Thursday, February 03, 2005

The Time of the Hero

After reading the book.I started wondering how they still havn't awarded the literature nobel prize for Mario Vargas Llosa.This guy is awesome and this book is a great novel with a brilliant style, structure and technique.Felt like one of those imaginary novels of "Jorge Luis Borges". This novel is a mile stone in latin american literature, a study in narrative technique.

The story can be told in a few lines. But it will take more than that to tell the narrative technique. This is another of vargos novel which doesn't follow the linear narration style.

The novel was titled 'La cuidad y los perros' which means 'The city and the dogs‘. But somehow they have chosen 'The Time of the hero' as the english title. The main theme happens within the military school in lima city,peru and dogs is the derogatory word given to the first year students of the military school.

The main story starts with 4 charecters Cava, Jaguar, Gamboa, Poet who have formed an in group called 'The circle' in the military school. Jaguar is the most ruthless guy and the leader of all, slave another important character in the novel is the weak and coward one. Cava who is sent to steal the chemistry examination paper for the circle, breaks the window and everybody knows that the paper is stolen, a group punishment is given to all the students, there weekend visits to home are cancelled. When everybody keeps silent arana who wants to keep his date with a neighborhood girl that he is madly in love with ,identifies cava to the commanders. Jaguar who hates squealers and peasants(cava) promises to take revenge. Later in a military exercise arana/slave gets shot.

Alberto/poet who becomes friendly with arana before his death, is in a moral dilemma to speak out or not on who killed arana.Later he complains to the commanders that it was not an accident and that it was done by jaguar.The military school which does not want to tarnish it's image amongst the public is happy to declare it as an accident. When jaguar realizes his mistake and admits it, it is too late as the military school has already closed the file as an accident. So nobody gets punished and the cadets pass out and go in different directions.

I have given the gist of the story without revealing the suspense.It might look pretty ordinary, but the narration and the story development is brilliant.The main charecters are alberto and jaguar.Alberto is the fully developed charecter in the novel, all the other charecters are not shown completely.The reader is made to take the side of alberto rather than jaguar through out the story, but in the end jaguar who was potraied in a bad light turns out to be a better character than the poet, making us realise the dangers of "ASSUMED TRUTH".

Alberto is the most complex character, he is a mixture of lot of things. For example he understand his friend slave's pain of not able to meet his love, he agrees to take his letter to his lover, but when he meets her, he asks her out on a date betraying his friend. Slave even though week is the only righteous character of all. The childhood thread on the slave make us feel pity for him when he his life is ended abruptly.

The narration is done in different perspectives over different time periods. The novels switches between past & present , school and city, military school friends & neighborhood friends, raw sex in the school & the experiences of first love, children’s & men. The present narration is done from a third person perspective. It switches to first person narrative for alberto. Simultaneously three threads in the past are narrated. The past threads are about three peoples in the school. Two person identity are revealed as the poet and the slave and the other person say X is not revealed till the end. When the story switches to past it changes to third person narration for alberto/poet and first person narration for X. Everybody in the school has a nick name and the original name is not used except for alberto/poet and arana/slave.Of the 3 stories that run in the past The X character's real name is used. But we dont know what is the nick name for him in the present. The identity is revealed only at the end which adds more meaning to the character in the present. The story which was switching between past and present talks a bit about the future and ends.


The story is little confusing at the start, as we have to come into grips with the juxtaposition of the view points and time. Three characters love the same woman but with diff names as therea,terese and tere.The narration in the past don't reveal the character’s current nick name for a while adding to the confusion. There are different threads with different plots, some off them add meaning to the larger story and some off them die off without adding any meaning to the larger story.

Reading the book is like solving a jigsaw puzzle. A big story scattered over time and perspective.It has to be identified and constructed into a beautiful image. The puzzle fixing is left to the reader. A great book. If you ever read it, read it slowly and very carefully.

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