Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa was born on March 28, 1936 in Peru. A prolific writer, journalist, essayist and former politician, Llosa is one of the most influential Latin American writers.

Published in 1963, his debut novel The Time of the Hero (La Ciudad y Los Perros) was an immediate international success. This was followed by The Green House (La Casa Verde) and Conversation in the Cathedral (Conversación en la Catedral).

He is the recipient of many awards, including the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2010. Some of his novels have even been adapted for movies.

Llosa contested the 1990 Peruvian Presidency elections, but lost to Alberto Fujimori.


Conversation in the Cathedral is a story set in Peru in the 1950s. The book was originally written in Spanish in 1969, titled Conversación en la Catedral.

Set in the backdrop of when Peru was under dictatorial rule, the story begins when the protagonist, Santiago Zavala, meets his old acquaintance, Ambrosia, while rescuing his dog from a dog pound.

They go to a nearby bar, The Cathedral, and have an engrossing conversation involving the lives of both men and their near and dear ones over the last few years.

The author has used the men’s personal journeys to expose the rampant corruption at the governmental and bureaucratic levels. Santiago also explores the ideology of communism in detail as it was something that, he felt, could help bring the country out of its turmoil.

As the story progresses, readers discover the protagonist’s complicated relationship with his father. It is also interesting to see how his actions and decisions further drifted him apart from his family. It eventually takes a chance meeting with his father’s chauffeur, Ambrosia, to help Santiago unravel a secret that has been bothering him all these years.


Conversation in the Cathedral is one of Mario Vargas Llosa’s best-known works. His experiment of adopting a bold writing style for this book has worked wonders.

However, it does take some time to get the hang of the story line and all the characters. Every paragraph is in a different timeline altogether and different characters to go with it. That said, this actually makes the plot more intriguing.

An excerpt from Mario Vargas Llosa's Conversation in the Cathedral

The first half of the book is more challenging as the timelines and characters keep shifting at breakneck speed. Fortunately, though, everything begins to fall into place as readers get to the latter half of the novel.


Santiago Zavala has a very pessimistic outlook on everything in life, and that makes for a very dark mood throughout the book. This is not necessarily a negative point, though some positivity would have been nice.


The idea of God, the idea of a “pure spirit” who created the universe didn’t make sense, Politzer said, a God outside space and time was something that could not exist.

“They’re not prejudices, I don’t care whether your classmates are white, black or yellow,” Don Fermin said. “I want you to study, not waste your time and be left without a career like Sparky.”

The colour came back to the milky face, hope, loquacity, he walked beside him to the door, almost dancing.


Ameya Score:

As a critically-acclaimed novel, Conversation in the Cathedral is more suited to serious readers. The book is apparently more enjoyable when read without long breaks between reading sessions.

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