Harsh Times

Mario Vargas Llosa, trans. from the Spanish by Adrian Nathan West. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28 (304p) ISBN 978-0-374-60123-2
Peruvian Nobel laureate Vargas Llosa (The Neighborhood) spins a complex and mostly propulsive tale of deception, centered on Guatemala’s political strife during the 1950s and ’60s. The Eisenhower administration latches onto a lie about communism taking root in the country via president Jacobo Árbenz, propagated by juggernaut banana importer United Fruit, which faces taxes for the first time under Árbenz’s regime. As part of its containment policy, and hoping to appease the company, the U.S. backs Lt. Col. Carlos Castillo Armas’s successful coup d’état. Once in power, the married Armas takes a lover, Marta Borrero Parra, who advises him and acts as conduit to his ear. Meanwhile, Dominican Johnny Abbes García is sent to Guatemala by his own country’s political leaders, who feel jilted by Armas, to orchestrate Armas’s assassination. Johnny takes a shine to Marta and befriends Armas’s director of security, Enrique Trinidad Oliva, with whom he plans the president’s murder. Vargas Llosa follows this trio up to and beyond Armas’s demise, as Johnny and Marta abscond to the Dominican Republic while Enrique is thrown in prison, and he employs a lovely Rashomon-style narration of Armas’s death through multiple perspectives. The fragmented storytelling leads to unnecessary murkiness at some points, but once the action kicks in, everything falls into place. Vargas Llosa writes with confidence and authority, and overall this hits the mark. (Nov.)
Reviewed on : 08/18/2021
Release date: 11/02/2021
Genre: Fiction
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