypt) and the Netherlands (Indonesia). Those old imperial powers were joined by the United States to defeat the upstart imperialists, but within the next two decades lost their empires anyway. So then a new imperial power arose, disguised as a democracy -- but how can a democracy, which means rule by the people, impose its rule on other people? As events show in Iraq, it cannot, at least not for long or very securely. Check out what our fighting men and women have to say about this bloody, self-inflicted folly.
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Veterans Letter to the President