31 August 2010

Book Review: Death in the Andes by Mario Vargas Llosa

Next up on my reading list is this novel, entitled Death in the Andes (Spanish title: Lituma en los Andes), by Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa.

Why did I pick this up? Well, I was browsing the books in the famous Strand Bookstore in New York City last month, and I saw The War of the End of the World (Spanish title: La guerra del fin del mundo) by the same author. I was quite captivated by the description of it, but felt guilty of buying two books at the same time (this was the time I bought V. by Thomas Pynchon), so I settled for that, and made a mental note that I would look up Vargas Llosa and see whether I would like his works or not.

Anyway, it turned out that he also belongs to the Post-Modernist clique, and so I figured that it would be great to read his books. I went to the university library and found this one.

So what is this about?

This is the novel about two Civil Guards, Corporal Lituma and his adjutant Tomas Carreno. Lituma has a higher rank than Carreno, and they are stationed at a remote place in Peru, somewhere in the mining fields, named Naccos. They are trying to investigate the disappearance of three different people: a mute person, an albino, and a mine worker. There's also the Sendero Luminoso, a rebel group that is active in Peru, who has plenty of underground activities. Finally, there's also the element of mystic rituals.

Lituma tries to interview the locals in order to determine the cause of the disappearance. However, this isn't easy, because soon enough, he learns that the locals believe in mystic spirits and bogeymen, called pishtacos. The locals actually think that the pishtaco is the cause of the disappearance. So Lituma is obviouslt frustrated.

A parallel story is the love story between Tomas Carreno and the love of his life, Mercedes. Mercedes is a prostitute who is rented for a rather big and fat officer, who is highly turned on by bullying his sexual partner. Mercedes and this officer were role-playing, and Tomas was guarding the shack, when Tomas couldn't bear it anymore to hear the pleads for mercy by Mercedes. He comes into the shack and shoots the officer, and tells Mercedes that he loves her.

Weird story, but yeah, that's basically it.

While reading this book, I felt like I was in a weird nightmare. It felt like nothing made sense while reading this book. The dialogue is heavily interlaced, which apparently is a feature of Vargas Llosa's writing style. There would be a scene for example in which Tomas would narrate an encounter between him and Mercedes to Lituma, and so the conversation within a conversation would not be marked, the text would just go back and forth, and the reader's task is to determine the difference. Thus, it was a little confusing that way.

Also, near the end, it seemed that two of the missing people came back: the albino and the mute. However, it wasn't clear whether it was actually them, or it was their ghosts, given that the scene happened in a tavern, and everyone else in the tavern was more or less drunk.

So, did I like this novel? Yeah, I could say that. Not a lot, though. There were quite a few holes that I needed to fill in, and Vargas Llosa's style needed a little getting used to. I am actually glad that I didn't buy the other book, but reading this won't prevent me from picking up another novel by Vargas Llosa. Maybe it's just this one, I don't know. After all, my first Saramago book was The Cave and I didn't like that one compared to the other books that I read from the same author.

I am giving this one 3 out of 5 stars.

See my other book reviews here.

(Wide View, from my Pisac Series)


  1. Hmm... I've been hearing a lot of people talk about Mario Vargas Llosa. You're not the first. With your 3/5 rating though, I don't think I'll get this book. What would you recommend that I get?

  2. Prabster,

    Take my review with a grain of salt. I may have just picked the wrong book to begin reading him. And given this is my first attempt in reading Vargas Llosa, I am not sure I am the right person to ask for a recommendation. Sorry...

    Don't worry though, I am not eliminating him off the list. I'll pick up another book in the future and if it's good, you'll be informed.