Obsessed with Paris

Mario Vargas Llosa finished writing “The Time of the Hero” in Paris in 1961. At that point, he was obsessed with the quintessential Parisian writer, Jean Paul Sartre. Reading his first novel made me think of the last novel I read  of Vargas Llosa, which is also his most recent, “The Bad Girl.” It seems that 40 years later, Vargas Llosa is still obsessed with Paris.

When I read the novel, I had just returned from Paris and reminiscing the Carrefour d’Odeon was my own obsession. I missed Paris terribly and reading about a man obsessed with the city and a beautiful woman really kept my imagination going.

The New York Times review of the book sums up some of my thoughts about “The Bad Girl:”

In each case, the author revisits the time and geography of his own youth in a work poised, minutely balanced, between the psychic and corporeal lives of its characters.

Also, Vargas Llosa seems very inclined to remember his youth in the district of Miraflores in Lima, Peru. In both novels, his first one and his latest one, he starts in the district where he spent his formative years. It seems that he likes to revisit certain places on his books and that everything has a point of origin on his homeland, as it is the case with many other Latin American writers.

But coming back to Paris, in “The Bad Girl” the protagonist, Ricardo, achieves all of his goals in Paris by the age of 25, and he becomes a translators for the UNESCO. The New York Times review also makes an interesting point about Ricardo’s place in time:

Paris of the 1960s, the culture in which Vargas Llosa came of intellectual age, witnessed the popularization of existential philosophy, and Ricardo judges himself not only deracinated, a perpetual foreigner, but also lacking in substance. He’s trapped in the moment of translating one person’s language into another’s, “of being present without being present, of existing but not existing.”

The fabric holding everything together in the book is Lily, the bad girl, who he met in his childhood in Miraflores.  In any case, I love that Vargas Llosa captures my attention by not shifting so far away from his origins during his more than 40 years as a novelist.


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