Mario Vargas Llosa

Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter

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Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter Summary

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Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter is a semi-autobiographical novel from Spanish author Mario Vargas Llosa. First published in Spanish in 1977 under the title La Tia Julia y el Escribidor, the novel charts the coming-of-age of a young writer and his romance with an older woman. Llosa based the narrative on his own formative experiences and courtship of his first wife.

When the story opens, young Marito is 18 and a budding writer. He lives in Peru with his maternal grandparents, traveling between Lima and Miraflores for work and school. Marito’s parents have gone to live in the United States, leaving their son behind with the rest of the family, who raise him with love.

Marito loves both reading and writing, but is reticent about his interests. He shares his passions only with his best friend, Javier. During his spare time, Marito writes short fiction and essays, but throws everything into the trash when he is done. He is never satisfied with his work. His family has high ambitions for him and has pushed him to study law at the University of San Marcos. Marito is dutiful, but lacks any real interest in law; he does the bare minimum of work he needs to but never throws himself into his studies.

At Marito’s day job, he writes and edits the news for a local radio station called Panamericana. He airs his reports three times a day along with his lone coworker, Pascual. However, Marito prefers Panamerica’s sister station, Radio Central, which is more liberal and progressive.

Things begin to change for Marito when he strikes up a friendship with Pedro Comancho, who writes for radio serials. Marito has trouble finishing what he writes and crafting a compelling story. Comancho has no such troubles: he writes scripts for up to eighteen hours a day, every day, tirelessly churning out thrilling story after thrilling story. Marito worships Comancho’s dedication and craft, and much of the book is given over to the melodramatic plots of Comancho’s radio serials.

Around the same time, Marito meets his “Aunt” Julia, the sister of his aunt by marriage. Julia is a mature woman, 32 years old and a divorcee. She arrives in Peru fresh from the end of her marriage and moves in with Marito’s Aunt Olga and Uncle Lucho. When Marito first meets her, he dislikes her. But he visits his aunt and uncle faithfully every week, and over time he changes his opinion. They go to the movies together, alone, and gradually a romance begins to develop between the two, though they know Marito’s family would disapprove.

The trouble with Marito’s writing is that he lacks life experience. He is young and relatively naive. He has not experienced enough of the world to capture it on paper. But his friendship with Comancho helps show him how to tell important stories and the techniques he needs.

As Marito grows as a writer and realizes this is the path he needs to follow, Comancho begins to decline. The excerpts from Comancho’s scripts grow strange. Characters from previous scripts suddenly appear in new ones where they don’t belong; narratives bleed into one another. Comancho is losing touch with reality, and his memory is fading. At one point, he tells Marito that he tries to end his new stories with death because he cannot remember his characters well enough to continue writing them over multiple installments.

As Comancho’s stories sprawl and lose focus, Marito’s tighten. He is becoming a strong writer. And his talent is partially fueled by his love for Julia: he is gaining the life experience he needs. When his family discovers the romance, they are furious, as Marito predicted. They try everything to break up the couple, but Marito holds fast. Rather than break up with Julia, he proposes marriage to her. Their courtship isn’t easy, but he does marry her in spite of his family.

Ten years into the future, Marito is a successful writer living in Spain, but other parts of his life have changed. He and Julia have divorced, and Comancho has suffered a mental breakdown. He is no longer able to write. Though Marito is now far from both the people who shaped him as a young writer, he acknowledges and appreciates the effect they had on his career.

Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter offers a fictionalized look at Llosa’s early career and first marriage, a depiction of life in 1950’s Peru, and a satirical look at Spanish-language radio serials of the period. Llosa’s first wife, Julia Urquidi, later wrote her own version of events titled Lo Que Vargitas No Dijo, or What the Little Vargas Didn’t Say. The novel was adapted into a feature film set in New Orleans called Tune in Tomorrow in 1990. In 2010, Llosa won the Nobel Prize in Literature for his exploration of power, rebellion, and resistance in his body of work.