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Mario Vargas Llosa: Conversación en la catedral (Conversation in the Cathedral)

Vargas Llosa has said that this is his most important book and he may well be right. In the hands of anyone else, it could have been stunningly boring. In the hands of Vargas Llosa, its energy and narrative drive make it one of his best. The Cathedral in question is not a cathedral but a cheap eating house. Santiago has been sent to the dog pound by his wife to find their dog who has disappeared. (Dog-catchers were paid by the animal so they routinely rounded up any dogs they saw, strays or not.) There he meets Ambrosio, his father’s chauffeur. They effectively have a book-length conversation about and around the dictatorship of Manuel Odría, which was typified by its corruption. Of course, as it is Vargas Llosa, this is no linear conversation but jumps in time and place so that, at times, you do not know who is talking. There is a large number of characters who appear (and disappear), who get married, who die, who argue. But the picture of a corrupt society (which could equally apply to other Latin American countries) is superbly told in Vargas Llosa’s fragmented style.

Publishing history

First published in 1969 by Seix Barral
First published in English in 1974 by Harper & Row
Translated by Gregory Rabassa