Mario Vargas Llosa has set about the Latin American literary task—to portray the collision of indigenous and Enlightenment-influenced cultures—with a rare combination of daring and common sense. In A Writer’s Reality we see it is this combination that makes his novels scintillating without leaving the reader stranded in metafictional abstractions, and that allows him to delve into racial difference without patronizing the humble native, or, indeed, anyone else.

A Writer’s Reality consists of what appear to be barely altered transcriptions of lectures the Peruvian author gave at Syracuse University in 1988. As such, it is a much more repetitive and meandering book than it should have been. Yet even unsmoothed by an editor, it adds up to a satisfying literary manifesto. Two initial chapters on New World history and letters are followed by six chapters on...


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