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Mario Vargas Llosa: Historia de Mayta (The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta)

Somehow this one didn’t fully work for me. It is a very fine novel, as all Vargas Llosa’s are, but there is something missing, possibly the commitment to the people or maybe the wit. Once again, we are in postmodern territory. A well-known Peruvian novelist is investigating a minor insurrection which nominally took place in 1958 (i.e. before the Cuban Revolution) though, apparently, it actually took place in the 1960s. The revolution was led by Alejandro Mayta, possible police informer, thief, homosexual, aging, overweight Trotskyite, aided by his number two, the socialist Vallejos and a bunch of adolescents. They are not, of course, up to it and are soon defeated by the police. The boys are sent back home. Vallejos is killed and Mayta, somehow, survives. Now, some twenty-five years later, the Peruvian novelist is investigating this rebellion. He interviews survivors and friend and relatives of survivors and tries to find out what really happened. All of this is done against the background of a major war taking place in Peru, Cuban-backed troops against the US marines. In reality, Vargas Llosa was writing the story when Peru was facing a major problem (though not an external invasion) in the form of Shining Path. Of course, the issue is both the political one – insurrections whether led by Mayta or the Shining Path will not work – as well as the literary one, namely where is the truth? Is everyone telling the truth about Mayta? (No.) Can we ever find out the true story, particularly if it is filtered through the eyes of a famous novelist? (No.) It is a fine book but not my favourite Vargas Llosa.

Publishing history

First published in 1984 by Seix Barral
First published in English in 1986 by Farrar Straus Giroux
Translated by Alfred MacAdam