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Aunt Julia without the Scriptwriter: Latin American author’s ex wife reacts against her portrayal in his work

Back in the day: Vargas Llosa with Julia Urquidi

I read Mario Vargas Llosa’s novel ‘Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter’ (Spanish: Tía Julia y el Escribidor) a while ago, but I promise to transform into a bookslut soon. (Check out this blog link, one of the top litblogs around.)

As I was saying, I read this book (published 1977) when I was around the same age, 18, as the main character. It’s almost a Latin American equivalent of The Catcher in the Rye. Just like how children’s books work on the formula of giving children special powers, the best teenager’s fiction gives their hero/heroine independence.

Mario is working at a radio station and has an affair with an older woman, the sister of his uncle’s wife. Her character is heavily based on that of Vargas Llosa’s first wife, Julia Urquidi. That was the problem. Vargas Llosa, unlinke Roald Dahl whose fantastical stories were inspired by Norweigan tales about giants and trolls, was influenced by his own experience.

Julia, Bolivian, 32 years-old at the time, didn’t react well to the novel. She felt so strongly that she published her own work: ‘Lo que Varguitas no dijo’ (English: ‘What Vargas didn’t say’).

You can read more about it in this El País article. Julia was apparently devastated when Vargas Llosa left her. The article’s in Spanish so I’ll go on…

When Vargas Llosa read Julia’s book, or as he says, flicked through the pages, he was disgusted by what he read. He claims that he could never read all of it, he felt it was a tirade against him and his second wife Patricia. He was so angry in fact that he stopped Julia’s rights to the royalties to his novel ‘City and the Dogs’ (‘Ciudad y los Perros’).

That was Julia. What about the typewriter?

‘An unexpected figure appeared at the attic door. He was a very small person and slight, on the border of being a man of small stature and a dwarf, with a big nose and eyes that were extraordinarily alive, in which sparkled an excessive tendency.’

That’s my translation of Vargas Llosa’s description of Pedro Camucho, writer of radio serials inspired by scripts from Cuba. The fictional character is remarkably similar to Raúl Salmón, the Bolivian politician and owner of a radio station.

Yet Salmón is publicly indifferent to the portrayal. He says there’s no evidence of a link between the two. However, he does admit the book caused controversy, ‘the editor generally wants to live for scandal. I presume that this is the least happy novel of all of Vargas’s works’ (direct translation from the Spanish). Salmón has never lived down the typewriter stigma.

In the litblog world gossip might be frowned upon. It’s often said that an author’s personality has nothing to do with their work. But most writers don’t have access to exotic Norweigan material. Their life experiences are their only perspective and they can’t help it if they creep into their books. For the record, Vargas Llosa hit García Márquez over Patricia, not Julia.

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