The storyteller (Mario Vargas Llosa)

I picked up this book because of the mystery and enigma indicated on the back-cover. As I sat down to read it, I realized that the book was quite different from the expectations I had in my mind. There was a mystery, not the kind you will find in a thriller, but a more deep-seated mystery of identities and cultures.

I am not particularly fond of conservation or preservation. In general I don’t believe that there could be a virtue in preserving alternative tribal cultures which have missed the train of civilization. Even though I wouldn’t give up my life to bring education and civilization to the doorstep of these shelved worlds, neither do I condemn the task carried out by numerous missionaries, priests, NGOs et al, who, in the search of a calling, make it their life’s mission to ‘establish these people in the mainstream’. After all, why should people go around half naked, walking miles to get food – when they can wear a shirt and trousers and order a pizza online?

It is only when one reads books like Things fall apart or The storyteller, that one sees a perspective that is different from this lop-sided view. The convenience of this online order comes at a cost of losing one’s identity, one’s believes, one’s culture and everything that they have believed in collectively for ages. For the one who brings to them education, teaches them what he himself believes in. He negates everything that this tribe has known for years. He tells them that the sun does not stay in the sky because you are walking like a nomad – but because of scientific principles.

The storyteller presents to us these conflicts. Just sensitizing the harbingers of culture the damage that their culture could inflict on some. It does not give a sob story – neither does it make an effort to generate sympathy. In stead, through a Machiguenga (the tribe around which the book is centered) storyteller it tells us some fantastic stories of magic and tribal belief.As we read these stories, we feel a little sad for their disappearance. For it is much more interesting to assume that the moon is the disgraced father of an angry sun than to think that it is a mere celestial body revolving around the earth. It is perhaps far more awe-inspiring to believe that the marks on the moon are the remains of his dead wife, than know that these are craters which are not illumniated by sun’s light because of their depth!

Aside from this tale of a culture’s evanescence, the book is also a book on the art of story-telling. Alternating between the actual writer of the novel and the story teller of the Machiguenga tribe, the author endeavors to entertain his reader – to once again command that position of awe enjoyed by the troubadours.

4 thoughts on “The storyteller (Mario Vargas Llosa)

  1. MadhuriAfter several years ,I have returned to Llosa’s Storyteller and am just reaching the concluding pages. Your review, if I may call it such, is one of the best I have read;thanks for posting!


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