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Felicito Yanaque has raised himself from poverty to ownership of a trucking business. His two sons work for him. He receives a threatening letter demanding protection money. The police don’t take him seriously, Felicito refuses to pay up and gets sucked into a nightmare. He becomes a reluctant public hero. Then his mistress is kidnapped, and matters become seriously complicated. And he finds that his troubles have begun very close to home.
His fate is interwoven with the story of Rigoberto, a wealthy Lima insurance executive. His boss and old friend, Ismael, suddenly announces that he is marrying his housekeeper, a chola from Piura, to the consternation of his twin sons, a pair of brutal wasters. Ismael escapes to Europe with his new bride, leaving Rigoberto to face the twins’ threats, and their claims that he connived with a scheming woman to rob an old man of his fortune. Rigoberto is hounded by the press and TV. Meanwhile, his only son is having visions of a mysterious stranger who may or may not be the devil…
This, in a quiet way, is a remarkable novel - not least in the way that Vargas Llosa, contrary to accepted wisdom, succeeds in rendering his "good" characters far more vividly than their "bad" counterparts.
[T]he reversals and betrayals of the book's interlocking plots owe as much to telenovelas as the writings of Isaiah Berlin. The characters may feel that civilisation - real civilisation - is always threatened by malice, but the warmth and energy of the novel, and the genial presence of its author, negate the bleakness of this moral.
[An] expansive and engrossing imaginative world.
The book is often funny; you turn the pages with relish; it offers up plenty to think about and admire; ... it immerses you in the way you hope any novel will immerse you.
A fulfillment of themes and characters that have populated [Mario Vargas Llosa's] work for decades ... An energetic book.
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.
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