I have just finished this latest offering by my favourite Latin American writer Mario Vargas Llosa of Peru- In Spanish the title is ¨Travesuras de la niña mala¨.
Ricardo Slim Somocurcio, the adolescent Peruvian hero falls in love with a a 14-year-old girl Lily, who comes to join his neighbourhood school in Miraflores, Lima. She has the look, talk and dance steps but is mysterious about her family. She masquerades as a wealthy, liberated Chilean girl to disguise her slum origins. She is soon exposed by a jealous schoolmate and disappears, but Ricardo is smitten.
Ricardo realizes his dream of living in Paris by getting a translator job in UNESCO. There he meets Lily, who is on transit to Cuba for revolutionary training. Ricardo reiterates his love and they have sex for the first time. After some years, she reappears in Paris as the wife of a French diplomat whom she married in Cuba. Ricardo falls again and becomes her lover. Then she disappears and turns up in London as the mistress of a horse race owner. Ricardo follows her there and resumes the affair.
Her next adventure takes her to Tokyo where she becomes the slave mistress of a Japanese mafia boss. She willingly undergoes the sexual and other tortures of her boss including smuggling to Nigeria. But she is under the total spell of the Japanese, the only man who could command her and make her do things even when she did not like them. She escapes from there and comes to the Good Boy Ricardo, who marries her partly to regularize her stay in France. She gets bored by the life of a housewife and runs off with the husband of her therapist. Ricardo had enough. He leaves his beloved Paris for Mardrid where he finds tentative love in a Bohemian woman. The Bad Girl reappears and challenges Ricardo again teasing him that she is still the owner of his heart. The Bohemian woman goes away with another guy and Ricardo, the ever-faithful gets back to the Bad Girl only to find that she is in the last stage of her cancer. She dies in his arms.
The Bad Girl lies, pretends, deceives and is always aiming for the next conquest. The Bad Girl whose original name is Otilia starts her first pretention as a Chilean Girl and then goes on to assume different names, identities and titles as Comrade Arlette, Madam Robert Arnoux, Mrs Richardson and Kuriko and finally Madam Ricardo Somocurcio. She teases Ricardo that she cannot settle down to his way of petit bourgeoise life. But he cannot get over her and is always ready to receive her back with enduring love and adoration. He always calls her as the Bad Girl and she greets him as the Good Boy. He does not trust her ever but in her presence he melts down completely and physically in her sex and in eternal romance. The Bad Girl never says she loves him. She calls his romantic declaration of love as ¨cheap sentimental things¨. But after coming back from her adventures she asks him to repeat those cheap sentimental words. But she also has her human side. She takes to the the mute adopted Vietnamese child of the neighbour with affection and makes him open up and speak again, causing a miracle.
Ricardo has chosen for himself an anonymous, modest, non-descript and unambitious quiet life. He is content with his job of a translator, dealing with what others say. At times, he virtually revels in his anonymity, as if his profession absolves him of responsibility for committing or acting when so many of his friends and acquaintances are involved in political action. But he likes the indomitable and unpredictable aspects of her personality, in contrast to his dull and setlled life.He calls her as his liar and torturer but his love of life. He is not a saint but rather a bit of an addict, an emotional masochist who simultaneously desires and resents his abasement by the bad girl.
Whenever he proposed marriage , she rejects it saying ¨I will never be your wife. I always want to be your lover. This way, I will always keep you crazy about me¨.
Mario Vargas llosa has wonderfully contrasted the self- effacing and simple Good Boy with the adventurous and adulterous Bad Girl , making it as a great romantic story. The Good Boy´s infatuation at the age of fifteen, developing into a lifelong obsession and his story of how the Bad Girl dominates all aspects of his romantic life for more than forty years is the story of unconditional love.
This reminds me of Florentino Ariza's fifty-year obsession for Fermina Daza in Gabriel García Márquez's Love at the time of Cholera. The main difference is that in Llosa´s book the woman is crazy and adulterous while in Marquez´s book it is the opposite. The common thing is in both cases ( one normal , the other one crazy), the men are prepared to wait for 40-50 years with enduring love ... the women dont wait....
The Bad Girl is one of the remarkable and memorable characters created by Llosa. Of course, his other characters such as Aunt Julia and Don Rigoberto were also memorable but the Bad Girl is the most enduring one, like Anna Karenin of Tolstoy. In my view, this is perhaps the best work of this great author. It is a pity that Llosa has not yet been considered for Nobel prize.