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The Discreet Hero by Mario Vargas Llosa

El héroe discreto (Spanish Edition) - Mario Vargas Llosa

With a bit of patience, this turns out to be an entertaining story about fathers and sons, and about men standing up to intimidation. Its title is oddly chosen; calling anyone in the book heroic seems a bit of a stretch, and certainly no one is discreet.


Felicito Yanaque is a businessman in Piura, Peru, who receives letters demanding protection money but refuses to be bullied. Meanwhile, in Lima, Rigoberto is on the verge of retirement when he’s drawn into his boss’s scheme to disinherit a pair of ungrateful sons. The story takes time to pick up, and there are unnecessary tangents, particularly in the first half. Nevertheless, I did enjoy reading it; the novel ultimately goes the melodramatic route rather than (as it initially appears) examining the state of law and order in Peru or the moral dilemmas Felicito faces in refusing the extortionists’ demands. But it is entertaining melodrama and the characters realistic enough to support it.


In fact, this book is … fine, which is an odd thing to say about a novel by a Nobel laureate. It’s well-written, but not to the point that one stops to admire the author’s use of language. The setting and characters feel strangely old-fashioned, although the book is nominally set in modern Peru. It has a compelling plot that the characters themselves compare to a telenovela by the end. This is a perfectly readable book, but not an important one.