The Storyteller, by Mario Vargas Llosa, 1987, ★★★★
I’ve changed my reviewing method. This is a full star, ★, and this a half star, ✫
★★★★★ Not to miss, worth re-reading
★★★★ Books that surely have stayed with me.
★★★ Very enjoyable read, recommendable.
★★ Meh. Nothing remarkable.
The half star, ✫, would make it closer to the higher category, an in-between of sorts.
I read this book in Spanish, El hablador (the talkative one, the one who told stories), but it’s been translated into English.
The reason why it has not too high ratings may be that some reviewers had to read the book for school. They didn’t choose to read it. I believe also that this book is not ‘easy’ to many because it has many words pertaining to the Amazon, in particular to a tribe called the Machiguengas. Plants, animals, and all the lingo that the tribe has for their chiefs, gods, white men, etc., make the text difficult. There’s also the term “Tasurinchi” , the name used for the person or god about whom someone is talking. It is used, roughly, to mean “revered male about whom we are speaking”. The book, however, is not difficult at all.
The Storyteller has chapters in which Vargas Llosa talks about his friendship with Mascarita. They are both students and Mascarita has a big purple mole that covers half of his face. They have conversations and sooon Mascarita becomes obsessed with the Amazonian tribes. They go their own ways, and later on, Vargas Llosa finds himself in Florence, at a small gallery, where he sees photos of an Amazonian tribe, and one of them depicts a man who is talking to a captive audience. The book alternates chapters in which the author talks, with the more mysterious or different chapters when those tribal men talk. The tribal chapters are longer. The Spanish has a different feel, -the sentences, for example, have the verb at the end. Legend mixes up with reality, but one gets use to the cadence and style of those men and their story of wandering, being displaced, suffering at the hands of those who exploit them, and how they weave those events into their legends that these Storytellers pass from generation to generation.
What’s so attractive about this book? To me, Vargas Llosa wrote something that is not a novel nor an essay. For a novel, it has a clear feel of reality. He said he researched extensively, so all his mentions to the Machiguengas, to flora and fauna, myths and legends, are true. On the other hand, he doesn’t just write an essay to answer questions or tell us the consequences or repercussions of missionaries, linguists, or business man in the Amazon, but he does this through a more unique voice (the chapters of the same tribe men talking about themselves and others), and the point of view and true experience of the author, who even went to film an episode for a TV program he had.
I cannot describe the book very well, nor can I say how it reads in translation. Vargas Llosa writes with talent, he is not obscure at all. However, the chapters narrated from the Storyteller point of view, are different, that’s probably why some claim the book to be difficult. There’s a couple of neat surprises, one is the story of the Metamorphosis by Kafka, retold the Machiguenga’s way, and the other is the story of the Christ, also Machiguenga’s style. Fascinating.
I don’t think I was at any advantage at all reading it in Spanish, since I have no knowledge of any of those terms so particular to the Amazon, and I am totally ignorant of the indigenous population that exists (or existed at the time when he wrote this book.) I enjoyed the legends and worldview of the Machiguengas, they always had a comic ingredient. It’s a book that taught me something, and made me think.