Thursday, February 09, 2006

Letters to a Young Novelist by Mario Vargas Llosa

Review of Mario Vargas Llosa's Letters to a Young Novelist

On first encountering Letters to A Young Novelist's table of contents one gets the impression that the work is written as an elementary guide to non-literary initiates. In reality nothing as simple as that is the case. The book reads like a free flowing conversation between people of a similar aesthetic bent or preoccupation. Rather than developing extraneously conceived and fashionably limiting theories, he illustrates and supports his reasoning by citing a diverse list of traditional writers and their respective works. Vargas Llosa is as well read as he is prolific. Amongst his better known works one finds The Time of the Hero, Conversations in the Cathedral, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, In Praise of the Stepmother, and The Feast of the Goat. Vargas Llosa's literary ability and experience as a writer coupled with his erudition as a reader makes for a very eloquent work. A good example of this in Letters to A Young Novelist' comes when the author explores problems of time in writing fiction. He enquires into the possibility that both literary notions of time and narrative point of view jointly account for the believability or degree of persuasive power that a work of fiction conveys.

Even though the main concentration of Letters to A Young Novelist' is the modern novel, the author manages to trace a suitable lineage to some of the techniques and literary styles that have impacted the form in its current stage of development. Another striking aspect of the book is Vargas Llosa's reverence for reading classical works of literature and his humanistic respect for thought.

Another notable angle of this book is Vargas Llosa's respectful and sensitive showcasing or augmentation of the work of European, North American and Latin American writers. His knowledge of the latter is a particularly interesting aspect in that it serves as a short literary history of Latin American writers and the status of literature in the Spanish-speaking world. In this respect alone Letters to A Young Novelist' is essential reading for anyone interested in the development and contribution of Latin American writers to world literature. Vargas Llosa is very objective and even gracious in acknowledging the work of notable and established Spanish and Latin American writers such as: Barroja, Borges, Cervantes and Garcia Marquez. Yet, he is also instrumental in introducing other great writers, some whom are only now beginning to gain respect in translation. Of the latter, he offers insightful comments on the work of Bioy Casares, Alejo Carpentier, Julio Cortazar, Carlos Fuente, Jose Lezama Lima and Juan Carlos Onetti. Of all the writers that he could have included, perhaps the omission of a fellow Londoner, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, author of Three Trapped Tigers (1971), View of the Dawn in the Tropics (1976), and Infante's Inferno (1984) is the most notable oversight.

You can find the full review here

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