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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an intriguing novel with layers of meaning
Part mystery, part fictional biography, part travelogue, part ethnological study, this intriguing tale draws the reader into its onion-like structure. A Peruvian scholar has set himself several academic tasks to be accomplished in Florence, Italy, where he has traveled for a respite from his homeland. While there the narrator discovers a gallery exhibiting photographs...
Published on June 10, 1998 by Anne R. Markham

versus
25 of 32 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars And so it goes.
This is one of those books that you can tell is a really great book. It exudes deep thoughts, alienated characters, and cultural sensitivity. It reeks of innovative storytelling techniques, challenges to provoke the reader, and a finely tuned moral sensibility. And yet, somehow, I did not care for it.
The story concerns a Peruvian writer, reminiscing about a friend...
Published on April 10, 2002 by Brian Almquist


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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an intriguing novel with layers of meaning, June 10, 1998
By 
Anne R. Markham (Baltimore, Maryland) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Storyteller (Paperback)
Part mystery, part fictional biography, part travelogue, part ethnological study, this intriguing tale draws the reader into its onion-like structure. A Peruvian scholar has set himself several academic tasks to be accomplished in Florence, Italy, where he has traveled for a respite from his homeland. While there the narrator discovers a gallery exhibiting photographs of the same Amazonian tribe, the Machiguenga, that he had visited years earlier and never forgotten. One photograph fascinates him, driving him to decipher the story of the storyteller depicted in shadow. As the narrator traces the history of his college friend, Saul Zuratas, who has not been heard from since he allegedly emigrated to Israel many years earlier, the reader is reminded of Joseph Conrad's narrator Marlow, who recounts the tale of his friend Kurtz, who also disappears into the jungle. The novel explores the evolution of an individual from contemporary Latin American urban life to tribal life in the jungle, as he becomes so obsessed by the tribe that in time he undergoes a conversion. Gradually he changes from his role as an ethnologist studying Machiguenga culture and passionately supporting its preservation to a role as one of the tribes's central figures, a "talker." Issues of cultural and environmental integrity, of what is "primitive" versus "advanced," and of what modern society truly offers in a setting in which the environment and its inhabitants have successfully coexisted for thousands of years, are treated with great intelligence and sensitivity. The narrator as a writer envies his friend's ability to spin tales, wondering at the mystery of transformation from the Spanish native tongue and civilization to the "crackling" language of the Machiguengas and their pagan, animistic belief system. In his youth Zarutas condemns the missionaries, holding that the imposition of their beliefs upon the Indians only produces a nation of zombies. Interestingly, he later recount! s the Christian story to "his" people in their own language, terminology, and frame of reference. Vargas also treats issues of disfigurement: individual, ethnic, and environmental, as well as the related issues of alienation and acceptance, of being an outsider. The audience is given much to consider and marvel at through the spellbinding artistry of the storyteller.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An amazing story of an anthropologist who goes 'native', March 8, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: The Storyteller (Paperback)
Having lived in Latin America, and being Jewish, I was amazed at Vargas Llosa's ability to describe his 'friend' - a Peruvian Jew from a small town, who moves to Lima with his father, but who cannot fit in, no matter where he goes. A brilliant student, who refuses to accept a grant to study in Europe. Instead, he turns his back on academia and on everything he knows to move permanently to the Amazon and live in a nomadic fashion with a tribe. He takes on the role as their 'storyteller'; and he is finally able to find his place in the world. What impressed me the most is the author's ability to describe the inability of this minority within a minority - a Jew from a small town in Peru - to be able to fit in anywhere. The author has a tremendous insight and sensitivity re: Jewish people generally, particularly Jews in Latin America, and the plight of the main character in particular. I have not read anything quite like this book. I highly recommend it. It is also wonderful how he weaves actual Indian myths into the story.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Captivating, October 10, 2005
This review is from: The Storyteller: A Novel (Paperback)
The Storyteller hypnotized me with its rhythmic myths of the Machinguenga storytellers. I was captivated with the imagined scene of gathering around a fire with a group of entranced people listening to the calming lilt of the voice of the storyteller and the comfortingly familiar (to them) stories of Tasurinchi. I could really imagine what it would be like to feel that this was important in their lives. The storyteller was like a medicine man or a shaman whose words were like a healing balm for a people who felt misplaced in the world as it was becoming for them. Mascarita had the soul of a storyteller because he perhaps carried an unconscious identification with his ancestors who wandered as nomads in the desert; a people with no permanent home. For this and many other reasons, he understood what it meant to have no solid ground on which to stand.

Is it better for an anthropologist, as one who studies other cultures, to keep an academic distance from the people who are his subjects? How far should participant observation be taken? Saul Zuratas took it all the way. He abandoned the modern world and joined with a culture that was trying to avoid being assimilated into the world of zombies. The Machinguenga is a culture that is deeply imbued with meaning in every area. Globalization says that progress is king. If a `traditional' culture is impacted by global culture, that is just part of life. Do we hold `traditional' cultures back by wanting them to stay frozen in the past? Or are we `helping' them by bringing them up-to-date with our modern world? I sometimes think it is a battle of meaning versus modernization. Can the two be compatible?
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The impossible story, August 22, 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: The Storyteller (Paperback)
This book is a dense and rewarding exploration of the meaning of stories in cultural identity. It takes a penetrating look at a tribe of Amazonian Indians that is uncompromising in its effort to represent their culture on its own terms. Alternating between chapters which describe the "First World" narrator's discovery of his story and chapters which attempt to record a cultural history through the stories of the tribe, the book draws our attention to the serious difficulties of cross-cultural understanding. What is translation? What is culture? What do we do when we "study" culture, when we translate language, when we approximate or translate the forms of their stories? The book is dense in the storytelling chapters, but the challenges have tremendous rewards.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant tale of becoming, and shaping, "the noble savage", November 19, 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: The Storyteller (Paperback)
I did not believe that I would enjoy this book, which I read for a grad-level English class. _The Storyteller_ is one of those books that you cannot even begin to appreciate until nearly its conclusion, as the "secrets" are unraveled and the threads become even more tightly wound. One can enjoy this text on many levels, and in many contexts: prejudice, community, hierarchy, trust, the perhaps mistaken trend towards complete globalization. Absolutely brilliant--too bad that, because of my own limitations, I had to read it in translation.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars images of narration, November 30, 2003
By 
frumiousb "frumiousb" (Amsterdam, the Netherlands) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: The Storyteller: A Novel (Paperback)
A Peruvian writer explores his own past when he encounters a picture of a Machiguenga storyteller in an Italian gallery. He believes that ths storyteller in the photograph is not himself Machinguenga, but is instead a friend of his youth, Saul Zuratas.
A story about telling stories, and all the different ways that there are to tell (and receive) stories. From the Kafka parrot, to the narrator's stint as a television producer, to the storyteller's stories themselves, this is a book which struggles with identity and with the real. The character of Saul is notable for his lack of place and his struggle as both a monster and an angel to exist in the world of Peru.
The translation felt smooth, although it was rough enough in places that I was sorry for my inability to read Spanish. It's easy to get a bit lost in the beginning, and the stories of the storytellers seem to have lost at least a little bit in translation-- although at which level of language isn't clear to me.
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25 of 32 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars And so it goes., April 10, 2002
By 
This review is from: The Storyteller: A Novel (Paperback)
This is one of those books that you can tell is a really great book. It exudes deep thoughts, alienated characters, and cultural sensitivity. It reeks of innovative storytelling techniques, challenges to provoke the reader, and a finely tuned moral sensibility. And yet, somehow, I did not care for it.
The story concerns a Peruvian writer, reminiscing about a friend from his youth, who disappeared after developing an intense interest in one of Amazonian Peru's last remote indigenous tribes, the Machiguengas. What makes the book unusual is that a large portion of the text is dedicated to narratives of Machiguenga legend, as told by one of their habladores, a sort of travelling storyteller. The storyteller is the two-legged storehouse of cultural knowledge, and he wanders from each of the small and temporary Machiguenga family settlements, passing on collective wisdom. It is these segments which have probably brought the book as much acclaim as it has, but for me, they made for very difficult reading and their great length and apparent loose connection to the plot caused me to become detached from the framing story.
Reading this book is like eating vegetables, or taking bitter medicine. It is a great book in that it will make you think; it is powerful in that way. But I suspect many readers will have as difficult a time as I had in making it through the habladore's stories; I'd suggest skipping them, but then you lose the point of the novel.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, May 5, 2001
By 
This review is from: The Storyteller (Paperback)
This book has the most amazing sense of voice and character I have ever read. The storyteller recounts the Machiguengas' mythology, day to day life, and even a few familiar stories (Kafka's The Metamorphosis) with an achingly beautiful love for the subject matter combined with the bitter knowledge that all this might be lost. The writer in Firenze sounds like a writer, constantly making connections between actions and the larger, metaphorical picture. The book delves into more than just a tribe, but the human mind as well. I think I'll read it again, next time in Spanish.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Theme over plot, April 9, 2012
I'm writing this review primarily in response to what seems to be the major theme of the negative reviews; namely that this book has no plot. This accusation is correct. If you're looking for a plot driven page-turner, look elsewhere. But if you're looking for a novel with deeply human meaning, read this book. If you're looking to explore the themes of exclusion, isolation, and ultimate acceptance, read this book. If you're looking for beautiful prose masterfully crafted, read this book. There are no car chases, gunfights, or explosions. There are no double agents, international incidents, or political maneuverings. There is simply beautifully rendered humanity.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We need more Sauls!, August 19, 2004
By 
Steve Ramsley (Brattleboro, VT) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Storyteller (Hardcover)
I read this book years ago for the first time and was blown away by the style and story from the start. I think this is Mario Vargas-Llosa's best book but I am sure there are many that would debate me on that point. The writing coming in alternating chapters between the Peruvian author writing of his college friend who disappeared and the hablador works beautifully to keep suspense. Actually, on first read the hablador's writings can be a bit cryptic but very poetic and that, if focused on, gets the message across. The translator on this work should be commended. The English flows so beautifully that one has to wonder how many hours were spent to do this and if the translator is not a gifted hablador themselves!
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The Storyteller: A Novel
The Storyteller: A Novel by Mario Vargas Llosa (Paperback - November 3, 2001)
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