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Mario Vargas Llosa: La ciudad y los perros (The Time of the Hero)

Vargas Llosa’s first novel was definitely his most realist. It reflected his own experiences in military college and shows life in such a college and how people in an enclosed group of that kind will generally not behave well. The story concerns hazing activities in the college. Young recruits have to strip and fake sex with each other. One cadet, Jaguar, resists and some of the group then form a group called The Circle to resist the hazing. Initially, Jaguar keeps out of the group but then he joins and eventually becomes leader. Much of the novel is about the various activities that take place in the college – hazing, bullying, racism, class distinctions,”becoming a man” – seen from different viewpoints. As with his later novels, Vargas Llosa switches viewpoints and gives us a fragmented view of reality, which, for him, shows that truth is fragile and not always black and white. There is a key event in the novel which defines this. The students decide to steal the answers to a chemistry exam. While they do not succeed, two students do cheat and are caught. The whole group is punished (by not being allowed out). One student snitches, as he is desperate to get out and see his girlfriend. He is later shot and killed in an exercise. Who killed him? We have a pretty good idea but the college hushes it up to avoid a scandal. In short, truth is not always clear and is subject to political realities. This is Vargas Llosa’s most realistic novel and therefore, for me, one of his least interesting but it certainly points the way to where he is going to go in the future.

Publishing history

First published in 1963 by Seix Barral
First published in English in 1966 by Grove Press
Translated by Lysander Kemp