Friday, April 16, 2010

Death in the Andes

Death in the AndesDeath in the Andes by Mario Vargas Llosa

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Death in the Andes mesmerizes in many different ways, and no wonder, because as a novel it gets all the elements right.   Everything just fits together: the setting, the characters, the plot, the language, the style.  Mario Vargas Llosa is a true master.

Because of the locale and the themes, first-time readers might be tempted to compare Death in the Andes with some of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's works.  Indeed, the parallels are there, but in Andes, the magic and mystery are firmly grounded in the real.  That makes it all the more horrifying.

Andes comprises of several interweaving plotlines.  Vargas Llosa shifts seamlessly from one to the other.  In the main plot, Corporal Lituma and his deputy Tomas, assigned to a highway construction project in the mountains, investigate the disappearance (and presumed murder) of three men.  At the same time, they live under constant threat of the Shining Path terrorists.  To ease the tension, Tomas relates to Lituma every night his love affair with Mercedes, a prostitute.

Of course, such a synopsis doesn't do justice to the novel.  It is simply too rich to be distilled.  I have purposely left out the main elements and several subplots so as not to detract from your enjoyment of the novel, should you decide to read it.

One necessary comment only: the style of Tomas' nightly narrations to Lituma of his adventures with Mercedes are a stroke of genius, weaving deftly from past to present without any obvious breaks of flashback.  Death in the Andes is worthwhile reading if only for this.

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