Conversation in the Cathedral by Mario Vargas Llosa

People are collapsed at the base of the monument and around them a dung heap of cigarette butts, peels and paper; on the corner people are storming the run-down buses that become lost in dust clouds as they head to the shantytowns; a policeman is arguing with a street vendor and the faces of both are hateful and discouraged and their voices seem to be curled by a hollow exasperation. - from Conversation in the Cathedral -

Conversation in the Cathedral by Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa is set in Peru during the dictatorship of Manuel A. Odria. The primary character is a man named Santiago, who runs into a man from his past named Ambrosia and they re-connect. I didn’t get very far in this book, sadly. I read to page 63 before quitting in frustration. There were several reasons I did not finish this book:
  • The writing is almost stream of consciousness and there are no quotation marks delineating when dialogue begins and ends. I found this very confusing as the characters move back and forth from speaking to “thinking” and I was never sure when actual speech was happening, not to mention who was actually speaking.
  • There are many references to the political problems in Peru. Most are subtle, yet the plot seems to rely on the reader having some knowledge about the government and history of the country. I don’t have any knowledge of the time, place or historical references…and so I felt lost early on.
  • There are numerous characters who seem to go by more than one name. Within 30 pages, I had no idea who was who and how they were related. I kept paging back, trying to see if I had missed something which could give me direction, but I was still a bit confused.
  • Within 10 pages a dog is beaten to death at the animal pound. I am aware that this probably does go on in some countries…but the detailed description just made me ill and I was afraid there was going to be more of this kind of thing throughout the book.
The back of the book reads: “Through a complicated web of secrets and historical references, Mario Vargas Llosa analyzes the mental and oral mechanisms that govern power and the people behind it.” I think the emphasis should be on the word “complicated.”

I really wanted to read this book because I have heard great things about Llosa. But, I am afraid this one was well over my head and thus felt like work rather than enjoyment. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind a book that makes me think…but this one just left me feeling like I didn’t have a clue what was going on.


1 comment

Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

Hope you would enjoy his other books. I haven't yet read him but hope to do so. This reminds me of a book I recently read A Question of Power by Bessie Head. It is also about the mental state of a character and the writing depicts that. Perhaps not as complicated as you state here.

© Read the NobelsMaira Gall