Saturday, February 12, 2011

Aunt Julia And The Script Writer - In Praise Of The Master 'Mario Vargas Losa'

'Aunt Julia And The Script Writer' is one of the most hilarious and crazy novels I have read. What makes this novel even more special, is that it is written by Mario Vargas Losa, who once again shows his ability to straddle various genres in writing and hardly missing a beat. The man has written hard hitting political works (The Feast Of the Goat), experimental works with the form of the novel (The Green House), erotic works where imagination is more erotic than the real (The notebooks of Don Rigoberto), about myths (The Story Teller) and even a coming of age tale (The time of the Hero). With this novel, he proves to be a master in of the satire/spoof in an extremely funny way. We would rarely get a writer, whose output is so diverse.
Party autobiographical, (Losa married his aunt which ended in a divorce later), the novel concerns the narrator (losa aged 18 at that time) and his aunt Julia, whom he meets and falls in love with. More than his studies, losa is interested in writing and works part time at a radio station. The radio station has it's own share of odd ball characters like the person who prepares the news in losa's absence and for whom no news is complete without having any disaster in it. (If there is no such news for the day, he inserts his own disasters with his unique brand of morbid humor) The radio station gets a new Bolivian writer (Pedro Camacho) to write soap operas for it. As Mario meets his aunt and falls in love with her, Pedro Camacho's operas become a huge hit. The actual incidents in Losa's life are alternated with episodes from the various soaps that are written by Pedro.
The episodes from the various soaps are extremely funny and true to form with respect to soaps. Each one of the episodes end with a question being asked to the reader/listener. What is going to happen now/Will Mr.YYY come to know the truth/How will this end etc. We are clearly in soap opera territory here. I don't know how close these episodes are to the reality of Peruvian soap operas, but they sure seem to be a hell a lot more funny than the crap that is being dished out in India. Losa does not miss anything and captures the nuances (!) of the soap operas exactly. Most of the stories are seriously funny, like the one where patricide is committed, the one about the lodge owner. 
As Losa's romance with his Aunt progress, Pedro's personal life gets hit by unknown forces (this is never told clearly as to why, though there are some hints thrown in). As Losa's family come to know about their romance and try to end it, at the other end Pedro's mind implodes, resulting in even crazier episodes of soaps where characters who were dead come alive, characters in one serial somehow cross over to the other. Even though this is insanely funny, one has to feel for Pedro losing his mind. As for Losa, he plans to marry his Aunt against his family's wishes. The part where they run of to get married and face much problems (no priest etc) is another absolute riot of humor. 
The epilogue has Losa returning back after having divorced his aunt and marrying one of his cousins. He meets Pedro, now a lowly worker and his wife (and we get an idea of pedro's troubles). The story ends on a bitter sweet note at Pedro's current condition.
For me personally, this novel and 'The Feast Of The Goat' are the best of Losa's works. Just try reading these two one after the other (like I did, coincidentally) and you will surely wonder at the greatness of this man who can write 2 such novels which are at the two ends of a spectrum.  Word for word, sentence for sentence, Losa creates such a tapestry of visual images that are so exotic, sensuous, life like and funny at the same time, that you cannot but be fully sucked into it. More than anything else, Losa proves that great writing can be entertaining also.

Note: Losa's aunt whom he married in real life has written a memoir of her with her version of the actual events

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