Book Review: Mario Vargas Llosa Takes On a Coup in Guatemala

By Nick Burns

The Peruvian novelist brings Central America’s bloody Cold War past to life – with a surprising political angle.

One of the most sinister episodes in the history of U.S. entanglement in Latin America forms the subject of Mario Vargas Llosa’s latest novel, Harsh Times. The scene is Guatemala during the first decade of the Cold War when, as U.S. fears of Soviet influence ramped up, President Jacobo Árbenz’s plan for land reform worried the powerful, U.S.-run United Fruit Company. Vargas Llosa describes what happened next in a narrative that draws both on historical records and his own imagination. United Fruit concluded that Arbenz was not a communist, but that his program would damage their...

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