Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter
Julia and I have so much in common. We love dancing Salsa and we’re both journalists. We also have the habit of falling disastrously in love with men who don’t deserve it. Julia is Spanish and she’s the one who presented me with the book ‘ Aunt Julia and the Script Writer’ by Mario Vargas Llosa. She had listened to my enraptured appreciation of Llosa’s “The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto” which, coupled with my love troubles had prompted her to get me Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter. Julia and I also poured our hearts out to each other about the men in our lives. Mine was much younger than me but we were both in love and I was anxious, embarrassed, exhilarated and ecstatic alternately and sometimes simultaneously. Julia’s inscription on the fly page says, “ Only those gifted with the finest sense of humour, like you my dear friend K******* can fully enjoy the writing you are about to read. Laugh it out!!!” The last sentence is her advice to me about the love affair, which was falling apart by then thanks to the young man in question suddenly waking up to his duty to his parents which, like all good Indian boys, required him to submerge his desires and flagellate himself by sacrificing some aspect of his life or the other to fit into the Great Indian Dream of being The Good Son!!! I couldn’t reproach him, since part of me had seen it coming but I could rant in the privacy of my home and fill Julia’s ears with regrets and questions such as ‘Why? Why? Why?’
I didn’t read Aunt Julia then – I think I was saving it up for later, not wanting to run out of books written by this fabulous Peruvian writer. I wish I had, because it would have given me hope and some acceptance for what fate had dished out to me.
The book meanders between the lives of various seemingly unconnected people in Lima. The language is rich and expressive, making that far away country on the other side of the earth, in another hemisphere, seem accessible and present. This despite the fact that the novel is set in Peru of the 1950’s. It yet has a timeless quality to it that makes it relevant to the present despite the fact that we barely ever listen to radio now, in this age of the internet, unless in a car. The incidents could have taken place anywhere since the ridiculous nature of most of them is finely balanced by the voice of the author, a young journalist who, at 18 is falling in love with his 35-year-old aunt by marriage – Aunt Julia. The novel is based on the author’s own life and his first marriage to Julia Urquidi – who wrote her own book as a response to this – Lo que Varguitas no dijo which translates to What Little Vargas didn’t say. I do hope to find an English translation of this or to polish my Spanish enough to be able to read it!
The Scriptwriter in the title of the book refers to a manic Cuban scriptwriter – so far-fetched a character that he seems almost a caricature of a human being and is barely likeable, partly because of the radio tales that he spins that are so grotesque and scandalous to border on the offensive. Getting to know him personally through Vargas’ many shared verbena and mint tea sessions, the reader develops a little more compassion for him.
Pedro Camacho’s (the scriptwriter) fantastical stories are braided through the novel as stories, not as scripts. It takes a while to gather that this is what the random tales are – the scriptwriter’s scripts! As Camacho’s madness grows the characters from the various scripts begin to become each other, switch names, lives, circumstances and are even brought back to life only to die a different death. Through all this the comparative sanity of Vargas’s affair with his divorce Aunt Julia seems much more plausible.
Vargas the writer is writing about writing – after all, the novel is semi autobiographical. It begins with a quote from Salvador Elizonda, “ I write. I write that I am writing. Mentally I see myself writing that I am writing and I can also see myself seeing that I am writing….” This is about sums up how this marvelously entertaining book progresses.
If you enjoy exquisite language, enchanting vignettes of life and rich drama and have a sense of humour, this book is a must-read.