To the Editor:
Roger Kaplan’s intelligent and insightful article, “Beyond Magic Realism” [December 1984], is praiseworthy for many reasons, among which I would mention his attempt to demystify Gabriel García Márquez’s baroque empire of “committed” metaphors. Mario Vargas Llosa, the subject of the article, represents the opposite of Márquez’s aesthetic and political creed. Vargas Llosa’s novel, The War of the End of the World, is an outstanding inquiry into . . . apocalyptic leftist radicalism, the literary answer to basic political dilemmas in contemporary Latin America. As Mr. Kaplan accurately points out, Vargas Llosa is among the few Latin American intellectuals who have invested their hopes in liberal democracy “while denouncing the bigotry of those who think Latin countries must choose between Marxist utopianism and rightist dictatorship.”
My comments on Mr. Kaplan’s welcome contribution are inspired by the deep impression produced by Vargas Llosa’s most recent novel, Historia de Mayta (“The Story of Mayta,” Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1984), an extraordinary attempt to explore the tormented psychology of Latin American leftism. . . .
Vargas Llosa’s book . . . locates the origin of the present violence in Peru (the offensive of the Maoist-Pol Potist Sendero Luminoso) in the unfulfilled radical utopias of the late 50′s and early 60′s. . . . The hero is the Trotskyist Mayta. . . . As Vargas Llosa puts it, Mayta’s personality and story are like “a radiograph of Peruvian unhappiness.” Mayta’s failure symbolizes the agony of Latin American leftists, prisoners of their eschatological dreams and mythological projections. They have always been obsessed with revolution (“for Mayta the sole important topic was revolution”) and can survive only through hatred, frustration, and resentment of the establishment. The consciousness of injustice, the horror they feel at seeing the miserable slums, the stupidity of the ruling oligarchy—all these Latin American realities have become the rationale for violent upheavals, particularly in the aftermath of the Cuban revolution. . . .
Mayta’s story offers Vargas Llosa the chance to meditate on the contradictions of revolutionary commitment, the hypocrisy of radical “vanguards,” the persistence of an inquisitorial tradition in the behavior of Latin American leftists. . . . Vargas Llosa’s target is the malignant, Byzantine factionalism of the Left, its unreconstructed belief that violence can bring about justice and happiness. . . . Vargas Llosa’s latest novel can therefore be read as an autopsy of lethal ideologies, a warning to those who refuse to see how “idealism” and Jacobin fanaticism can turn history into a nightmare. . . .
Foreign Policy Research Institute