Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Green House won the Crítica Prize in Spain (1966), and the Rómulo Gallegos Prize in Venezuela (1967), the latter being most important literary prize in Hispanic America. The novel was inspired by a trip that Vargas Llosa (1936–) made to the Amazon area in 1958, during which he observed the major differences between advanced regions and the indigenous territory of his country, as well as the exploitations of the Indian people by various external and colonial economic and political forces.
The Green House presents a panorama of ordinary people’s lives and legends in northern Peru during a time span of 40 years following the 1920s. The setting stretches from the coastal desert area to the forest region, with a background of ideological and moral conflicts rooted in Peru’s historic and political realities. The major plots in the novel include the history of a brothel called the Green House in Piura, a small town turned modern city in the coastal desert, and the stories of the small town Santa María de Nieva in the forest region, where the economy is undeveloped and the indigenous people are threatened by forces of nature and foreign adventurers and colonists.
The novel contains four parts and an epilogue. Each part contains three to four chapters, and each chapter consists of five episodes from the lives of the five major characters: Don Anselmo, founder of the Green House, whose role is later taken by his daughter Chunga; Bonifacia, also known as Selvatica, a prostitute in the Green House; Fushía, a Japanese fugitive from Brazil who is hiding in the forest region; Jum, an Indian tribe leader in the forest area; and Lituma, a native Piuran. The burning and rebuilding of the brothel Green House in Piura provide the main narrative in terms of time, and the story of Lituma and his wife, Bonifacia, who are married and then move from the forest area to the coastal city of Piura, is the major link in terms of setting, as their relocation connects the stories in the two different regions. The five plots in each chapter develop in a criss-cross way due to the author’s narrative technique of “stream of dialogue,” as seen in The Time of the Hero and Conversation in the Cathedral. In this technique a character’s words in one story are often used as a lead in another story. Such a technique smoothly carries the multiclued narrative and successfully illustrates life in the two regions through the fates of the five main characters.
In early 20th century, Don Anselmo, a musician and founder of the first brothel in Piura, seduces a blind girl, Antonia, who becomes pregnant and later dies at the birth of their daughter Chunga. Her death ignites the fury of the local people, who, led by Padre García, burn the brothel. Since then Don Anselmo lives humbly in a notorious district of Piura, where he witnesses the development of the area from a small town to a modern city. He also observes his daughter Chunga build a second Green House. By the time Don Anselmo dies, other people, including Padre García, have begun viewing his life more open-mindedly. The stories of other main characters from Piura also take place in the second brothel, founded by his daughter Chunga.
Bonifacia is an orphan who grows up in a convent in Santa María de Nieva, a small town in the forest region. One of her friends in the convent is Lalita, who later becomes mistress of the Japanese-born smuggler Fushía. Bonifacia falls in love and marries Lituma, a police officer. Later she moves with her husband to Piura, where Lituma and his childhood friends become involved in a fatal conflict with a local rich man. Lituma is imprisoned in Lima due to his rival’s death. He subsequently returns to Piura after serving his prison term, only to find that his wife has been enticed by his friend Josefino to become a prostitute in Chunga’s Green House. She has also changed her name to Selvatica, or “girl from the forest.”
The stories of Fushía and Jum take place in Bonifacia’s home region. Fushía is a smuggler and a fugitive from Brazil. He seizes control of a remote island in the region, organizes a gang to rob the local Indians of their resources, and thus accumulates a large amount of money. Fushía later falls ill with leprosy and is sent to San Pablo for isolation and treatment. His lover Lalita has run away from him and married Nieves, a sailor on the rivers. In his last days, Fushía relates his adventurous life to his former partner Aquilino.
Jum is an Indian tribe leader who has tried to resist the outside world’s exploitation of his people. After fruitless efforts to get fair prices for the Indians’ agricultural products in the surrounding towns, he decides to organize a company owned by the local Indians. However, he is captured and tortured by the police because of his involvement, and the Indians’ commercial organization eventually fails.
At the end of the novel, the death of Don Anselmo reunites all the characters in Piura. Lituma and Bonifacia reconcile, and Padre García agrees to perform a Christian burial for Don Anselmo, who they discover is, like Bonifacia, from the forest region.
Kristal, Efraín. Temptation of the Word: The Novels of Mario Vargas Llosa. Nashville, Tenn.: Vanderbilt University Press, 1998.
Oviedo, José Miguel. Mario Vargas Llosa: A Writer’s Reality. Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1985. Vargas Llosa, Mario. A Fish in the Water: A Memoir. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994.