Mario Vargas Llosa
"Conversation in the Cathedral" (1969) spans the period between the dictatorship of Manuel Odria (1948-1956) and the first presidential election of Fernando Belaunde Terry.
The story, divided into four parts, is told via multiple interlocked conversations that take place at different times (sometimes by the same speakers at different stages of their lives), creating a chaotic kind of counterpoint.
The chapters are not organized chronologically but instead jump backwards and forwards in time.
This is especially true in the first of the four parts. The narrative becomes
more linear in the second part, which is focused on one character (the brutal
director of security).
The main conversation, that spans the entire book, is between a young journalist and an old former chaffeur, a four-hour conversation in a cafe called Cathedral.
But conversations pop up all the time creating a maze of narratives.
The cast is Dante-esque (politicians, servants, students, entrepreneurs, police, prostitutes, etc) set in the hell of Peru, where
economic and moral forms of degradation are rampant.
There's a lot of Balzac's "comedie humaine" and of Stendhal in this novel.
But there is also a Dostoevskyan search for a young soul's essence,
and its failure, its decline into mediocrity, against the backdrop of
sociopolitical upheavals and his own family's fortunes.
Later into the novel, there is also a mystery to be solved:
the young man wants to find out whether his
father was involved in the sordid murder of a prostitute.
The four protagonists all fail: Santiago succumbs to inertia and, after failing as a student, as a revolutionary and as a journalist, ends up living way below his social status, Cayo loses his political power, Ambrosio loses his wife and ends up broke, and Fermin loses his son Santiago and his own life.
Santiago Zavalita is a journalist who writes opinion pieces for a newspaper, La Cronica. He has been focusing on
the rabie epidemics that is terrifying the city. At the cafe he runs into a fellow journalist, Norwin.
Norwin inquires about their alcoholic friend Carlitos, who once ran out of his houses because he was seeing
cockroaces and spiders in his bed.
Santiago's mood is pessimistic, both about his nation and about his own life.
Santiago walks home thinking that he hasn't seen his mother in four years.
When he gets home, his wife Ana informs him that city officials stole their dog Rowdy.
Furious, Santiago takes a taxi to the dogpound where he rescues their dog.
It turns out that city officials are paid by the number of dogs that they bring in, so they tend to kidnap some animals that have no rabie.
At the dogpound he recognizes an old acquaintance, the mulatto Ambrosio who used to be his father's chaffeur.
They spend a few hours at a cafe called La Catedral reminiscing over an event that took place
when Santiago was a teenager and that had to do with his father.
Drunk, Santiago offends Ambrosio by offering him money and a job as a janitor.
Santiago returns home and delivers the dog to his wife Ana, and confesses that
he spent all their savings.
Santiago is a teenager.
His friend Popeye Arevalo is the son of a senator. He is studying hard for
university and is in love with Santiago's sister Tete, but she doesn't care.
Santiago is also known as "Skinny". He hates his rich father Fermin because his father
backed the dictator Odria. The senator serves under Odria.
Father and son also disagree on education: Santiago wants to go to a
humble university whereas his rich father Fermin wants him to go to the
Santiago is also quarrelling with his brother "Sparky", who spends most of
his time drinking and gambling and sides with their father.
Popeye asks Santiago to engineer an encounter with Tete, but first Santiago,
despite being broke, wants to deliver some money to Amalia, the family servant,
because he feels guilty that she has been fired.
Santiago heard from his brother that a dose of yobimbine turns on a girl and
tries it on Amalia, but to no avail.
Santiago and Ambrosio discuss their marital stories. Santiago got married,
Ambrosio didn't because his woman died while giving birth.
After Odria's coup, soldiers travel to a remote town to pick up Cayo Bermudez, a mulatto of humble origins, the son
of the shylock Vulture and of his devout wife Catalina, and bring him to the capital: his high-school friend Espina has become a minister. Espina offers him
the post of minister of security.
Cayo had married the poor Rosa, daughter of the milk merchant Tumula, after his friend Ambrosio helped him kidnap her. Instead of just using her for a night, he had ended up marrying her. Later in life Rosa gets ugly and Cayo neglects her for his political career.
In college Santiago falls in love with the communist and atheist Aida but is too shy to tell her so. He hangs out with the young leftists who hate the dictator Odria.
As a child he was Fermin's favorite son. Tete and Sparky were jealous.
Santiago was writing poetry and they nicknamed him "Superbrain".
When he passes the college examination, Fermin asks the whole family to celebrate, and the children are jealous again.
When Santiago is still a teenager,
Amalia is fired from the house but Fermin hires her in his laboratory.
A worker in the nearby textile factory, Trinidad, falls in love with her.
She confesses that she lost her virginity with Fermin's chaffeur Ambrosio
and Trinidad initially refuses her; but then they meet again accidentally
and Trinidad proposes to her. He makes her quit her job and she gets pregnant.
He gets arrested during some strikes. She begs Fermin to intervene and Fermin
makes a phone call to get him released. But Trinidad has been fired from
his job and claims that he cannot find job anywhere else. Amalia, desperate
for money, goes back to work at Fermin's laboratory.
Trinidad goes truly mad, lies to Amalia about having found
a job, lies about his cousin Pedro, gets arrested for shouting political
insults, and dies of a stroke (so they tell Amalia).
The following day her baby is stillborn.
A good woman, Rosario, lets Amalia live with her and her children Celeste and Jesus. Amalia refuses to go back to work. She only sees
Trinidad's friend Atanasio and her own friend Gertrudis, but her health
Ambrosio (who is telling the story to Santiago) mentions that she will die of a medical operation.
In college Santiago is jealous of Jacobo, a fellow student who too is in love
with Aida. Santiago never tells Aida but Jacobo does and wins her over.
They form a group that studies Marxism, a topic outlawed by the dictator.
One of the members, Washington, is their liaison to the (outlawed) communist
party. This is when Santiago begins to despise his father, who is involved
with the government. Ambrosio (at the Cathedral) tells Santiago that he
overheard his father Fermin complain that Santiago didn't love him anymore.
While they are chatting, Santiago mentions to
Ambrosio that Tete has two children while he (Santiago) has none.
Cayo, now director of security under minister Espina, launches a raid on
Santiago's university to arrest the communists.
Espina senses that Cayo is becoming a threat to his power.
Ambrosio's father Trifulcio is released from jail. Ambrosio has become
a professional driver and is moving to the capital, hoping that Cayo
will help him find a better job.
Trifulcio is hired by senator Emilio Arevalo, Popeye's father.
Before parting ways, Trifulcio chats with his son and asks for money.
When Ambrosio reaches the capital, his old friend Cayo hires him as chaffeur.
The sinister security police torture Trinidad until he loses consciousness.
Cayo and Fermin have a drink together. Cayo has no children and inquires
about Fermin's three children. Fermin tells Cayo that his younger son Santiago
is a top student, whereas the elder, Sparky, has been kicked out by the navy
and is doing nothing.
Santiago eventually loses interest in politics but it's too late: he gets
arrested for his communist activities. He's chatting in the present
with his friend Carlitos when he narrates this episode from his college.
A typical chapter with multiple interlocked actions taking place at
different times: Emilio Arevalo is holding a political rally during the elections, helped by Trifulcio; Trinidad
is tortured to death by Hipolito and Ludovico; Ambrosio (in the present)
that his father loved him and Santiago confesses that he unconsciously
hated him; senators including Santiago's father Fermin discuss the fact
that Cayo imprisoned the opposition leader Montagne, bypassing his superior
Espina, just before the elections; then Fermin and fellow senators gossip
about Cayo's lover Hortensia, a lesbian nightclub singer known as the Muse and
considered a high-flying prostitute; Ambrosio mentions that
Cayo betrayed Fermin too; Cayo releases Montagne from prison to appease
the foreign observers who want fair elections;
Queta reproaches Ambrosio for having hidden Amalia in Hortensia's place;
Trifulcio is accused of stealing Arevalo's wallet at the rally and starts
crying, but later admits to his friends that he did it; Cayo invites Fermin
to dinner and they openly discuss Cayo's mistress and Cayo's fortune in
Mixed with all the asynchronous dialogues are two important sentences by
Fermin: someone killed a woman for him, pretending to silence a woman
who was blackmailing Fermin, but in reality taking revenge on the woman
for having written an anonymous letter to Fermin about the killer's affair
with another woman; and this killer is crying and Fermin is consoling him.
That someone is not mentioned, but it appears to be Ambrosio.
The students are arrested by Cayo's men. Santiago, however, is released
immediately because Fermin in person pressures Cayo. Cayo tells Fermin
what Santiago was up to. Santiago tries to deny but his father slaps him
in the face: he heard recordings of his conversations with the communists.
Santiago thus understands that the cell has been caught because he, Santiago,
was stupid enough to discuss their plans on a telephone that was wiretapped.
Santiago looks even more naive when Fermin explains why their telephone
was wiretapped: Fermin and others are plotting to overthrow the dictator
Odria. Far from being a trusted Odria lackey, Fermin is trying to get rid
of him, and Santiago just screwed up his plans.
Santiago decides to cut all ties with the communists and drop out of college,
but also to leave
his father's house and look for a job. That's how he landed at the newspaper
where he works with Carlitos (to whom he has been telling all of this).
Cayo becomes a feared director of security. Espina himself finds a
man placed in front of his house. Amalia has moved in with his mistress
Hortensia/Muse and witnesses their love affair. The only friend that
Hortensia has is Queta who comes to visit occasionally.
Ambrosio started working for him. He joins Ludovico in missions to
terrorize the population so they will rally for the dictator.
Meanwhile, Santiago has become
his humble career as a journalist thanks to his uncle Clodomiro and has severed
all ties with his family,
clearly uncomfortable with his aristocratic heritage.
Amalia finds Hortensia and Queta naked in bed together and realizes that
they are lesbians. Cayo terrorizes the owner of a news agency, Tallio.
He has become one of the most powerful and feared men in the country by
ruthlessly crushing all political dissent.
Santiago and Carlitos drink and chat a few weeks after Santiago started
working at the new spaper. Carlitos is a drunk and a drug addict.
Ambrosio drives Cayo and Fermin to Hortensia's house and tells Amalia to hide,
lest Hortensia learns that she was kicked out of Fermin's house and that she
quit her jobs at Fermin's laboratory, which could result in Hortensia firing
her. Amalia was betrayed by Ambrosio in Fermin's house and hasn't forgiven him,
but Ambrosio seems to be sincerely in love with her and she accepts to go
out with him. Ambrosio is working both as a chaffeur and as a thug for Cayo.
He joins Ludovico and the psychotic Hipolito in missions to beat up dissidents.
Cayo discusses his former mentor Espina with major Paredes, who is in charge
of surveillance. Paredes is convinced that the retired Espina is harmless,
but Cayo senses that the ex general has powerful friends and could become
a problem. Paredes, instead, doesn't trust Fermin, who has been spotted
meeting with dissidents. Cayo, however, feels certain that Fermin is simply
Norwin tells Santiago that Espina and others have attempted a coup against
the dictator Odria. Santiago has not visited his family since leaving the
house and joining the newspaper. His brother Sparky finally finds him and
tells him that their father Fermin went into hiding: he is one of the
conspirators who tried to overthrow Odria. They are not communists: they
are more right-wing than the dictator. They just hate Cayo. Cayo has
taken his revenge on Fermin by targeting his business and the family is
now on the verge of bankruptcy. Carlitos tells Santiago that Cayo has
been fired and Odria is finished. Meanwhile, Ambrosio is courting Amalia,
but she is still resentful of his betrayal years earlier in Fermin's house.
Amalia eventually accepts Ambrosio. Cayo is dismissed and flees to Brazil.
The police alert the reporters of La Cronica that an old whore has been
found dead, and Santiago is sent to investigate. It is Hortensia, the Muse,
the former mistress of Cayo, who is now living in exile. Odria has been
replaced by a new president and the press can print this fact.
Cayo abandoned her and Hortensia started drinking and doing drugs.
She became a cheap whore whom nobody wanted, living in utter poverty.
They find her old lover Queta in the town's best brothel.
Queta is convinced that Ambrosio killed her and that the order came from
Hortensia was blackmailing Fermin, threatening to reveal his homosexual
relationship with Ambrosio. Hortensia wanted money to leave town and
start a new life somewhere else.
Ambrosio denies that he even knew Hortensia, denies that she was Cayo's
Santiago is devastated. The whole town always knew and he was the only
one not to know that his own father was a homosexual involved with the
Santiago decides to see his father again, after years of separation.
He wants to warn him that the news is about to go public in the newspaper.
His father, who never stopped a second to worry for his favorite son,
is happy to see him, and seems indifferent to the consequences of the murder.
Ambrosio, meanwhile, has left.
Fermin doesn't understand why Santiago wants to live and work in mediocrity,
as a journalist of a little newspaper.
Santiago promises to visit the family more often but still refuses to move
back in with them.
Santiago is indeed unhappy with his mediocre life, but seems unable to
A flashback shows the night of attempted coup. Cayo masterminds the countercoup,
ordering the arrest of his former mentor Espina, threatening Fermin who has been
financing the insurrection, and closing the case with no blood spilled.
More importantly, Cayo wants to make sure that the media don't report
the attempted coup to avoid panic.
A proud and wealthy senator, however, refuses to compromise and spreads the
word abroad. Cayo has to intervene again and convince him to reconcile with
the dictator in exchange for releasing all the ones who have been arrested.
The cherry on the pie of Cayo's cynicism is how it deals with the sexy and
of his "friend" Ferro, who has also been arrested. She demands his release
and wants to leave the country with him, and Cayo understands that it is
not about the failed coup but about a failed business deal. He (a mulatto)
demands sex from her (a pure breed) and takes her to Hortensia's place.
Ferro's wife insults him but
seems ready to pay the price when Hortensia walks in and talks about
a whore named Lucy who is the secret lover of... Ferro. This way Cayo
humiliates the haughty lady and then let her go.
After Cayo disappears, the downfall of Hortensia is rapid and merciless.
The other servants leave her and Amalia is the only one left to keep the house.
Queta is the only friend who still visits Hortensia. The bills pile up and
Hortensia falls into debts.
Meanwhile, Ambrosio is working again for Fermin and saving money, sincerely
planning to marry Amalia and buy a house. But Ambrosio hates Hortensia and
relishes her misery. Amalia doesn't understand the hatred. Ambrosio tells her
that Hortensia has been blackmailing Fermin and is taking advantage of
Fermin's generosity. Ambrosio also insists that Amalia keeps their relationship
secret for fear that Fermin learns of it, and Amalia can't explain why all the
secret. When Hortensia tries to kill herself after her lover Lucas runs away with her money, Fermin pays
the hospital bill. Evicted by her landlord (who is the same Paredes who used
to be Cayo's right-hand man), Hortensia moves to a smaller place with Amalia
and finds a job as a singer. But it doesn't last long. Hortensia is soon
penniless again, jobless and no man wants her anymore. She tries to kill herself
again. She is arrested for a crime she committed and Fermin has to save her
from prison. Meanwhile, Amalia finds out she's pregnant and Ambrosio doesn't
take the news well. One day she confesses to Hortensia and Hortensia laughs out
loud hearing that the father is Ambrosio, as if this were highly unlikely.
Hortensia, however, promises to take care of Amalia. Hortensia sells her
furniture and they move to Queta's old apartment, which is smaller and uglier.
Ambrosio rarely talks about the pregnancy but seems willing to take care of the baby.
Hortensia is still delusional: she is still in love with Lucas and still gives
him the little money she has. One day Amalia overhears a big argument between
Hortensia and Fermin.
Then Amalia realizes she's about to give birth. Hortensia and Queta take her
to the hospital and promise to come back. Amalia almost dies giving birth to
a girl. She's unconscious for three days. When she wakes up again, they show her
the baby and tell her that nobody has come to see her: she is hurt that
Hortensia and Queta abandoned her. When she has regained her strength, Amalia
goes to visit Hortensia and learns the news: Hortensia was murdered. Amalia
is even the main suspect, since she disppeared just when the murder was committed.
Now Amalia is terrified that she will be arrested. One day Ambrosio reappears:
he claims that he has been looking for her but had no wait to find her. He tells
her that she has to go into hiding and he has decided to live with her in
a jungle town. The following day they take the bus together to start a new life.
A flashback shows us what happened at the rally organized by the coalition.
Cayo is betrayed by his allies, notably by Emilio Arevalo, who in theory
works for the dictator Odria like Cayo but in practice wants to get rid
Cayo's men Ludovico and Hipolito are supposed to be joined by other thugs
sent by Arevalo, notably Trifulcio, to stop the Coalition's rally,
but instead Arevalo makes sure that very few thugs show up so that Cayo's
Fermin learns of the plan from Arevalo in person.
Ludovico and Trifulcio are left alone and beaten by the Coalition
crowd, as Ludovico tells Ambrosio later.
Ludovico gets away alive but Trifulcio is killed in the riot.
Ludovico basically tells Ambrosio that his father died but doesn't know
Cayo is frantically on the phone with his men all the time during the
riot. He tries to convince the general of the army to send the troops
but Arevalo plays against him. The riot is spreading and the army
is reluctant to kill a lot of people. Arevalo delivers the message that
the Coalition will call off the demonstrations if Cayo resigns (which is
precisely what Arevalo wants).
Slowly but inevitably the coup against Cayo unfolds and eventually Cayo
is presented with only one option: resign and flee the country.
The new minister of public order is his loyal major Paredes.
The conversations are interlocked so we hear the version of the facts
from the viewpoint of the political intrigue and the version from the
viewpoint of the thugs on the ground.
When Ludovico has done telling Ambrosio how the revolution unfolded,
Ambrosio tells Ludovico that he killed Hortensia, and that it was his
idea, not Fermin's order: he wanted to stop the blackmail that was
ruining Fermin. Ludovico, who has been promoter to full-fime
police officer, helps him flee the city and move to a remote town
in the jungle with Amalia and their daughter, and even finds him a job there.
Eventually, Fermin dies of a heart attack.
Santiago continues to write for the newspaper, a modest and mediocre job
that requires very little effort.
Fermin tried in vain to convince him to join his business. His brother Sparky
runs it after Fermin's first heart attack. It would make Fermin very happy
if Santiago quit his job at the newspaper and joined the family's business.
The most that Santiago is willing to do is to promise that he will start
studying at the university again: he never finished his degree.
Fermin's biggest disappointment in life is how Santiago seems unable to
escape the mediocrity of his life.
Now Santiago tells Ambrosio how he met his wife Ana: the journalists were
driving on a dangerous road and the driver lost control of the car. Santiago
ended up at the hospital and the nurse was the mulatto Ana.
Ambrosio instead tells Santiago how Queta met Hortensia: one day Cayo went
to pick up the most beautiful mulatto prostitute, Queta, who recognized
Hortensia as the famous singer, and then Cayo paid Queta to make love with
Hortensia and watch them in a room full of mirrors.
We also hear the story of how Ambrosio tried to start a business selling coffins
for dead children in the remote jungle town, teaming up with
Ludovico's rich uncle Hilario and investing all the money that Fermin gave him
to get out of town.
The months go by and the business doesn't pick up. Hilario even asks Ambrosio
to invest more of his own money to cover the losses.
Eventually Ambrosio decides to start a new business with his friend Pantaleon.
By then Amalia got pregnant again and they decide that they will keep the baby
even if there is some danger for Amalia.
While Ambrosio is telling Santiago the story of his misadventures in the
jungle, Santiago is telling him the story of how he got married. Ana moves
to another town and Santiago keeps visiting her, even if the trips consume
all his salary. When Ana gets pregnant, Santiago arranges for her abortion,
but then receives a letter from Ana. It's a farewell letter: she realized
that he doesn't love her, and has arranged an abortion in her own town.
That's when Santiago realizes that he loves her. They get married and move
in together in a tiny apartment that they can barely afford with their
meager salaries. Now he is even poorer and married to a mulatto, a complete
social collapse for the son of a rich businessman like Santiago.
When he brings Ana to meet his family, only Tete and her fiance Popeye treat
Ana with decency. Santiago's mother insults her, ashamed of her son marrying
a mulatto who could be his servant. Sparky takes their mother's side,
and Fermin is humiliated but silent after his first heart attack.
In parallel, Ambrosio also tells the story of when he slept with Queta
and told her how he became Fermin's lover. Fermin first noticed Cayo's
chaffeur at a party and Cayo asked Ambrosio to take Fermin home.
Fermin, the rich white man, instead asks Ambrosio, the poor black man,
to drive him somewhere else and starts
touching him. Cayo may have set them up.
The book ends with the three stories told in parallel: Santiago's marriage
with Ana, Ambrosio's marriage with Amalia after leaving town, and Ambrosio's relationship with Fermin when he had become his chaffeur after being Cayo's chaffeur.
Santiago and Ana struggle to find an apartment and pay for it. Tete and Popeye
get married and want them to attend the wedding, swearing that Santiago's
mother will behave, and Ana is ready to accept, but Santiago doesn't want to
take the chance of another scene.
Ambrosio is cheated of his money by Hilario and has to take humble job.
Amalia wants him to sue Hilario but Ambrosio cannot go to the police: he reminds
Amalia that she is still wanted by the police (she is suspected of the murder
that we know what actually committed by Ambrosio).
Amalia's pregnancy ends in tragedy: the baby dies and she dies.
In the third narrative, set just before he left with Amalia, Ambrosio tells Queta that Fermin is a kind man. Hortensia is going mad, she wants to reunite with her lover Lucas, and keeps blackmailing Fermin for more and more money.
She writes a letter to Fermin's wife to tell her that Fermin has a homosexual
relationship with his chaffeur. Ambrosio tells Queta that this is an
unspeakable evil act: Fermin is the only man who has been kind to Hortensia,
and Hortensia repays him by humiliating him in front of his own family.
Fermin gives her more money and this breaks Ambrosio's heart. Ambrosio truly
loves Fermin at the same time that he is dating Amalia. Hortensia also tells
Fermin about Ambrosio and Amalia. This is done again to hurt Fermin. But Fermin
does not get jealous or mad at Ambrosio: he gives him his blessing to start
a family with Amalia.
Sparky, who now runs the family business, gets married just a few weeks before Fermin has his final heart attack. Sparky wants to divide the family's assets
but Santiago refuses any share of his father‘s inheritance. Ana is not proud
of him, though: they are very poor and the inheritance would have solved all
Ambrosio concludes the tale of his life: out of desperation, he left the
jungle and moved back to the city, where he found the job at the dogpoung.
The Green House is a sequence of stories that eventually make sense but it looks like the chapters have been shuffled randomly. The temporal sequence is continuously altered, so the reading becomes a bit of a puzzle. Slowly one understands the chronology. By the end, the stories look like miniature Shakespeareian tragedies of ambition, love and murder.
A story has to do with Adrian Nieves, a pilot in the jungle. A village has a convent whose most outspoken nun is Sister Angelica. Nieves leads Sister Angelica and her escort of soldiers (granted by the friendly governor Don Fabian) to kidnap children from the peaceful Stone Age villages so that the nuns can raise them like Christians. A teenage girl from the jungle who has been raised at the convent, Bonifacia, lets the children run away because she feels pity for them. Sister Angelica accuses her of being evil and makes her feel guilty. Don Fabian sends the soldiers to look for the children, who are eventually found. Nonetheless the nuns expel Bonifacia, who begs in vain to be forgiven.
Another storyline is about the old Aquilino, who is escorting his friend Fushia up the river. Aquilino is a trader who spent his life plying the river back and forth with his merchandise. Fushia, an ethnic Japanese, was a Brazilian fugitive who had become a criminal after being unjustly jailed. Fushia tells Aquilino how Julio Reategui made a fortune through smuggling rubber. Don Fabio had introduced Fushia to Reategui. They had been business partners for a while, but Fushia's dream of getting rich had not materialized, whereas Reategui had even become the governor of the region (only now retired and replaced by Don Fabio). Fushia had been blamed for the illegal trade of rubber. His revenge on Reategui had been to seduce the same girl that he wanted: Lalita. Fushia pretended to sell Lalita to Reategui in exchange for a boat and money so he could escape. He then instructed Lalita to escape. Lalita was madly in love with him and followed him into the jungle, where they set up operations with Nieves and an indio named Jum. Now Fushia calls Lalita a whore, but Aquilino reminds him that she merely obeyed him, and out of love. Fushia promised Lalita that he would make her rich. The jungle was a safe place for him, a wanted man, and he was sure he could rob the indios with help from Nieves, Panticha and Jum. She was the only white woman in that part of the world and lonely most of the time. Her only friend was Aquilino, who even helped her give birth to their son, hence named Aquilino too. Aquilino was the man who helped Fushia sell the loot.
Nieves' story actually began in the nearby garrison, where corporal Roberto Delgado asked captain Artemio Quiroga for permission to visit his family in the jungle. The captain granted him three weeks and gave him a pilot, Nieves, and a porter. They were attacked by indios and only Nieves escaped unharmed. He decided to desert because he hated the life at the garrison. He found employment in the jungle with a white couple who were running an illegal business: Fushia and Lalita.
Another story centers on Lituma, who has returned to the city after spending several years in jail. His old buddy Josefino welcomes him. Lituma has decided to settle there. He wants to celebrate at the local brothel, the Green House, but there is something that Josefino has to tell him first, something unpleasant: his wife Bonifacia has become a whore at the Green House and now goes by the nickname of Wildflower. After he was arrested for causing the death of a wealthy ranchero, Seminario, Bonifacia was pregnant and penniless. Josefino claims that he fled town right away because he was afraid of being implicated as an accomplice, and that Bonifacia remained alone. Lituma visits Wildflower at Chunga's brothel. He only pretends to believe Josefino's story. He knows the truth: Josefino took advantage of Lituma's arrest to seduce Bonifacia, who was already pregnant with Lituma's baby. Lituma beats the hell out of Josefino while Wildflower exults, but then Lituma turns against Wildflower too, sending her back to her whoring duties at Chunga's place.
Another story has to do with Don Anselmo, a talented harp player who arrived in town one day with lots of money and a mysterious past. He opened the brothel where the town ends in the desert. People started coming from all over. The Green House made the city popular. It also made lots of enemies for Don Anselmo, particularly Father Garcia.
Reategui was disturbed by the news that the indios were refusing to sell rubber to him like in the old days. Some white "teachers" had educated them and stirred them up against him.
Lalita was faithful to Fushia while he mistreated her, beat her and cheated on her. Eventually she ran away with the pilot, Nieves. By then Fushia had become impotent because of an uncured infection that was eating up his legs. Aquilino is the only friend that Fushia has, but defends Lalita's actions.
On the mission to rescue the children Nieves befriended the sergeant, Lituma, a jungle boy, and offered to introduce him to his wife Lalita and to the girl who helped the children escape, Bonifacia, who had moved in with them. Lalita immediately sets out to arrange a marriage between Lituma and Bonifacia, except that Bonifacia is very shy: she has always lived among women.
Antonia was an orphan who had been adopted by the wealthy Quirogas. One day the Quirogas were attacked and killed. She survived by miracle but lost her eyes and her tongue to the vultures. Blind and mute, she was adopted by a washerwoman, Juana Baura. One day Antonia disappeared and the whole town searched in vain for her. Anselmo confessed that he had convinced her to live with him in the brothel where only the prostitutes knew of their affair. The pervert had seduced the poor girl and got her pregnant and she had died giving birth. The women of the town, furious and led by Father Garcia, set the Green House on fire. Anselmo cries that Antonia's baby is burning alive. The cook saves her: Chunga.
A new lieautenant is odered to track down and arrest the white bandits that have been robbing indio villages in the jungle. He takes Lituma with him but Nieves refuses to follow them and suggests another pilot. An indio, Jum, was punished as an example after Delgado was beaten and Nieves disappeared (some believed killed). Jum, though, always claimed that Delgado was a thief and that Nieves was not killed but ran away. Jum demanded that they returned what was stolen and a little girl who had been taken by Reategui. Jum claimed that the indios stopped selling rubber to Reategui because he was cheating them. Reategui delivered the little girl to the nuns, so she could be raised properly. The nuns reproached him, though, for punishing Jum without a trial. Reategui defended his action claiming it was for the common good. It was his last action as a governor before retiring to a distant city.
Bonifacia marries the sergeant Lituma and the nuns come to the wedding and forgive her. Lituma gets in an argument with the rich ranchero, Seminario. They play Russian roulette and Seminario loses, i.e. kills himself. Lituma is arrested for having caused the death and sentenced to ten years in prison. Josefino pretends to be a friend but he is already eyeing the pregnant Bonifacia. (The story is told by Chunga at the Green House, where Bonifacia is now a whore named Wildflower).
Chunga is now the owner of the Green House. Josefino was five when the first Green House burned down. Anselmo, now old, refuses to talk about it. Anselmo consoles himself with the orchestra that he organized and that is popular all over the place. Many brothels opened along the river after the Green House was rebuilt.
The soldiers find that Fushia's band has long left the jungle. They only find Pantacha gone crazy, who tells them that Nieves is the pilot who deserted and then became an associate of the bandits. Now Lituma understands why Nieves didn't want to join the expedition. Lituma goes back to warm Nieves and give him a chance to escape, but Nieves is tired and lets Lituma arrest him instead.
Fushia has only one friend left, Aquilino, who helps him reach a city where he can get cured. Fushia has to spend his entire meager fortune to survive. His enormous ambition gave him nothing: a rotting body. The modest Aquilino has fared a lot better in life.
Years later Aquilino is still visiting Fushia at the hospital where he is attended by nuns. Fushia has lost a leg and is rapidly losing his mind. Aquilino has seen Lalita in town: she is now married to a policeman and raises all her children together (Fushia's, Nieves' and the new ones). FUshia doesn't even understand him.
Anselmo dies and Wildflower even fetches his lifelong nemesis Father Garcia to bless him before he dies. Lalita learns that Nieves has finally been released but he probably left the country. Their son, also called Aquilino, is getting married. Before Anselmo died, Chunga also called the doctor, Zevalos. Zevalos is the one who brought CHunga to the world: her mother Antonia died in his arms. Father Garcia still has not forgiven the pervert who seduced Antonia and then caused her death. Zevalos remembers how Antonia died while he was operating her. His memories are mixed with the abortion that Josefino forced on Bonifacia and that almost killed her too.
The mystery of where Anselmo came from dies with him: he told Bonifacia that he too came from the jungle like her but nobody believes her. Father Garcia, after having cursed all the sinners of the Green House, especially Lituma who lives on Bonifacia's prostitution, walks away with Zevalos: they are the only survivors of that generation.
This is the chronology of events:
- The partners: Fushia and Reategui. The explorers: Delgado and Nieves.
- The bandits: Fushia, Nieves, Lalita, Jum. The convent: the nuns and Bonifacia. Anselmo and the first Green House.
- The fugitive: dying Fushia and Aquilino. The household: Nieves, Lalita and Bonifacia. Antonia and the burning of the Green House.
- The spouses: Lituma and Bonifacia. Nieves in jail.
- Lituma in jail. The adulterers: Josefino and Bonifacia. Lalita and Fats.
- Chunga's Green House. The old Anselmo and his band. Bonifacia as Wildflower the prostitute.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx) |
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(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx) |
If you would like to translate my old Italian text into English, contact me
Pantaleon e` un
romanzo satirico imperniato attorno alla buffa missione segreta di un capitano
Pantaleon, un ufficiale modello dell'esercito Peruviano, un giorno
viene incaricato dagli alti vertici militari di istituire un bordello
nella giungla, per evitare che i soldati violentino le donne locali.
Pantaleon, con l'aiuto dei pittoreschi professionisti del caso
(protettori e prostitute incalliti) e del comprensivo tenente Bacacorzo,
l'unico a conoscenza della sua vera identita`,
si dedica anima e corpo all'iniziativa, riscuotendo un grande successo e
la riconoscenza dei corpi militari, ma scatenando anche le ire dei benpensanti,
sobillati dall'ipocrita giornalista radiofonico Sinchi (in realta`
interessato soltanto a ricattarlo) e dai seguaci del predicatore
Fratello Francisco, i quali hanno preso a crocifiggere persone come
sacrifici propiziatori e sono diventati un altro cruccio delle autorita`.
L'attivita` aumenta vertiginosamente: Panta deve arruolare sempre piu`
prostitute, ampliare la sua piccola flotta privata per il trasporto
delle stesse, studiare piani sempre piu` ambiziosi di penetrazione
e diffusione del servizio nella giungla. Panta si tuffa alla missione
con dedizione quasi maniacale. I superiori nella capitale sono divisi,
alcuni entusiasti altri disgustati, ma tutti accettano "Pantalandia" come
il male minore. Sinchi, debitamente remunerato, adesso ne parla persino
I guai cominciano quando la moglie Ponchita, che gia` mal sopportava
l'incognito, scopre la vera missione del marito e scopre anche che lo
stesso se la fa con una delle prostitute. E tutto cio` dopo che e` appena
nato la loro prima figlia (frutto anche quello dell'aria della giungla).
Ponchita lo abbandona portandosi
via la figlia.
La madre Leonor rimane, ma e` diventata una delle seguaci di Francisco,
un'altra delle ragioni per Ponchita di andarsene (ha paura che facciano
alla sua bambina cio` che hanno fatto a un altro bambino: crocifiggerla).
La prostituta viene crocefissa dai bigotti e lui tiene un discorso funebre in
uniforme, scatenando le ire dei suoi superiori, che gli avevano intimato di
tener nascosto il suo vero grado. Francisco si fa a sua volta crocifiggere dai
suoi stessi seguaci per evitare l'arresto. Il servizio delle "visitatrici" viene
sospeso e Pantaleon riprende la sua carriera militare nella capitale fra le
amorose braccia della moglie.
Il romanzo e` strutturato per comunicati e rapporti, che trasformano la vicenda
comica in una serie di atti burocratici.
Kafka e Buzzati.