MARIO VARGAS LLOSA’S powerful and haunting historical novel, ”The War of the End of the World,” based on events in South America at the end of the 19th century, succeeds brilliantly in penetrating and opening to examination the ancient significance of the millenarian myth. Mr. Vargas Llosa, six of whose novels are now available in English, has received a number of international awards for his work and has been established for some time as one of South America’s foremost writers. His most recent previous novel to appear in translation, ”Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter,” a comic work informed by a sense of tragedy, was a best seller in the Spanish-speaking world and was singled out by The New York Times Book Review as one of the 12 best books of 1982. His fiction is distinguished by his wit, his taste for irony and his disposition to engage the complexities of existence with an insight that disdains glib moralizing or ideological rigor.
Mr. Vargas Llosa’s work is of such scope, his handling of the big questions so confident and intellectually exciting, that one hesitates to fault him. The novel is long and might be shorter, as is true of many ambitious books. His choice of short anticlimactic scenes, a few flickerings after the great explosive ending, might be more considered. But these are small matters. The translation by Helen R. Lane reads briskly and seems free of awkwardness.
It is difficult to read a book such as this one, treating as it does the mythic systems of which our beliefs and our history are composed, without being forced to re-examine some of the principles that have served to guide us through their labyrinths. ”Consciousness does not condition reality,” Marx told us with his common sense; ”rather reality conditions consciousness.” Incontrovertible, and yet our present world is so replete with intricate palimpsests that a shadow falls across that line between the two that was so clear to him over 100 years ago.