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Summary Book

Conversation in the cathedral

“Conversation in the Cathedral” is a book written by Mario Varga Llosa, and published in 1969, where the daily experiences of different main characters are exposed, under the dictator Manuel A. Odría. In the same way, it reveals different love relationships, where tragedy takes an important place in the plot of the play.

Characters from “Conversation in the Cathedral”:

Within the novel we can find the main character, Santiago Zavala, who is a journalist who belongs to a bourgeois family. In addition, three highly relevant characters are present that are developed throughout the plot: Zambo Ambrosio, Cayo Bermúdez and Don Fermín Zavala.

For his part, Ambrosio is an old zambo who had been the driver of Santiago’s father, Don Fermín. The latter had a great influence on the Odria government. Cayo Bermúdez is another of the main characters in the play, and fully defends the interests of General Odría.

 He was dedicated to torturing opponents, and had as a lover a woman named Hortensia, who was known as “La Musa”. There is also Queta, who was also a prostitute and a friend of hers.
It should be noted that the author uses different characters that can be identified with historical figures, but appear with other names. For example, Colonel Espina represents Zenón Noriega, and Cayo Bermúdez is Alejandro Esparza Zañartu.

Summary and synopsis of the work:

This work takes place in Peru and is made up of four central parts. The story arises from a dialogue between the young Santiago Zavala and his father’s former driver, Ambrosio, in a bar known as “La Catedral”.

The work is developed within the different strata of time, and where different perspectives are established where the real situation of the nation is shown.


In this sense, the book was developed within the framework of the dialogue between the protagonist and the driver, where the first question to be noted is “When was Peru ruined?” From there start the different themes exposed in this book, in which different perspectives on the mandate of Manuel A. Odría appear.

In the first part of the text the experiences of Santiago are revealed, where his political position regarding Odría’s mandate is made known. There is also an allusion to his father, who has influences with the government of this dictator.

Santiago dedicates years to the university and joins the communist group, and to a strike that will lead him directly to prison, from which he is freed by his father’s influences with the regime. But his performance in politics is mixed with love disappointment, since his beloved Aída, will be reunited with Jacobo.

In the second part we can see different plots, where the characters are emotionally related. In this way we observe Amalia’s reconciliation with Don Cayo Bermúdez and her lover Hortensia. Likewise, in the “Conversation in the Cathedral”, it is mentioned that Santiago began in the newspaper “The Chronicle” in a new stage of his life as a journalist.

His disagreement with returning to his father is also noted. Bermúdez’s abuses for the dictator Odría also come to light. Within these intrigues, daily life is deciphered, in the hands of a dictatorial regime and its manipulations.

The third segment of the book begins with the finding of the Hortensia murder. The investigation is carried out by Santiago, where he begins to suspect that his father is homosexual. Which turns out to be a great scandal, not only for the protagonist, but for society. The love affair between Ambrose and Amelia is also mentioned, where she becomes pregnant. In addition, the gradual fall of Hortensia is reported.


Regarding the fourth chapter, different perspectives appear regarding the failure of the intervention in Arequipa, which led to Bermúdez being dismissed. Here it is discovered that Ambrosio murdered Hortensia to prevent him from discovering Don Fermín. This session of the book also recounts the accident that Santiago had and how he met the nurse Ana, with whom he marries, if he was really in love with her. In addition this union will achieve the break with the Santiago family.

Similarly, Queta appears, who plays an important role in the story, as she is a friend of Hortensia and works as a prostitute. The homosexuality of Santiago’s father is also disclosed. Finally, in the novel, Cayo returns to Peru with impunity.


Analysis of the work:

In “Conversation in the Cathedral” the author exposes a corrupt government in the midst of the daily life of the characters, and the protagonist Santiago exposes his displeasure at the mandate of Manuel Odría. In the same way, different themes such as politics, homosexuality, prostitution, among others, are revealed.

On the other hand, both the present and the past change progressively. In the present the dialogue between Santiago and Ambrosio within the restaurant “La Catedral” and the past occurs, it is reflected in the content of the topics addressed in said dialogue.

This conversation takes place between two different characters who meet after a long time, in the mid-1960s, lasting four hours, where the characters, between one beer and another, transport the reader to the time of the dictatorship of General Manuel A. Odría, which was a time of repression, corruption and politics that influences all areas of life.

Finally, the “Conversation in the Cathedral” does not refer to a merely historical novel, but is a literary fiction that takes historical data to expose a critical point of view about the dictatorship of Peru at that time full of repressions and atrocities. It also addresses issues related to corruption, student repression, subversive groups, among others.


In the same way, it exposes the sentimental theme from different points of view. He talks about homosexuality, prostitution, loveless marriage, love tragedy, among other topics. So in this work, the author creates controversies that go beyond historical events, but from everyday life, shows us the reality of Peru through dialogue.

Quotes from the book:

“The worst thing was having doubts and the wonderful thing about being able to close your eyes and say God exists, or God does not exist, and believe it.”

  “There is no teetotaler. The drink inspires. ”

  “It’s the best thing that can happen to a guy, Ambrosio,” says Santiago. Believe in what you say, like what you do. “

  “Journalism is the lowest paid profession. The one that gives more bitterness, too. ”

  “The unfortunate have no wretched face.”