Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Conversation in the Cathedral” as Want to Read:
Conversation in the Cathedral
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Conversation in the Cathedral

4.35  ·  Rating details ·  8,371 ratings  ·  713 reviews
A haunting tale of power, corruption, and the complex search for identity, Conversation in The Cathedral takes place in 1950s Peru during the dictatorship of Manuel Apolinario Odría Amoretti. Over beers and a sea of freely spoken words, the conversation flows between two individuals, Santiago and Ambrosia, who talk of their tormented lives and of the overall degradation an ...more
Paperback, 608 pages
Published February 1st 2005 by Harper Perennial (first published 1969)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Conversation in the Cathedral, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Rebeca Marcés everness True, it's a difficult read and requires much concentration from the reader... but it's worth it!…moreTrue, it's a difficult read and requires much concentration from the reader... but it's worth it!(less)
Giuseppe Sirugo Are confusing dialogues, overlapped. Untidy. Created inside a bar, in Lima, Peru. Probably under influence of alcohol. It should shade your curiosity.…moreAre confusing dialogues, overlapped. Untidy. Created inside a bar, in Lima, Peru. Probably under influence of alcohol. It should shade your curiosity. [...] In the context, is described a general illusion of people losers: a lack of vision of their rights, because of an ineffective government.(less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.35  · 
Rating details
 ·  8,371 ratings  ·  713 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Conversation in the Cathedral
May 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spanish-american
Bumbling Towards Hell

None of us is ever prepared for what is happening in our lives; nor are the choices presented to us - political, personal, spiritual - ones that we formulate. We move randomly, provoked by half-formed dreams and aspirations; but it simply isn’t possible to foresee the consequences of each move. So we react, with even less reason than immediate desire, to circumstances as they unfold. We call the result a life, or career, or accomplishment, but it is really only a series of u
Vit Babenco
Apr 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Conversation in the Cathedral is a novel of decline and fall – deterioration of family, disintegration of power, ultimate ruination of hopes and pursuits.
The novel reminded me of Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner.
The story begins with an accidental meeting… Time spares no one…
The voice, the body are his, but he looks thirty years older. The same thin lips, the same flat nose, the same kinky hair. But now, in addition, there are purple bags on his eyelids, wrinkles on his neck, a greenish-ye
Michael Finocchiaro
Mario Vargas Llosa's third book is a marvelously terrorising romp through Peru of the 50s and 60s and yet all told in a bar called La Cathedral in the space of a few hours over a couple of beers and several packets of cigarettes. The narration of the first chapter is particularly confusing with each sentence being associated with a different narrator and timeline with sometimes no contextual help as to where they fit. And yet, the reader is carried along on these rapidly moving words as on a whi ...more
Ahmad Sharabiani
Conversación en La Catedral = Conversation in the Cathedral, Mario Vargas Llosa

Conversation in the Cathedral is a 1969 novel by Peruvian writer and essayist Mario Vargas Llosa, translated by Gregory Rabassa. One of Vargas Llosa's major works, it is a portrayal of Peru under the dictatorship of Manuel A. Odría in the 1950's, and deals with the lives of characters from different social strata.

The ambitious narrative is built around the stories of Santiago Zavala and Ambrosio respectively; one the
This masterpiece by Vargas Llosa, with its rhythmic and polyphonic writing, weaves a silk fabric with tangled literary threads: the scripts, like the characters, multiply, the linearity of the story dislocated, everything duplicates, is rejected and intersects in a cathedral which is not one, but a lounge where Zavalita, the hero, talks with the former driver of his father, met by chance, sweeping ten years of their life as of the social and political history of Peru in the era of dictatorship.
Roozbeh Estifaee
Fantastic! Fan-tastic! "Conversation in the Cathedral" was definitely a big work of art, a real masterpiece. It was the first book by Llosa that I read (after a suggestion by my friend, Moeen) and I'm now eager to read some more of his. It was none of a magic realism but yet a pure South-American way of story telling, with so many "stories" happening.
The book starts when Santiago Zavala, journalist, meets with his rich father's former chauffeur, Ambrosio, and they go to the bar "Cathedral" to ha
Aldo Ramírez
Jul 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is the best novel I’ve read in my 45 years of life. It is probably due to the fact that being Peruvian makes me feel deeply identified in it. I see it as a huge painting about the mentality and feelings of people in Peru and why not of people in many other countries in Latin America and probably around the world since the search of absolute power inevitably leads to corruption everywhere.
This is a huge painting and indeed the most memorable intent to reach a “Total Novel” that I witnessed.
Mar 08, 2011 added it
Shelves: read-in-2011
I must admit that I got off to a rocky start with Mario Vargas Llosa's Conversation in the Cathedral: after a dachshund is brutally clubbed to death in Chapter One* and a woman gets drugged and sexually assaulted in Chapter Two (by, moreover, sympathetic characters who don't ever seem quite to grasp the offensiveness of their actions), I was feeling a mite unfriendly toward the novel. By Chapter Three, though, I was reluctantly softening my stance, and by Chapter Four I was fully immersed in Var ...more
Dec 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, peru
If Mario Vargas Llosa, had never written anything else, Conversation in the Cathedral would by rights earn him the Nobel Prize for Literature. It is a hefty novel (600 pages or so), but it is worth spending the time reading.

The novel is set during the dictatorship of Manuel Odria (1948-1956). The major characters are Santiago Zavala, nicknamed Zavalita, and Ambrosio Pardo. The first is the eldest scion of a rich family that is well tied in with the dictator; the second, a black former chauffeur
Jul 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is a big, well-structured book that reflects the 1950's of Vargas Llosa's native Peru. The title actually refers to a conversation betweean two main characters, Santiago and Ambosio and how their lives are intertwined in the power and politics of the day. Santiago, son a of a powerful family throws everything away to become a journalist. His stance stirs up issues in his family while, Ambrosio is a dark-skinned poor man who works as a driver for two rival men. Stir in the dictatorship, poli ...more
Jun 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
My third book by Mario Vargas Llosa and the history lessons continue. 1950's Peru is the focus when General Odria led a successful coup against Jose Bustamante installing his oppressive and ridiculously corrupt regime.

Two friends, who've lost touch over the years, encounter each other at a dog pound and decide to have a celebratory reunion drink. The first chapter is the start and end of the conversation, which lasts about 20 pages. Everything after this are the memories/flashbacks they discuss
Mar 26, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: great-ones, novels
When ever I come to names such as “Liosa”, “Borges”, “Cortazar”, “Fuentes”... I wish I knew Spanish language, as I’m sure works by these authors would have a different aroma and melody in their own tongues. Liosa is, for me, one of the greatest story tellers, whose works give me deliciousness in Persian as well, (if it’s translated by Abdollah Kowsari, for example). Mario Bargas Liosa uses a highly sophisticated techniques with a very delicate language in multiple viewpoint, as if I’m listening ...more
Rick Harsch
Oct 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
One of the best novels to come out of South America, Conversation in a Cathedral combines dark political and social commentary with a technique that is stunning, as a series of conversations take place, some with up to about 100 pages between responses, all of which are riveting to such a degree that at all times the reader is caught up in them, even when that 100 pages has passed at long last and the sentence drops like a quarter through a telephone. The novel dissects the power structure of Pe ...more
Aug 28, 2008 rated it it was ok
I started this book in 1988 (when I had more time). I gave up.

I picked it up again in 2008. I'm not sure I'm happy with that decision.

I read a fair amount, and I read some reviews. I don't know if I've ever read a novel where I felt that reviewers were so systematically full of shit. Further, I've plugged people for their ideas about this novel, and found their opinions sorely lacking. I think a lot of them faked it. I didn't. Here's what I think.

Yes, there is a set of interesting storylines her
Jan 26, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've started this book several times before and have never been able to get very far. But this time I slowly got myself into its rhythm and enjoyed it. It certainly does have a lot to say about the search for personal identity in a corrupt world under a corrupt government which oppresses every attempt to proclaim a personal identity. In this case it's Peru in the 1950's, but one gets the sense that it could be aywhere, anytime. It's a masterwork of character development and, indeed, an example o ...more

Mario Vargas Llosa didn't make it easy. I read chapters 2 (rather disturbing) and 3 three times. I finally got my bearings by reading another reviewer's review.

It doesn't take long to figure out the Cathedral is a bar, but figuring out that Santiago Zavilita (also called Skinny by his family) and Ambrosio are the speakers takes a bit longer. Longer yet is the placing the other characters and getting used to the format. The best way to envision the conversation is thinking of a movie with the par
Victoria Kellaway
May 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I wish Goodreads allowed you to give a book six stars. This is the best novel I have read in years. It required a bit of concentration at first but once I realised what was happening (the clue is in the title) I was hooked. It took a while to read but that was only because it was so rich, I didn't want to miss a thing. By the end I was flying through faster than I would have liked. Conversation in The Cathedral is a book about life, as the best books always are, told in the way life is told. Hal ...more
Jul 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A book that changed the world, and it continues to do so. At first, I was concerned; I kept hearing just how difficult it is to read. To a certain extent, it was challenging because one sentence intertwines people, decades, events....but even so, once you get the "hang" of the narrative, you can't put it down. I think Mario Vargas Llosa achieved the something I believed wasn't possible- to summarize an entire history of Peruvian (and Latin American in general)society, its problems, turbulent pas ...more
Ali Nazifpour
Oct 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This books follows a conversation in a bar called Cathedral. The conversation spans entire history of Peru as narrated by people who are engaged in politics, love, and paternal relationships. All of these narrations are interwoven, and sometimes the dialogues of different eras are woven together, but ultimately this is not a pretentious form of narration but makes the novel great because it emphasizes the inner relationship of past and present and the lives of different people. This novel could ...more
Yasmin Moghadamnia
I am so glad I talked myself into reading this book. It honestly had "everything". There was drama, politics, romance, unexpectedness, you name it. It was the first time I read a book like this, the literature and the way of story telling was quite amusing. It needed more attention than the other books, kinda like a physics text book you know? You need to learn this "thing" here, cuz later on you will be needing it to understand that other thing. I am so happy about reading it, and kinda sad for ...more
Rebeca Marcés everness
This book is spectacular. It's not an easy book, and requires much concentration from the reader. Also, it's quite long and has a lot of characters. But the difficulty is absolutely worth it! It is beautifully written, has you making all sort of connections in your head, going from point A to point K to point Z back to point B.... It's the kind of book that stops you reading so you can think about life, about YOUR life, about society.... you finish it and even on the last page you start missing ...more
MVL was obviously heavily influenced by the stream-of-consciousness style of Faulkner. I prefer his work over Faulkner's any day and especially this novel. It has much more to say about society than the work of most writers. It's not just some sort of creative writing exercise, it is a portrait of Peruvian politics and culture from the era of Odría. Like some of his other early work, it is also a novel about Lima. ...more
Mar 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It is definitely one of the books that you don't forget: the complexity and unfolding of characters, the play with time and points of view, the interlacing of dialogues. Even the punctuation, the use of direct and indirect speech made reading this novel and exciting adventure. Several different stories in the first two parts and then the pieces of the puzzle fall in place.
I feel that even if I read a few books on the history of Peru I wouldn't have learnt so much about the politics and the peop
Sallie Dunn
Conversations in the Cathedral is a largely political novel, and a very pessimistic one at that. This book was a book club choice, and I can’t honestly say that I would ever have read it otherwise. This author has won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2010. The book is long and difficult. The author portrays Peruvian society in the years of the Odria dictatorship (1948 thru 1956) and its disastrous effect on Peruvian society as a whole. The main character in this book is Santiago Zavala (aka Skin ...more
“The President knows the mentality of those sons of bitches,” Colonel Espina said. “Today they support you, tomorrow they stick a knife in your back.”
“The way you people stuck it in Bustamante’s back.” Bermúdez smiled, but the Colonel didn’t laugh. “Well, as long as you keep them happy, they’ll support the regime. Then they’ll get another general and throw you people out. Hasn’t it always been that way in Peru?”

Very innovative writing, intertwining threads, sometimes three conversations going on
Jun 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Great book, as always with Varga Llosa. I am interested in social and political regimes and how these impact the lives of ordinary and not so ordinary people. Combine this topic with amazing writing and a nice story, and I cannot put the book down :).
 Δx Δp ≥ ½ ħ
I will not lie. It's not Mario Vargas Llosa's essential novel The Time of the Hero--the winner of the Nobel Prize, the literary inspiration that made me go to Peru. It is the adventure of my beloved reporter Tintin in Prisoners of the Sun. Ha-ha.

The first time I read it when I was nine at the local library, Herge's comic had persuaded me to dream that someday I must go to the Andes Mountain. And now, I stand on the sacred hill to feel every bead of sweat and every ache of sunburn, to witness the
Marce Matamoros
Mar 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a huge book, in many senses. And it´s one of those rare instances where the journey matters more than the closure itself. Conversation in the Cathedral is described a Vargas Llosa´s masterpiece, and it really is. Not only does it offer a vivid picture of the 8 year militar dictatorship of Manuel Apolinar Odría in Perú, a convulse and sad time in the country´s history, but does it by alternating dialogues between multiples characters, that end up building different stories that show the d ...more
John Gurney
Jan 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A chance encounter at a dog pound brings two former acquaintances together. They go to a bar called the Cathedral where Santiago, son of a once rich and powerful government minister, and Ambrosio, his father's former chauffeur, talk. Santiago wants to know what role his father had in the murder of his former mistress, a one-time Lima showgirl with shadowy connections. This 1969 book is rightly famous because, though the flashback Point-of-View narrative style takes some getting used to, it is a ...more
Feb 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
It's been more than a year and 43 books back when I last read a book by Llosa. Why I was so late? Anyway, this one came to excite me like no one of his books have done so far. "Conversation in the Cathedral" is a phenomenal reading, a powerful and great book. Without being an expert on Llosa works but having read 8 books by him so far, I suppose this is one that has the stamp of original Llosa's writing and style. It's not an easy book, it's a complex one and I wouldn't recommend it for a first ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Goodreads Librari...: Mistakes in title 3 235 May 10, 2019 12:24PM  
Club de Lectura B...: Conversación en La Catedral, Mario Vargas Llosa 1 22 May 21, 2016 09:28AM  
Blacks in Conversation ... 3 43 Feb 18, 2013 07:39AM  
محشره 1 21 Jan 05, 2008 01:33AM  
Film and / or Novel 3 45 Feb 27, 2007 04:56PM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • Un mundo para Julius
  • Los cachorros: Mario Vargas Llosa
  • El siglo de las luces
  • El astillero
  • Sobre héroes y tumbas
  • The Savage Detectives
  • Hopscotch
  • The Garden Next Door
  • Los ríos profundos
  • La distancia que nos separa
  • La Ciudad Y Los Perros: Mario Vargas Llosa
  • El túnel
  • Pedro Páramo
  • Un beso de Dick
  • No se lo digas a nadie
  • The Autumn of the Patriarch
  • Todos los fuegos el fuego
  • Dos soledades: Un diálogo sobre la novela en América Latina
See similar books…
Mario Vargas Llosa, born in Peru in 1936, is the author of some of the most significant writing to come out of South America in the past fifty years. His novels include The Green House, about a brothel in a Peruvian town that brings together the innocent and the corrupt; The Feast of the Goat, a vivid re-creation of the Dominican Republic during the final days of General Rafael Trujillo’s insidiou ...more

News & Interviews

  As dedicated readers already know, some of the best and most innovative stories on the shelves come from the constantly evolving realm of...
14 likes · 0 comments
“Aquí cambian las personas, teniente, nunca las cosas.” 4 likes
“I know what a man feels close to the woman he loves, but he's affraid to do anything” 1 likes
More quotes…