The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta is an astute psychological portrait of a modern revolutionary and a searching account of an old friend's struggle to understand him. First published in English in 1986, the novel probes the long and checkered history of radical politics in Latin America.
Despair hangs over this somber novel, a desolation as omnipresent as the garbage dumped on the streets of the author's native Lima. The setting is Peru in the near future, a military dictatorship besieged by Cuban-backed rebels and defended by U.S. Marines. An unnamed writer interviews people who were involved with his former classmate, Mayta, an idealistic radical whose journey through the various sects of the Peruvian left eventually led to his participation in a pathetic, doomed uprising in 1958. The writer seeks to understand what prompted Mayta to make this futile gesture, but finds only a tangle of disputed facts and self-serving statements; Mayta, he is told, was a homosexual, a police informant, even a thief. What is the truth? "Since it is impossible to know what's really happening, we Peruvians lie, invent, dream, and take refuge in illusions . . . Peruvian life, a life in which so few actually do read, has become literary.'' Readers acquainted with the author's previous work will recognize this as a central theme in all his writing, but not even in The War of the End of the World was it stated so flatly, so bleakly. The sourness and hopelessness of Vargas Llosa's vision are sadly appropriate to the terrible situation in Latin America today, but they give the novel a mean tone that's difficult to appreciate. Mayta is a book one can admire and respect without really liking it very much.