Picks and Pans Review: The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta

updated 02/10/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/10/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Mario Vargas Llosa

"In a novel there are always more lies than truths, a novel is never a faithful account of events." That is how the narrator of this novel explains literature to Mayta, the Peruvian revolutionary who is its central figure. The narrator recalls going to school with Mayta, a solemn boy who on hearing about how the poor suffer from hunger starved himself until he had to be hospitalized. Mayta, clearly, was always the stuff of which revolutionaries are made, and to write about him, the narrator tracks down relatives, friends and newspaper accounts. Mayta is a Trotskyite—all the leftists in Peru admire Castro's success in Cuba. They are certain that it is only a matter of time until the Peruvian Indians revolt and Communism takes over. The most involving aspect of this novel however is not its politics or even its title character but the vision of Peru that permeates every line. Vargas Llosa, the author of Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter and other novels, sees garbage and rot everywhere. No one is safe from the crazy violence. The prison where Mayta is sent on three occasions, the first time for an attempt to seize a village, is a nightmare of chaos and corruption. Yet Llosa always remembers how beautiful Lima once was. The narrator's feelings for Mayta, whom he meets again as an old man at the end, are complex. Llosa doesn't always make it easy for the reader. Imagined scenes from Mayta's life are inserted without warning into his biography. This unusual device is so effective though that without it the book could not possibly work on so many levels—as story, history, meditation. Llosa is an inventive, daring writer, a major contributor to the surge of interest in the literature of Latin America. (Farrar Straus and Giroux, $16.95)

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