Hello! HAPPY PI DAY!
To celebrate, I’ve read one big novel and have reviewed it here for your enjoyment.
I’ve also included a list of organizations you can donate to in order to support Ukrainians in need. Please do so if you are able.
The Time of the Hero, by Mario Vargas Llosa,
Translated by Lysander Kemp
“The recoil jarred those young bodies, but although their shoulders hurt already, they would have to leap up, run forward, hit the ground and fire again, surrounded by an atmosphere of violence that was only a simulacrum. Capt. Garrido knew that war was not like that. A moment later he noticed a green silhouette, and he would have stepped on it if he had not swerved in time; he also saw a rifle with its muzzle buried in the ground, against all the instructions for the care of weapons. He could not guess the meaning of that fallen body and gun. He leaned over. The boy’s face was distorted with pain and his mouth and eyes were wide open. The bullet had struck him in the head. A little stream of blood ran down his neck.”
Mario Vargas Llosa attended the Leoncio Prado Military Academy in Peru, witnessed its corruption and culture of violent hazing, and went on to write this book about it. The book is about a young cadet named Alberto, his friends/enemies nicknamed “the Slave” and “the Jaguar” and the other boys in their section. There’s some kind of love-rhombus going on where they all love the same girl (I think). Someone also dies—either by murder or by accident, and now it’s up to the academy’s officers to cover up the scandal (or try to fight its own corrupt bureaucracies to try and bring the perpetrator to justice).
Parts of the book read like an action thriller, with terrific pacing and dramatic momentum. Other parts were sometimes-confusing first-person monologues that read like something out of Faulkner. Put these parts together and you get The Time of the Hero.
I know a professor who co-taught a course with Llosa at Princeton (and wrote a book about it). Before I read The Time of the Hero, this professor made me think that the ending of this book would be very ambiguous, only for me to find it ended much more straightforwardly than he led me to believe. I won’t spoil anything but this meant I went into the book having certain expectations that didn’t hold up, which distracted me somewhat from the reading experience. So a word to the wise: if your professors give you suggestions on how you should approach a book you’re reading, ignore them and try to approach it your own way, at least at first. Then you can always reread it with their suggestions in mind, and ask for clarification/their take on it.
Overall, I’d say The Time of the Hero is a terrific critique of Peruvian society and academy/prep-school life. I’d also say it has a lot of confusing parts that feel like they could be cut without missing much (though I’d want to reread it before saying anything for sure—I feel there’s a lot I haven’t yet understood about the book). Finally, it does a terrific job of humanizing its characters without coming across as schmaltzy. And yes, it’s 400 pages long, but they go by faster than you’d expect. If you have a night or two to yourself, I’d definitely recommend The Time of the Hero.
Have you read this book? What did you think about it? Is there something about the ending I’m not getting? I’d love to hear your thoughts (but please don’t spoil anything!)
Also as promised, here’s a list of organizations you can donate to in order to support Ukrainians in need:
The International Rescue Committee: Provides comfort kits, medical support, and mobile shelters for Ukrainians in need. Donations will be matched until March 31. Donate here: https://help.rescue.org/donate/ukraine-acq
The UN Ukraine Humanitarian Fund: Helps Ukrainians in need quickly receive food, water, shelter, and basic support. Donate here: https://crisisrelief.un.org/t/ukraine
Nova Ukraine: Provides medical aid and winter support, while helping to evacuate Ukrainians deported to Russia. Donate here: https://novaukraine.org/
Human Rights Watch: Investigates and exposes violence against civilians in Ukraine to help promote their rights. Donate here: https://donate.hrw.org/page/100202/