A young man, Zvalita, son of a rich industrialist, is making a living in Peru in a semi-democratic dictatorship. The book is narrated totally incoherent, mixing narrators, stories, direct and indirect speech, and the order in which things happen. It feels very honest and direct, like I think and experience the world myself.
And the main theme of the book is introduced right in the first sentence: „From the doorway of La Cronica Santiago looks at the Avenida Tacna without love: cars, uneven and faded buildings, the gaudy skeletons of posters floating in the mist, the gray midday. At what precise moment had Peru fucked itself up?“ (Llosa, 1974, p.3).
The book is about the path between being pure and fucking yourself up and how Zavalita deals with it. At university he is involved with the Communist party and therefore is on the brink of getting thrown into jail.
„“Revolution, books, museums,“ Santiago says. „Do you see what it is to be pure?“
„I thought that being pure was living without fucking, son,“ Ambrosio says.“ (Llosa, 1974, p.73). „All the doors open, he thinks, at what moment and why dod they begin to close?“ (Llosa, 1974, p.73).
„yes, yes, the greatest materialist thinker before Marx was Diderot, yes yes, and suddenly the little worm: a lie I don’t believe.“ (Llosa, 1974, p.101).
„“I’d been against the idea of a strike for the same reasons as those expressed by Huaman, an Aprista,“ Santiago said. „But since the section had agreed on a strike, it was up to me to defend it against Huaman. That’s called democratic centralism, Carlitos.“ (Llosa, 1974, p.147).
After getting bailed out of jail by his father Zavalita breaks with Communism (because he probably realizes, that is not an option to survive but also is something pure and idealistic which means trying to model the world after that ideal and thereby causing pain). He also breaks with his family and their money. Not because he doesn’t love them, but because they are tangled int money and politics. While the brea with Communism is lasting the break with his family is incomplete: he is going back and forth, but never returns completely.
Then the book makes a bit of a turn, and Zavalita explains that being pure is not a solution but being fucked up is much better:
„“Because thanks to San Marcos, I fucked myself up,“ Santiago says.
„And in this country a person who doesn’t fuck himself up fucks up other people. O I don’t regret it, Ambrosio.“ (Llosa, 1974, p.144).
So fucking up means also not being a model of anything, not following a model and therefore being alive without trying to shape the world to one’s will. Thus he says for example about his marriage: „“No, I’m happy with it,“ Santiago says. „The only think ist hat I really wasn’t the one who made the decision. It was imposed on me, just like the job, just like everthing that’s ever happened to me. Nothing was ever my doing, it was more like I was their doing.“ (Llosa, 1974, p.486).
And when his father dies he refuses to take any of his inheritance: „“I have,“ Santiago said. „There’s no share for me and, if there is, I don’t want a single penny oft he old man’s money. O.K. Sparky?“ (Llosa, 1974, p.591). And that confuses his brother immensely, because he doesn’t understand how one can do such a thing. „Go ahead, stay with your nuttiness,“ Sparky said, also smiling. „I just want you to know that if you ever need anything ...“
„I know, I know,“ Santigo said. „Now be on your way so I can take a little nap. So long Sparky.“ (Llosa, 1974, p.592).
So the nap, being chosen over the money, is a very interesting embodiment of being fucked up, of avoiding ambition, avoiding politics.