All I need to be entertained are cats within ear-scratching distance and a good book . . .OK, maybe that's not ALL I need, but it's a good start.

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Happy reading!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, by Mario Vargas Llosa

Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter is titled for the two most impactful characters on Mario, the book’s protagonist, an 18-year-old Peruvian law student and News Director of Radio Panamericana. Written by Mario Vargas Llosa, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter is both a coming of age and a love story.

Mario is an aspiring writer, his law school status primarily to please his parents while he dreams of writing in Paris. As “news director” he rewrites news stories from other sources (a change to an adjective here or a different noun there) and keeps his staff from inserting too many graphic tales of death and destruction into the evening news. It is not the news at the station, however, that attracts listeners. It is the daily serials—soap operas—broadcast several times a day. So, when the scriptwriter Pedro Camacho, prolific writer and director of these popular serials is lured to the station from Bolivia, fortunes were sure to change, not only for the station, but for Mario as well.

At about the same time, Mario’s uncle’s sister-in-law arrives from Bolivia, fresh from a divorce. “Aunt Julia” is an experienced woman in her 30s who teases “Marito” (a nickname Mario deplored) and is courted by available suitors who aren’t put off by her divorcee status. Mario is intrigued by his “Aunt Julia,” and playful dalliances become more serious until Mario is convinced he and Julia must marry. Mario is underage to wed without his parents’ permission (who have by now gotten wind of the romance and are livid), so he and Julia engage friends and tolerant family members to help them arrange a hasty marriage by a sympathetic and corruptible officiant.

In the meantime, Senor Camacho’s gift for storytelling is becoming more and more bizarre, with characters from one serial suddenly appearing in another, or the same name being used for different people in different stories, or the plot line suddenly terminating in a disaster in which all the characters die. Camacho confides to Mario that his memory is failing and the threads of stories are confusing, and Mario tries to intervene with the station owners on Camacho's behalf. 

Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter is bittersweet, both funny and tragic.  There are delightful surprises, such as the author’s introduction of the serials to the novel so that the reader is suddenly immersed in a soap opera story. Llosa is such a good storyteller that readers may find they’d like the serial story to go on. Pedro Camacho is himself an odd character, and some of his habits are both amusing and sad. For example, he has an inexplicable dislike for Argentians, and interjects something derogatory about them into almost every story.

Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter was published by Picador in 2007. Llosa is the 2002 PEN award winner and the 2010 Nobel Prize Winner in Literature.

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