Tuesday, October 27, 2009

31. “Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter” by Mario Vargas Llosa

Year of first publication: 1977
Genre: novel, satirical novel, comic novel
Country: Peru

In italiano: La Zia Julia e lo Scribacchino di Mario Vargas Llosa, edito da Einaudi ET (1994), €11,50
En español: La Tía Julia y el Escribidor de Mario Vargas Llosa

Plot: Lima, 1950s. Pedro Camacho is a Bolivian-born, eccentric writer of radio soap-operas that have a tremendous success all over the country. The story of Pedro Camacho, told through his scripts, is intertwined with that of Mario, a student and a wannabe writer who works as a news bulletin editor for Radio Panamericana and falls in love with the divorced wife of a cousin, his Aunt Julia, thirteen years his senior.

Some thoughts: This is the third novel by Vargas Llosa that I read after The Way to Paradise (El Paraíso en la Otra Esquina in Spanish) and The Feast of the Goat (La Fiesta del Chivo in Spanish, read this post) and I was not disappointed. Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter is actually one of Vargas Llosa’s most popular novels and it is partly autobiographical, seen that Vargas Llosa also married one of his in-laws who was thirteen years his senior. This book was written some twenty years after Vargas Llosa’s first marriage, when the couple was already divorced. In fact, Julia Urquidi Illanes, the real Aunt Julia, published a novel called Lo que Varguitas no Dijo (What Varguitas didn’t say), telling her version of the love story. Half autobiographical account and half work of fiction, La Tía Julia is a very engaging and enjoyable novel. The author used raw material from his life in Lima in the 1950s as well as much imagination in order to give shape to the funniest character of the novel, Pedro Camacho. Almost a dwarf, obsessively dedicated to his job and with a profound and exaggerated hatred for Argentinians, Pedro Camacho writes radio serials full of clichés, but the ability of Vargas Llosa makes them as captivating as the rest of the novel. There’s a clash between the epic, tragic and surreal stories written by Pedro Camacho and what Mario attempts to do with his realistic fiction. Vargas Llosa certainly intends to make fun of the clichés of soap-operas and cheap literature, for example through Pedro Camacho’s confused and entangled plots, but he also pays homage to the act of writing, detailing the way in which the two writers, Pedro and Mario, write their stories (the former writes 10-12 hours per day without stopping, whereas the latter is never satisfied of his work and throws away every single story that he writes). They are both writers, though very different, and success comes to them at different times. Whether “the truly good writer”, if such a thing exists, is more like Pedro or Mario is left to the reader to judge.
Vargas Llosa’s usual device, that is to say telling two different stories in alternating chapters, works perfectly for this novel. Every second chapter is a story written by Camacho, thus it is completely independent from the narrative of the other chapters. What is amazing is that Vargas Llosa is able to give life to a character, Pedro Camacho, almost entirely through the stories that he writes.
Comical and satirical, but never gross nor boring, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter really was a joy to read. By the way, not many people know that the novel was made into a Hollywood feature film called Tune In Tomorrow (1990) starring Peter Falk as Pedro Camacho and Keanu Reeves as Mario.

About the author: see this post

If you want to know more about this book,
listen to the podcast from BBC's World Book Club.

By the way, The Guardian celebrates another great Latin American writer and one that I love, Julio Cortázar, in this article from a series on short story writers.


  1. i always wait for your reviews. I definitely like this. Just knowing how others write and what they go through whilst writing has always made a good read for me.

    I have posted my list of almost 100 books to be read. Add to it to make it 100.

  2. Para mi este es mejor libro de Vagas LLosa.
    Hace unos dias he terminado la cuidad y los perros y tambien me gusto mucho

    Despues de leer la tia julia y el escribidor , me decidi a estudiar periodismo

  3. @Nana: yes, it's interesting to read about writing, especially if you're also a writer I imagine!

    @leox: No estoy segura que esto sea el mejor libro de Vargas Llosa, pero me gustó mucho. Interesante que te decidiste a estudiar periodismo después de leer "La Tia Julia", porque el periodista del libro (Mario) no es muy buen periodista, ahahah!

  4. I read this book in the spring and liked it a lot. I didn't know about the movie - that's very exciting! Keanu Reeves worries me slightly, but I'll definitely check it out!

  5. Lovely book. As far as the movie goes..it should worry you. I read the plot and it definitely takes a different turn from what was originally written.

  6. Today has died Vargas first wife, Dona Julia Urquidis Illanes, she was an intelectual that wrote"What Varguitas do not want all to know"It is about the years in Paris and the betrayal to his Bolivian wife, political aunt Dona Julia with his first cousin now his wife that was 15 at the time, excellent book blacklisted by Vargas LLosa . I like him as an author,but a as a moral person, not. I recommend her book.

  7. Well, anonymous reader, I'm sorry about Aunt Julia (For a moment I thought that Vargas Llosa himself had died and that would have been a great shock). I hope she has an interesting life. I mentioned her book in my review. I wish it would be easier to find here in Italy.
    I've also heard that Vargas Llosa is not loved as a politician, but I don't know the details. This happens a lot with writers (as for myself, I don't agree with Garcia Marquez's support of Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution).