The Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa carries the mixed blessing of a 2010 Nobel citation that praises him “for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt and defeat”. Never mind that the same words broadly describe every episode of Fawlty Towers, they also summon up the cod liver oil view of literature: books are good for you, and their value positively correlates with their indigestibility.
In fact, Vargas Llosa’s 16th novel is as straightforward and as engaging as its hero, Felícito Yanaque, a man who wakes up one morning to find himself the target of extortionists. A note has been pinned to his door demanding protection money from his haulage business. In place of a signature is a hand-drawn spider.
The sums involved are relatively small, but while friends and family counsel compromise, Felícito refuses to give in. Short, middle-aged and unprepossessing, she has fought his way up from a hardscrabble childhood in provincial Peru, guided by a single precept from his dead father: “Never let anybody walk all over you, son.” His defiance provokes his enemies to attempt more brutal means of persuasion. Soon the stage is set for a showdown between a man of unbending principle and an implacable foe.
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