Review of Mario Vargas Llosa's The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta
n the reverberant days of the "Boom" in Latin American fiction a couple of decades ago, when literature was for a moment the region's headiest and most dangerous export, all the talk was of the pursuit of the "total novel." The expression -borrowed perhaps from Latin America's famous soccer teams of the day, then searching for "futbol total" (also with beautiful consequences and ultimate frustration) - was meant to suggest, at the very least, monumentality, grandeur of vision, transcendent syntheses, technical derring-do.
This was the decade of Julio Cortazar's "Boom" - detonating "Hopscotch," Carlos Fuentes's "Death of Artemio Cruz," the great Santa Maria cycle of Juan Carlos Onetti, Alejo Carpentier's "Explosion in a Cathedral" and Jose Lezama Lima's "Paradise" and Guillermo Cabrera Infante's "Three Trapped Tigers," Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "One Hundred Years of Solitude," Ernesto Sabato's "On Heroes and Tombs" and Mario Vargas Llosa's vast cinematic "timescapes" of Peruvian life and history, "The Green House" and "Conversation in the Cathedral."
Now the classic era is past. In the Age of the Afterclap, the conquerors of reality (always reality: the "Boom" writers, though often playful and described as "magical," were never fantasists) are more modest in their pretensions. "Deicide," as Mr. Vargas Llosa called it, has largely given way to reflection and subtlety, smaller narrative enclosures, cohabitation with a less demonic muse. The subject may even be, as in Mr. Vargas Llosa's new novel, "The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta," the failure of the enterprise itself - though even here, echoes of the "total novel" resound still.
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