cover image The Storyteller

The Storyteller

Mario Vargas Llosa. Farrar Straus Giroux, $17.95 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-374-27085-8

The author's moral conscience and political consciousness (at one point he considered running for the presidency of Peru) are evidenced in this slim volume, less conventional novel than a blend of memoir, folklore and polemic. The narrator tells of his college friend Saul Zuratas, a man obsessed with preserving the culture of the Machiguengas, a tiny, isolated Indian tribe threatened both by rapacious rubber barons destroying the Amazon jungle and the missionaries who want to bring the Machiguengas into the 20th century. Saul, called Mascarita because of a disfiguring facial birthmark, and doubly an outsider because he is a Jew, has a particular sensitivity to this primitive tribe that seeks to live peacefully with the natural world. The narrative alternates the story of Saul's obsession with chapters relating the Machiguengas' myths, stories handed down by the hablador , or storyteller. Through a remarkable coincidence, the narrator discovers that the mystery surrounding the habladores can be traced to Saul, who has found his destiny among the tribe. Written in the direct, precise, often vernacular prose that Vargas Llosa embues with elegance and sophistication, this is a powerful call to the author's compatriots--and to other nations--to cease despoiling the environment. (Nov.)