- Mundos alternos y artísticos en Vargas Llosa by Hedy Habra
Hedy Habra’s Mundos alternos y artísticos en Vargas Llosa is a noteworthy study on select works by Mario Vargas Llosa. As Habra expands the limits of her dissertation with this book project, she addresses a relatively understudied aspect of Vargas Llosa’s creative oeuvre: the use of the visual image in the construction of alternate realities. Though not comprehensive in scope, Habra’s study provides adept observations on Vargas Llosa’s unique capacity to “escribir las pinturas” (189) and “pinta[r] con las palabras” (76).
Scholars who publish on Vargas Llosa often face a critical dilemma. Given the expanse of the Nobel laureate’s writing, an all-inclusive study of his work becomes a daunting task, something akin to the novelist’s own totalizing narratives. Consequently, many scholars choose to limit their studies to a specific line of inquiry, as is the case with Habra’s work on the visual image. To understand even a selection of Vargas Llosa’s literary world, however, specialized studies must be brought into the larger context of not only his fictional writings, but also his literary theories, essays, politics, and personal history. Habra effectively discusses a multitude of concepts related to the visual image, eroticism, postmodern writing, and the creation of literary worlds, but does not always place the specific works she studies within this broader scope to enlighten beyond her immediate—albeit astute—analyses. The result is a work that sometimes reads more like a series of individual articles than a cohesive book project. As the final lines of the introduction acknowledge, “algunas de las secciones de varios de los capítulos que conforman este estudio han aparecido en diferentes revistas en versiones primerizas, las cuales han sido desarrolladas y actualizadas para este libro” (17). Habra does successfully demonstrate how individual novels create “una red de lecturas intermediales” (69), but only occasionally connects them extratextually to [End Page 695] other aspects of Vargasllosan scholarship. The study also would have benefited from a conclusion to review and unify the many intriguing insights found in each chapter of the book.
Individual chapters of Mundos alternos y artísticos en Vargas Llosa include analyses of Conversación en La Catedral, Elogio de la madrastra, Los cuadernos de Don Rigoberto, La fiesta del Chivo, El hablador, El paraíso en la otra esquina, and the repeated appearances of Lituma as a protagonist in multiple narratives. Habra’s exploration of each of these novels is noteworthy; however, including additional narratives that deal with the visual image could have strengthened her work even more. Specifically, I was surprised to find no significant discussion of La guerra del fin del mundo, a novel that relies heavily upon the visual image both structurally and thematically. Habra also comments repeatedly on “la consabida afición de Vargas Llosa por la pintura” (189), but includes only a few lines on the subject from the author. This is not to say that Habra is incorrect in the positions she takes, nor that we should trust Vargas Llosa’s word as the ultimate authority on his own writing, but including more of the writer’s own positions would have provided additional support for her otherwise excellent commentaries.
Given the number of studies published on Vargas Llosa over the years, it is sometimes difficult to contribute entirely original ideas to an extensive—and ever-increasing—corpus of scholarship. On multiple occasions, however, Habra made me view my own research in fresh ways. Among other examples, I was particularly intrigued by her comments on sexuality and creative freedom. In chapter 4, her comparison of Lucrecia from Vargas Llosa’s tandem erotic novels and Urania Cabral from La fiesta del Chivo was exceptional. One example includes Habra’s apt observation that “[a]l contrario de la desbordante propensión a fantasear de doña Lucrecia, se observa que el imaginario de Urania ha permanecido congelado desde su violación” (106). Her discussion of sexual freedom and its ability to...