on 17 October 2013
This is the best novel I've read in my 45 years of life. It is probably due to the fact that being Peruvian I feel deeply identified in it. I see it as a huge painting about the mentality and feelings of people in Peru and why not of people in many other countries in Latin America and probably around the world since the search of absolute power inevitably leads to corruption everywhere.
This is a huge painting and indeed the most memorable intent to reach a "Total Novel" that I witnessed. In a parallel way that "One hundred years of solitude" portrays with enormous beauty that Caribbean sentiment through Macondo, this masterpiece depicts ruthlessly its own reality without any magic in it even though some facts could appear incredible to many western eyes. As time goes by this monument endures and even gets better in predicting human behavior and the proof is that the same facts just with different protagonists occurred again in Peru at the end of the 90's with Fujimori and Montesinos.
The style can be complicated but don't take it personal, read it as you were enjoying your spare time, be patient, slowly make the pieces of this perfect and huge puzzle fit and you'll see how everything starts to make sense, start to appreciate the whole panorama and to detect the profound implications of this simple bunch of paper that in the hands of one of the best gifted writers of this world turns in a timeless message of life.
Since that day in the middle of the 80's when I read it for the first time my life changed irreversibly, my juvenile and optimistic visions crashed the sad wall of reality but for good and I'll say why. It can be seen as unnecessarily bleak and it is certainly sad but even though reading it can be similar to be sitting and listening to a doctor tell you that you have just few months of life remaining, you can obtain an invaluable gift of it. It can help you to focus on what is really important. You can also see it as a mediocrity eulogy when it implies decency that is finally what Santiago chooses for himself after being deeply disappointed of his surroundings.
I've read it many times and every time I close its last page I confirm that almost everything is just sadly ephemeral and that it is very limited what we can do about it, everything will decay or get eventually screwed with or without you, just focus on what you can do to be better off and try to do it and when it fails move on. It is very likely that after 500 hundred years and onwards this novel will be still read it and appreciated as it deserves. To my personal taste it is one fundamental column of the universal literature building.
on 21 July 2005
When one of the best contemporary Latin-American authors says "If I could only save from the one of the novels I have written, I would save this one", you know that the experience of reading this work has to be invaluable. In this novel, the author explores, through the use of some fictional characters, the effects of the dictatorship of Manuel A. Odria in Peru. One of the aspects that shocked me and that I still find surprising is how well the impact of these terrible events translates to other dictatorships that occurred later in the Latin American history.
Vargas Llosa uses a very difficult style throughout this novel, since he jumps back and forth through time and space, and also changes continuously among the viewpoint of different characters, without warning the reader about what is going on in each case. It does take some getting used to in order to fully enjoy the novel, but once you achieve this, the rewards are abundant and leave us satisfied. In this regard, it may help to read "The Time of the Hero" first, since in this book the author uses a similar technique, but keeping it a little simpler.
I have heard some of my friends and family complain about Vargas Llosa's style in this work, saying that the author is just trying to be fancy with his writing when there is no need for it. I do not agree with this; I think that the point the author is trying to make through his convoluted technique has to do with the frustration that people feel during a dictatorship and he wants you to feel some of it too when you are going through the experience of reading about it. But also, the author knows that you are going to have to give the book your full attention if you want to understand it, so his style helps assure that you will grasp his point.
In my opinion, there is only one other book that can compete with this one for the best Latin-American novel of all times, and most people can probably figure out pretty quickly that I am referring to "One Hundred Years of Solitude". I am not sure which one comes on top, but I know for sure that I would not want to have to make a choice in terms of which of the two to save from the fire!
on 29 August 2011
My first Llosa novel, The Feast of the Goat, swept me off my feet; I thoroughly enjoyed it, and couldn't wait to read another novel by the author.
For help on deciding which of his novels to read next, I turned to that immensely valuable facility that I've used over the years, which has seldom failed me - the Amazon book peer-review facility.
After reading the reviews of a number of his books, I decided on Conversation in the Cathedral, as a result of its high rating (all the four reviewers gave it five stars).
However, a common thread that runs through the reviews is that the novel is rather difficult to read and comprehend, mainly at the initial stages, on account of the author's rather difficult, convoluted narrative style, in which he switches seamlessly not only between the past and the present, but also between different characters.
But I thought to myself - 'Ah, I should be okay, having got through another novel with a similar style - Jean-Paul Satre's The Reprieve.'
However, in spite of the reviewers' advance warning and my confidence that I would cope, I still found the novel rather difficult at the initial stages, to the extent that I almost stopped reading it.
I, however, heeded the reviewers' advice that in spite of the initial difficulty, readers should stick with the novel, and in time, they will get used to the author's style, and make sense of the book.
They also pointed out that rewards of such perseverance are immense, for once the reader 'gets into' the book, he or she would be abundantly rewarded.
I'm very happy that I heeded their advice, for I truly did 'get into' and thoroughly enjoyed the book. As I progressed with its reading, everything started falling into place, including the initial confusing parts.
So my advice to anyone reading or contemplating reading this novel is - persevere, and you'll be immensely rewarded!
on 17 June 2004
It took me almost ten years to read this book - I bought it in 1993, tried to understand it and then restarted it in 2002 - but it was worth persisting with.
The narrative can be difficult to follow - it weaves in and out of the past (1940s) and present (late 1950s) without explanation as it attempts to explain why Peruvian society is so crippled by corruption. And the shocking conclusion of the book jars with a modern day liberal view of the world (though I have no doubt it would have been truly shocking in the 1950s).
The book is a marvel though - and while it is currently difficult to obtain in English I would heartily recommend it to anyone with an interest in politics and history.
Conversation in the Cathedral, set in Peru during the dictatorship of Manuel Odria from 1948 to 1956, is Vargas Llosa's favourite novel among those he has written. I was curious to see why.
The Cathedral in question is a run-down bar in a working class district, and the conversation is between Santiago Zavala, son of the late minister Don Fermin, and Ambrosio, Don Fermin's former chauffeur, now fallen on hard times. Around this chance conversation, which occurs when Santiago recognises Ambrosio after many years while rescuing his dog from a pound, Vargas Llosa structures the entire novel, through their reminiscences and recollections of the Odria era, and those people whom they both knew.
And what a novel it is: in its scope, it encapsulates the hegemony of political power, the migration of indigenous peoples to Peru's cities, the rise of tabloid journalism and cabarets, and the uneasy interplay of Peru's classes during a period of social upheaval. Santiago embodies this: born into the wealthy middle class, he initially falls for Communist ideology, then chooses the life of a hack journalist over a position in his father's business, consciously embracing failure as a failing Peru strangles him. Ambrosio is less resistant and more servile, but he too is sucked into a downward spiral.
Perhaps the greatest quality of this work is the way it parses dialogue into snippets, from different periods and different narrators, and presents them jumbled up. Initially this Faulkner-like technique can frustrate, particularly early on as the story is being set and certain characters have yet to be drawn out, or scenes explained. Later, as the reader understands the full context, it is as if Vargas Llosa is placing the remaining pieces into the jigsaw to complete his audacious puzzle. We move backwards and forwards across time and location, and suddenly we realise why something happened earlier, or why this character had reacted that way, and so on. And no one character dominates: each takes his or her turn on the stage, disappears and then reappears when we know more about them. It is a masterclass in how to structure a narrative to create intrigue, suspense and rich context.
In many ways it is also a very dark tale: any idealism or aspiration in Odria's dystopic Peru is quickly snuffed out. Those who embrace vice or corruption win out, and those who are downtrodden continue to be trodden on. A magnificent fictionalisation of a dark era for Latin America, rightly considered by many to be the quintessential Peruvian novel.
on 25 March 2006
There are no flaws in this masterpiece, it's pure and wonderfull art you experience reading Peru's finest novel ever. Here you are faced with the absolute reality, the lifes and inner worlds of the caracters shown to you in a complete way, like a reunion of souls chatting directly to your spirit. My advice to read this one is: just to try and listen to them, after all this novel is about the "Mother of conversations". Try to feel like a person in a party, a funeral, or just a bar, listenig to what people say.
on 19 February 2015
I just could not get into this and I congratulate (and somewhat envy) all of your reviewers who stuck with it and found it a worthwhile read. I gave up at the point when the author describes the hours of a girl who works in a pharmaceutical factory and where she takes her lunch breaks. I think people who find this interesting and worthy of a Nobel Prize should get out more.
on 13 February 2007
To date, this is probably the most brilliant book that I have read in any language. Conversation in the Cathedral is a true work of art, which requires both reader attention and patience, but is incredibly rewarding as the pieces begin to fall into place. Slow to begin, Conversation in the Cathedral drags one along with a seemingly random surface storyline before plunging one into the much deeper, darker undercurrents of family, social and political secrets. Cynical yet tender, complex yet simple, sporadic yet perfectly formed, Conversation in the Cathedral is truly unique.
on 19 May 2015
I found difficulty working out who was speaking and to whom and where. It was a little disconcerting and spoilt the enjoyment of the read.
on 16 July 2015
I found this novel very long winded and repititive. I by far preferred the other novels by Vargas Llosa, I have read all 18.