cover image The Discreet Hero

The Discreet Hero

Mario Vargas Llosa, trans. from the Spanish by Edith Grossman. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26 (336p) ISBN 978-0-374-14674-0

Nobel laureate Llosa (The Feast of the Goat) returns to smalltown Peru in this lyrical and witty new novel. The story revolves around two men: Felicíto Yanaque in Piura and Ismael Carrera in Lima. Don Felicíto, owner of a small transport company, is extorted for protection money, but steadfastly refuses to pay. Ismael is a wealthy septuagenarian who marries his housekeeper partly to spite his avaricious sons. After Ismael and his new wife disappear on a long honeymoon, his longtime employee Don Rigoberto is left to deal with the aftermath—and Ismael’s sons, appropriately dubbed “the hyenas.” Don Felicíto finds some consolation with his mistress, Mabel, until she, too, disappears. The alternating story lines eventually converge amid scandal, kidnapping, and death. Llosa populates the novel with many down-home characters from his previous novels—Lituma, Don Rigoberto, Lucrecia, Fonchito—and modern-day Peru itself plays an important role. Throughout, Llosa is a master of the slow build: he layers disparate, suspenseful, and competing stories into a larger, fuller narrative that seamlessly arrives at its satisfying conclusion. A vivid tale of fathers and sons, rich and poor, this novel gives the world another reason to celebrate Llosa. (Mar.)