Captain Pantoja and the Special Service: A Novel
One of Mario Vargas Llosa's earlier novels, at first it appears to be a light farce, albeit an extremely well written one, but it evolves and develops into something much deeper and more moving.The story is about the straitlaced logistics officer Captain Pantoja who is assigned to set up mobile brothels in the Amazon to divert the troops from pursuing (and often raping) local women. Captain Pantoja brings his astonishing efficiency to the task, with such steps as surveys about how often men need the services, timing how long it takes, experimenting with factors that can reduce the time, and using all of this to calculate the resources he will need and how to deploy them. All of this grows well beyond his initial imagination as he becomes increasingly embroiled in the world.The chapters are organized in a number of different ways. The opening and some subsequent chapters are a shifting, multiple perspective dialogue where almost every paragraph is in quotation marks but they narrate a series of conversations, often shifting back and forth, not just one. Some of the other chapters are letters or radio broadcasts And many of the other chapters are in the form of military dispatches, hilarious for the precision and military jargon around prostitution and other aspects of sex. Some is particularly farcical, like the prostitutes creating a "Hymn" for the group, called the "special service," that refers to the Peruvian Army but not the Navy. Given the Navy's support for the operation, they are upset and want themselves named in the "hymn" as well. This leads to a series of letters, apologies, and ultimately the problem being rectified. As such, Captain Pantoja and the Special Service has a comfortable place in the satire of military life from Catch-22 to MASH.But it ultimately transcends it and does so much more, particularly with the character of Captain Pantoja and how he treats the prostitutes with dignity, creates an esprit de corps like in the Army, and makes them feel patriotic--all of which he does in the face of significant pressure by just about everyone to the contrary.Also of some interest is that many of Vargas Llosa's subsequent books are in here in some form or another. This is most clear with Brother Francisco, a renegade religious figure who develops a following in the Amazon--prefiguring the Counselor in The War of the End of the World. And Iquitos, the wild Amazonian city, plays a big role here--like it does in The Dream of the Celt. And finally the story itself seems like something Pedro Camacho from Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter would have dreamed up, including a character (the assistant to the madam) who is reminiscent of Camacho himself.