The book: Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, by Mario Vargas Llosa
The edition: Italian translation by Angelo Morino, as published by Einaudi (paperback edition), 344 pages
The story: Mario is eighteen and dreams of becoming a writer (although all the short stories he tries to write end up in the waste bin). Julia is his aunt (by marriage, not by blood), just arrived in town and old enough to be his mother, so when the two accidentally fall in love their relationship is sure to create conflict inside the family. While heading into this love affair, Mario also grows a kind of friendship with Pedro Camacho, the successful scriptwriter of radio serials. Both stories are interspersed with chapters from the many radio novels written by Camacho.
My experience with the book & my thoughts: I picked up this book because I wanted to read something by the latest Nobel author, and none of the cover blurbs sounded good to me, so I chose the one with the scriptwriter in the title (which translates in Italian as “scribacchino”). Lame way of choosing a book, I know, but this time I was lucky, because the book itself is really good.
Reading flows, and while the main story may be a bit dull at the beginning, the smaller stories are hooking (if somehow soap opera-y). But what makes this book so good is that it can be read on so many different levels than the story alone: it’s a take on what is writing, what is a writer, what is literature. It is also a well-painted tableau (and at time a satire) of Lima society. It’s a coming of age story.
And then there is something that I cannot really tell you about without spoiling the book. It’s a sudden twist, and at first I didn’t react too well. But it’s what makes this book step up in quality to a completely different level, from “ordinary yet interesting” to “genius”. It opens up a full set of questions and interpretations — which I won’t delve into, as it’s not my interest to analyze books in that sense. And it made me think of Italo Calvino (so it means it’s a good book, I love Calvino’s novels!).
What I liked: plenty of stories! And also the sudden twist transforming an innocuous novel in a real puzzle.
What I didn’t like: the relationship between Mario and Julia: they fall in love, and I don’t see the reason why, except hormones and maybe the charm of winning an older woman. While Julia may be a nice person, there is no hint of a strong transportation on the part of either of them, so why upset the whole family for what looks like a game?
Language & translation: I liked that different characters were characterized by different ways of using language (Camacho is the best example, but Javier and cousin Nancy are well done too). On the other hand, the language of the radio novels was not as different as one would expect, and at the beginning I didn’t understand how the story of the first radio novel related with the narrator’s story.
One thing that disturbed me, as language is concerned, is that the narrator insists in writing “Aunt Julia” all through the book, even when he is deeply involved in a sentimental relationship with her.
As for translation, it felt natural, it felt right. That’s why I was all the more surprised when, while looking up the definitions for some words for my weekly post on Italian words, I found out that those words were common in Spanish, and only used in Italian in this translation. I don’t know what to think of it.
And, in fact, the only word that sounded “wrong” was a perfectly Italian one, so that I would like to know how it was translated in English and/or what the original Spanish word was. It is first used in chapter two, when Richard says that his sister loved the bracelet she received as a present. It is later used again to describe cousin Nancy and, if I remember correctly, even the narrator himself once. If anyone has this book in English or Spanish, I would love to hear from you!
Random thought: I need to have a look at a map of Southern America. I thought of Peru as mountains, not sea.
Read this if: if you liked If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler and The Ringmaster’s Daughter, and other books where several minor stories are intermeshed into a wider story frame without having any connection to it (or to each other).
Counts as: Global Reading Challenge – South America