Mario Vargas Llosa is 80 years old today. I thought I would combine a few things that I’ve written about him in the past. I really ought to read more of his work. I’m still stuck mostly with Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter. But it is such a charming book — I’ve read it twice. Back in 1990, my wife was an undergraduate at Portland State University, where I would become an infamous assistant professor of physics just five years later. And there was a movie theater nearby. After picking her up one afternoon, we went to see a film called, Tune in Tomorrow.
We both loved the film. And as is my nature, I went looking for the source material. It was a very clever Americanized version of Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter. But I don’t think I managed to read it for another decade. I was, after all, in graduate school myself. And at that point, I was still in the “class taking” part of the program and feeling rather over my head. I still don’t remember much about it. I remember that I mostly was at the top of my classes but without having a clue what was going on. That was especially true of thermodynamics. Anyway, I had things to do other than read Mario Vargas Llosa.
When I finally did read Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, I was struck by the density of the prose. The content is so light and funny. But the descriptions were so detailed — it seemed like it could have been written in the 19th century. The book is divided into alternating chapters. The first is about Mario and Julia and their budding relationship. The second are a bunch of short stories, supposedly the stories that are broadcast on the radio and written by Pedro Camacho, the scriptwriter in the title.
The first time I read it, I was focused on the Mario and Julia story. The second time I read it, I was focused on the short stories. They were filled with so much love in the ancient sense of the word: love of humanity. In many ways, they remind me of Irwin Shaw. (I highly recommend Shaw’s Short Stories: Five Decades.) If you haven’t read the book, it is well worth the time. It’s touching and fun.
Hopefully, next year, I will have read another book by Mario Vargas Llosa. But probably not. I just don’t get much opportunity to read books these days. But I just requested The Discreet Hero, so who knows. Anyway, happy birthday Mario Vargas Llosa!
Mario Vargas Llosa on Film
It is a poor substitute, but I still like the film. I wrote about it before, Tune in Tomorrow and the Search for Light Comedy. So if you haven’t seen it: