Thursday, March 23, 2017

Cinco Esquinas - the latest novel of Mario Vargas Llosa

Cinco Esquinas (five corners) is the latest novel of my favorite Latin American writer Mario Vargas Llosa. It is a story about the times of Peru during the worst authoritarian rule of Alberto Fujimori, the criminal and corrupt activities of his Intelligence chief Vladimiro Montesinos, the intimidation of political opponents by slander through yellow journalism, the terrorism, kidnappings and extortions of Sendero Luminoso (Shining light), Tupac Amaro and other extremist groups.

Llosa has contrasted the struggle of the poor people to survive in the violent neighborhood of of Cinco Esquinas with the hedonistic lives of the elites from the affluent Miraflores area of Lima, the capital city. While the poor face violence, crime and drug trafficking in their streets every day, the rich take off during weekend to Miami for shopping and vacation. Cinco Esquinas is part of the historic and colonial Barrio Alto section of the capital which had seen glory, decadence and revival epitomising the ups and downs of Peru.

Here is the picture of Cinco Esquinas..

Rolando Garro, the editor of a tabloid blackmails Enrique Cardenas, a mining baron with the photos of the latter's orgy. When Cardenas refuses to give in, Garro publishes the photos but is killed afterwards. Cardenas is accused of the murder and is detained briefly. La Retaquita, the editorial assistant of Garro is summoned by El Doctor, the chief of the intelligence agency. El Doctor is none other than the real Vladimiro Montesinos who was Director of Intelligence during the Alberto Fujimori regime. The chief tells Retaquita that it was he who got Garro killed after the latter went beyond his control.  He asks her to continue to run the tabloid and be part of his campaign to slander and discredit the opponents of Fujimori government. El Doctor gets Juan Peineta, an innocent reciter of poems, blamed and forces him to confess as the killer of Garro.  But La Retaquita gathers courage and exposes the intelligence chief as the real culprit and brings him down. 

There are some steamy erotic scenes in the Llosa's signature style. The story starts with the discovery of Lesbian love between Marisa, the wife of Cardenas and Chabela, the wife of Luciano, the lawyer and ends with a threesome at the end of the novel when the ladies get Cardenas to join them. In his interview at the launching event of the book, Llosa says that "sex and exploration of variety in sex had become provocation and consequence of the tensions caused by the uncertain, insecure and curfew times of the country"

In his novel "La fiesta del chivo"(The feast of the goat) Llosa has given a poignant portrayal of the Trujillo dictatorship of Dominican Republic. I had been expecting a similar Llosa novel about the Fujimori dictatorship and the excesses of Montesinos both of whom are in jail for their crimes. Llosa has also a personal agenda against the Fujimoris after he lost to Alberto Fujimori in the presidential elections of 1990. Llosa had campaigned strongly against Keiko's (the daughter of Fujimori) candidature in the 2016 elections. With these experience, Llosa has much to tell about the Fujimori period. But I was disappointed that Llosa has not done so in Cinco Esquinas. He has given only a superficial sketch of the use and manipulation of yellow journalism by Montesinos and has not mentioned Fujimori at all. The actual story of Fujimori is adequate material for several novels. He started off as an agricultural engineer,became a Maths professor and turned a politician. He won the presidential elections unexpectedly as a last minute dark horse. In his first term as President, he put an end to the guerrilla violence with a strong hand and turned around the economy. But later he became autocratic and messed up the country. He is the first President in world history to resign by fax while he was on an official visit to another country. He got asylum in Japan on the basis of his Japanese nationality. He could have continued the rest of his life peacefully in Japan but he came back to Peru with bravado. The peruvian authorities simply tried him in the court  and punished him with long imprisonment. The story of Fujimori is distinctly colorful even for Latin America which has seen all kinds of politicians and dictators. It is remarkable that his daughter Keiko who functioned as First Lady in the Presidential house of her father, has got over the legacy and is now the leader of the party which has majority in the Peruvian Congress. She lost the Presidential elections narrowly in 2016. 

Cinco Esquinas, like other Llosa's novels, has interesting characters such as La Retaquita and Juan Peineta (with his cat Serrafin) among others. But Llosa has not developed them as memorable as he has done in his other novels. I am even more disappointed that Llosa has not gone the full length in portraying El Doctor, the evil director of intelligence. 

Cinco Esquinas has the usual formula of Llosa with ingredients of special characters, suspenseful storyline and eroticism. But these are cursory and underdeveloped and without depth and elaboration. Could my disappointment be attributed the fact that Llosa wrote Cinco Esquinas close to his eightieth birthday in 2016?  Has senility set in? No.. No.. Look at his smile in the picture below…

Llosa has been rejuvenated by his latest love seen in the picture. Age has not reduced the flow of testosterone in the Latino Macho. In 2015, he announced his relationship with Isabel Preysler, a Phillippino celebrity and has sought divorce from his second wife. Isabel is the ex-wife of Julo Iglesias and the mother of Enrique Iglesias. She was married three times earlier.

This is the second book of Llosa, I have read in Spanish. The English translation of this book has not been published yet. I had read in Spanish  El sueƱo del Celta ( The dream of the Celt) but it took too long a time to complete. Because of this reason, I have read all the other books of Llosa in English translation. But I was able to finish Cinco Esquinas within three days, thanks to the embedded Spanish-English dictionary in the kindle version. Encouraged by this experience, I plan to read more books in Spanish in future. English is inadequate and no match for the distinctive and colorful Latino Spanish to express Latin American emotions, excitement and effervescence. 

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