Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter

Llosa, Mario Vargas. Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, Picador, 2007

The titular characters, Aunt Julia and Pedro Camacho, the scriptwriter, form the pillars of this surreal comedy set in the 1950s in Peru. Both characters have similarities aplenty. They are both Bolivian, and tend to speak their minds without thinking.  They are relative newcomers to Peru and enter the narrator, eighteen-year-old Vargas’s life at around the same time, and transform quickly from objects of amusement and curiosity into inspirations for romance and ambition and adventure.
Vargas is an aspiring writer, and works part-time at the local radio station. His boss hires Camacho to write soap operas for the station. The narrative alternates between Vargas’s account of his romance with his much older Aunt Julia and the stories of the soaps, comedic parodies of each other’s melodrama. The eccentric Camacho is a workaholic and churns out story after story, while the idealistic Vargas waits endlessly for inspiration for the perfect story. There is also a subtle parallel between Camacho’s devotion to his work and Vargas’s feelings for his aunt. The underlying question is just how much they are willing to sacrifice for their respective passions.
Nobel laureate Llosa treats the depiction of Peruvian life and culture with a silken touch that instantly transports the reader to a quaint, magical land of interfering, extended families and amenable Xenophobia. Even Camacho’s disdain for Argentines seems more quirky than racist, and this is the biggest triumph of Llosa’s story telling – the protagonists are so transparent in their misgivings that the reader is compelled to accept them as they are, much as you would a family member. The novel is an open invitation to be human, and reminds us constantly to celebrate humanity as actively as they do in sprightly Peru.  

Comments: perfect light-hearted summer reading.  


  1. This is a brief yet well thought out post.

    Mario Vargas Llosa is a monumental literary figure and his winning the Nobel prize for literature in 2010 encouraged a lot of readers to read his work for the first time, and most of them start either with this novel, or The Bad Girl. So, I am not surprised that you chose Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter.

    The form of this novel reminds me of Orhan Pamuk's The Black Book (where every alternate chapter is a column written by a journalist), though they are very different books in terms of subject matters and narratives. Pamuk's is an intense metaphysical detective story (and using this device Pamuk deals with issues ranging from individual and national identity to multiple culture influences); Llosa's Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter is, basically, some sort of an avant-garde postmodern comedy. The major differences between the two novels are: the charm and greatness of the Pamuk novel lie in its complexity and rich textures, the greatness of Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter lies in its "lightness" and the easy going flow. In the Pamuk novel, the story becomes secondary to philosophical discussion and introspection; whereas in the Llosa novel the thread of the story keeps the reader hooked and help understand life (in the greater sense) in that particular world.

    Also, Mr. Llosa is a very political figure and is famous mostly for his historical, and politically charged novels, like Conversation in the Cathedral, The Feast of the Goat, or The Time of the Hero..

    Thank you for the review.

  2. very short and worthy...i always look for short ones(so lazy):P

  3. Hi RKP,
    What I like about Llosa (vs. Pamuk) is that he steers just short of being 'literary' without compromising on beautiful prose. We're always aware of the plot pressing on; something's always happening. Pamuk on the other hand is a bit of an elitist over-indulgence, not always easy to read unless you're in the mood.

  4. @icyHighs,

    Yes, I agree. You can enjoy Llosa, or for that matter Marquez, even when you're not that much aware of what the circumstances are in the places where the stories are set, just for the narrative, or the presence of a story in totality.

    Reading Pamuk is just like reading Borges, Calvino and Eco. But then I am heavily into that type of stuff.


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