In 2010 the Peruvian writer, Llosa was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Despite the laureates, this novel is quite straightforward and even at times has elements of a telenovella. Our discreet hero is 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 for his trucking business. In place of a signature is a hand-drawn spider. Though the sum demanded is relatively small and other businesses apparently pay extortionists, Yanaque won’t give in. His father rose from poverty to build up the business and advised his son: “Never let anybody walk all over you, son.”
Felícito’s story is twinned with another discreet hero, with whom his life is destined to entwine in the final 100 pages. Don Rigoberto, a successful accountant, looking forward to his retirement, has made some powerful enemies of his own: after agreeing to witness his elderly boss’s marriage to his maid, he’s threatened by the man’s twin hoodlum sons. The twins are the classic privileged white youths who commit as many crimes as they want, shielded by wealth and social position. The twins were so anxious for their father to die, so they could inherit his wealth, they foolishly were talking about it earlier in their father’s hearing when he had had a heart attack from which he survived. If this weren’t bad enough, a mysterious stranger called Edilberto Torres has started shadowing Don Rigoberto’s adolescent son, Fonchito. There is more than a suggestion that Edilberto may be an incarnation of the devil, a touch of magic realism in an otherwise straightforward narrative.
The book is often funny; you turn the pages with relish; it offers up plenty to think about and admire; for most of its length it immerses you in the way you hope any novel will immerse you. “The Discreet Hero” is simultaneously exotic and familiar in the way that all great literature seems to be. Its ease is that of a master playing at his craft, using danger, fear, evil and empathy to carry the reader along.
English translation by Edith Grossman
My rating 5 out of 5