Peruvian writer and one-time presidential candidate Mario Vargas Llosa, a chronicler of human struggles against authoritarian power in Latin America, won the 2010 Nobel prize for literature on Thursday.
An outstanding member of the a generation of writers that led a resurgence in Latin American literature in the 1960s, Vargas Llosa was a champion of the left in his youth and later evolved into an outspoken conservative, a shift that infuriated much of Latin America’s leftist intelligentsia.
"I hope they gave it to me more for my literary work and not my political opinions," the 74-year-old author said at a news conference in New York.
"I think Latin American literature deals with power and politics and this was inevitable. We in Latin America have not solved basic problems such as freedom," Vargas Llosa said.
"Literature is an expression of life and you can’t eradicate politics from life," he added.
The Swedish Academy awarding the 10 million crown ($1.5 million) prize said Vargas Llosa had been chosen "for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt and defeat."
The author of more than 30 novels, plays and essays, Vargas Llosa made his international breakthrough in the 1960s with "The Time of the Hero", a novel about cadets at a military academy. Many of his works are built on his experiences of life in Peru in the late 1940s and the 1950s.
Long tipped as a potential winner, Vargas Llosa is the Latin America’s first Nobel winner for literature since Mexico‘s Octavio Paz took the prize in 1990.
He joins winners from the region that include Pablo Neruda of Chile and Colombia’s Gabriel Garcia Marquez — who Vargas Llosa famously punched in 1976.
The public punch is at the center of one of the literary world’s best-known feuds. The two friends ceased speaking to each other afterward and for decades the reason for the fight has been a mystery.
A photographer who captured Garcia Marquez — and his black eye — wrote about the incident in 2007 and suggested it concerned Vargas Llosa’s wife.
In the 1970s, Vargas Llosa, a one-time supporter of the Cuban revolution, denounced Fidel Castro’s communism, maddening many of his leftist literary colleagues like Garcia Marquez.
The writer said he never had any desire to become a politician when he ran for president in 1990 as Peru battled high inflation and the Maoist Shining Path insurgency. He lost to Alberto Fujimori, who has since been convicted of harboring paramilitaries.
Frustrated after his unsuccessful election run, Vargas Llosa went to live in Spain but remains influential in Latin America as an acclaimed writer and columnist.
Vargas Llosa has become a staunch supporter of free markets and has harshly criticized a new wave of populist left-wing leaders led by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Peru’s conservative president, Alan Garcia, said the Nobel award was long overdue.
"This was an enormous act of justice … We have waited for this since our youth," Garcia said, whom the writer criticized last month for not punishing human rights crimes committed years ago by Peru’s military.
The Nobel committee reached Vargas Llosa before dawn in the United States.
"He’s actually having a two-month stint there in Princeton teaching, so I was sort of embarrassed for phoning him so early. But he had been up since 5 o’clock preparing a lecture for Princeton," said Peter Englund, permanent secretary of the Nobel committee, praising the writer’s story-telling prowess.
"He has a number of masterpieces in narration because essentially he’s a narrator, he’s a storyteller. My goodness, what a storyteller!"
In "The Feast of the Goat", a 49-year-old woman returns to the Dominican Republic, haunted by memories of her childhood when the nation was led by brutal dictator Rafael Trujillo.
It tells of her efforts to overcome a traumatic past:
"Were you right to come back? You’ll be sorry, Urania… returning to the island you swore you’d never set foot on again…," he writes.
"To prove to yourself you can walk along the streets of this city that is no longer yours, travel through this foreign country and not have it provoke sadness, nostalgia, hatred, bitterness, rage in you."
This was the fourth of this year’s Nobel prizes, following awards for medicine on Monday, physics on Tuesday and chemistry on Wednesday.
Beginning and first major works
Vargas Llosa’s first novel, The Time of the Hero (La ciudad y los perros), was published in 1963. The book is set among a community of cadets in a Lima military school, and the plot is based on the author’s own experiences at Lima’s Leoncio Prado Military Academy.This early piece gained wide public attention and immediate success.Its vitality and adept use of sophisticated literary techniques immediately impressed critics,and it won the Premio de la Crítica Española award.Nevertheless, its sharp criticism of the Peruvian military establishment led to controversy in Peru. Several Peruvian generals attacked the novel, claiming that it was the work of a "degenerate mind" and stating that Vargas Llosa was "paid by Ecuador" to undermine the prestige of the Peruvian Army.
In 1965, Vargas Llosa followed The Time of the Hero with The Green House (La casa verde), about a brothel called "The Green House" and how its quasi-mythical presence affects the lives of the characters. The main plot follows Bonifacia, a girl who is about to receive the vows of the church, and her transformation into la Selvatica, the best-known prostitute of "The Green House". The novel immediately received an enthusiastic critical reception, confirming Vargas Llosa as an important voice of Latin American narrative.The Green House won the first edition of the Rómulo Gallegos International Novel Prize in 1967, contending with works by veteran Uruguayan writer Juan Carlos Onetti and by Gabriel García Márquez.This novel alone accumulated enough awards to place the author among the leading figures of the Latin American Boom.Some critics still consider The Green House to be Vargas Llosa’s finest and most important achievement.Indeed, Latin American literary critic Gerald Martin suggests that The Green House is "one of the greatest novels to have emerged from Latin America".
Vargas Llosa’s third novel, Conversation in the Cathedral (Conversación en la catedral), was published in 1969, when he was 33. This ambitious narrative is the story of Santiago Zavala, the son of a government minister, and Ambrosio, his chauffeur.A random meeting at a dog pound leads the pair to a riveting conversation at a nearby bar known as "The Cathedral".During the encounter, Zavala searches for the truth about his father’s role in the murder of a notorious Peruvian underworld figure, shedding light on the workings of a dictatorship along the way. Unfortunately for Zavala, his quest results in a dead end with no answers and no sign of a better future. The novel attacks the dictatorial government of Odría by showing how a dictatorship controls and destroys lives.The persistent theme of hopelessness makes Conversation in the Cathedral Vargas Llosa’s most bitter novel.
1970s and the "discovery of humor"
In 1971, Vargas Llosa published García Márquez: Story of a Deicide (García Márquez: historia de un deicidio), which was his doctoral thesis for the Complutense University of Madrid. Although Vargas Llosa wrote this book-length study about his then friend, Nobel prize-winning Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez, they have not spoken to each other in more than 30 years. In 1976, Vargas Llosa punched García Márquez in the face in Mexico City at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, ending the friendship. Neither writer has publicly stated the underlying reasons for the quarrel.A photograph of García Márquez sporting a black eye was published in 2007, reigniting public interest in the feud.Despite the decades of silence, in 2007, Vargas Llosa agreed to allow part of his book to be used as the introduction to a 40th-anniversary edition of García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, which was re-released in Spain and throughout Latin America that year.Historia de un Deicidio was also reissued in that year, as part of Vargas Llosa’s complete works.
Following the monumental work Conversation in the Cathedral, Vargas Llosa’s output shifted away from more serious themes such as politics and problems with society. Latin American literary scholar Raymond L. Williams describes this phase in his writing career as "the discovery of humor".His first attempt at a satirical novel was Captain Pantoja and the Special Service (Pantaleón y las visitadoras), published in 1973.This short, comic novel offers vignettes of dialogues and documents about the Peruvian armed forces and a corps of prostitutes assigned to visit military outposts in remote jungle areas. These plot elements are similar to Vargas Llosa’s earlier novel The Green House, but in a different form. As such, Captain Pantoja and the Special Service is essentially a parody of both The Green House and the literary approach that novel represents. Vargas Llosa’s motivation to write the novel came from actually witnessing prostitutes being hired by the Peruvian Army and brought to serve soldiers in the jungle.
From 1974 to 1987, Vargas Llosa focused on his writing, but also took the time to pursue other endeavors.In 1975, he co-directed a motion-picture adaptation of his novel, Captain Pantoja and the Secret Service.Following that unsuccessful production, he was elected President of the International PEN, a worldwide association of writers.During this time, Vargas Llosa constantly traveled to speak at conferences organized by internationally renowned institutions, such as the University of Jerusalem and the University of Cambridge.
In 1977, Vargas Llosa published Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter (La tía Julia y el escribidor), based in part on his marriage to his first wife, Julia Urquidi, to whom he dedicated the novel.She later wrote a memoir, Lo que Varguitas no dijo (What Little Vargas Didn’t Say), in which she gives her personal account of their relationship. She states that Vargas Llosa’s account exaggerates many negative points in their courtship and marriage while minimizing her role of assisting his literary career.Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter is considered one of the most striking examples of how the language and imagery of popular culture can be used in literature.The novel was adapted in 1990 into a Hollywood feature film, Tune in Tomorrow.
Vargas Llosa in 1982
Mario Vargas Llosa at the Miami Book Fair International of 1985
Vargas Llosa’s fourth major novel, The War of the End of the World (La guerra del fin del mundo), was published in 1981 and was his first attempt at a historical novel.This work initiated a radical change in Vargas Llosa’s style towards themes such as messianism and irrational human behaviour.It recreates the War of Canudos, an incident in 19th-century Brazil in which an armed millenarian cult held off a siege by the national army for months.As in Vargas Llosa’s earliest work, this novel carries a sober and serious theme, and its tone is dark.Vargas Llosa’s bold exploration of humanity’s propensity to idealize violence, and his account of a man-made catastrophe brought on by fanaticism, earned the novel substantial recognition. Because of the book’s ambition and execution, critics have argued that this is one of Vargas Llosa’s greatest literary pieces.Even though the novel has been acclaimed in Brazil, it was initially poorly received because a foreigner was writing about a Brazilian theme.The book was also criticized as revolutionary and anti-socialist.Vargas Llosa claims that this book is his favorite and was his most difficult accomplishment.
After completing The War of the End of the World, Vargas Llosa began to write novels that were significantly shorter than many of his earlier books. In 1983, he finished The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta (Historia de Mayta, 1984).The novel focuses on a leftist insurrection that took place on May 29, 1962 in the Andean city of Jauja. Later the same year, during the Sendero Luminoso uprising, Vargas Llosa was asked by the Peruvian President Fernando Belaúnde Terry to join the Investigatory Commission, a task force to inquire into the horrific massacre of eight journalists at the hands of the villagers of Uchuraccay.The Commission’s main purpose was to investigate the murders in order to provide information regarding the incident to the public.Following his involvement with the Investigatory Commission, Vargas Llosa published a series of articles to defend his position in the affair.In 1986, he completed his next novel, Who Killed Palomino Molero (Quién mató a Palomino Molero?), which he began writing shortly after the end of the Uchuraccay investigation.[Though the plot of this mystery novel is similar to the tragic events at Uchuraccay, literary critic Roy Boland points out that it was not an attempt to reconstruct the murders, but rather a "literary exorcism" of Vargas Llosa’s own experiences during the commission.The experience also inspired one of Vargas Llosa’s later novels, Death in the Andes (Lituma en los Andes), originally published in 1993 in Barcelona.
It would be almost 20 years before Vargas Llosa wrote another major work: The Feast of the Goat (La fiesta del chivo), a political thriller, was published in 2000 (and in English in 2001). According to Williams, it is Vargas Llosa’s most complete and most ambitious novel since The War of the End of the World.Based on the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo, who governed the Dominican Republic from 1930 until his assassination in 1961, the novel has three main strands: one concerns Urania Cabral, the daughter of a former politician and Trujillo loyalist, who returns for the first time since leaving the Dominican Republic after Trujillo’s assassination 30 years earlier; the second concentrates on the assassination itself, the conspirators who carry it out, and its consequences; and the third and final strand deals with Trujillo himself in scenes from the end of his regime.The book quickly received positive reviews in Spain and Latin America, and has had a significant impact in Latin America, being regarded as one of Vargas Llosa’s best works.
In 2006, Vargas Llosa wrote The Bad Girl (Travesuras de la niña mala), which journalist Kathryn Harrison approvingly argues is a rewrite (rather than simply a recycling) of Gustave Flaubert‘s Madame Bovary (1856). In Vargas Llosa’s version, the plot relates the decades-long obsession of its narrator, a Peruvian expatriate, with a woman with whom he first fell in love when both were teenagers.
- 1959 – Los jefes (The Cubs and Other Stories, 1979)
- 1963 – La ciudad y los perros (The Time of the Hero, 1966)
- 1966 – La casa verde (The Green House, 1968)
- 1969 – Conversación en la catedral (Conversation in the Cathedral, 1975)
- 1973 – Pantaleón y las visitadoras (Captain Pantoja and the Special Service, 1978)
- 1977 – La tía Julia y el escribidor (Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, 1982)
- 1981 – La guerra del fin del mundo (The War of the End of the World, 1984)
- 1984 – Historia de Mayta (The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta, 1985)
- 1986 – ¿Quién mató a Palomino Molero? (Who Killed Palomino Molero?, 1987)
- 1987 – El hablador (The Storyteller, 1989)
- 1988 – Elogio de la madrastra (In Praise of the Stepmother, 1990)
- 1993 – Lituma en los Andes (Death in the Andes, 1996)
- 1997 – Los cuadernos de don Rigoberto (Notebooks of Don Rigoberto, 1998)
- 2000 – La fiesta del chivo (The Feast of the Goat, 2002)
- 2003 – El paraíso en la otra esquina (The Way to Paradise, 2003)
- 2006 – Travesuras de la niña mala (The Bad Girl, 2007)
- 2010 – El sueño del celta
- 1971 – García Márquez: historia de un deicidio (García Márquez: Story of a Deicide)
- 1975 – La orgía perpetua: Flaubert y "Madame Bovary" (The Perpetual Orgy)
- 1990 – La verdad de las mentiras: ensayos sobre la novela moderna (A Writer’s Reality)
- 1993 – El pez en el agua. Memorias (A Fish in the Water)
- 1996 – La utopía arcaica: José María Arguedas y las ficciones del indigenismo (Archaic utopia: José María Arguedas and the fictions of indigenismo)
- 1997 – Cartas a un joven novelista (Letters to a Young Novelist)
- 2001 – El lenguaje de la pasión (The Language of Passion)
- 2004 – La tentación de lo imposible (The Temptation of the Impossible)
- 2007 – El Pregón de Sevilla (as Introduction for LOS TOROS)
- 2009 – El Viaje a la Ficcion
- 1952 – La huida del inca
- 1981 – La señorita de Tacna
- 1983 – Kathie y el hipopótamo
Vargas Llosa’s essays and journalism have been collected as Contra viento y marea, issued in three volumes (1983, 1986, and 1990). A selection has been edited by John King and translated and published as Making Waves.
Later life and political involvement
Like many other Latin American intellectuals, Vargas Llosa was initially a supporter of the Cuban revolutionary government of Fidel Castro.He studied Marxism in depth as a university student and was later persuaded by communist ideals after the success of the Cuban Revolution.Gradually, Vargas Llosa came to believe that Cuban socialism was incompatible with what he considered to be general liberties and freedoms. The official rupture between the writer and the policies of the Cuban government occurred with the so-called Padilla Affair, when Castro imprisoned the poet Heberto Padilla. Vargas Llosa, along with other intellectuals of the time, wrote to Castro protesting the Cuban political system and its imprisonment of the artist. Vargas Llosa has identified himself with liberalism rather than extreme left-wing political ideologies ever since.Since he relinquished his earlier leftism, he has opposed both left- and right-wing authoritarian regimes.
With his appointment to the Investigatory Commission in 1983 he experienced what literary critic Jean Franco calls "the most uncomfortable event in [his] political career".Unfortunately for Vargas Llosa, his involvement with the Investigatory Commission led to immediate negative reactions and defamation from the Peruvian press; many suggested that the massacre was a conspiracy to keep the journalists from reporting the presence of government paramilitary forces in Uchuraccay.The commission concluded that it was the indigenous villagers who had been responsible for the killings; for Vargas Llosa the incident showed "how vulnerable democracy is in Latin America and how easily it dies under dictatorships of the right and left".These conclusions, and Vargas Llosa personally, came under intense criticism: anthropologist Enrique Mayer, for instance, accused him of "paternalism",while fellow anthropologist Carlos Iván Degregori criticized him for his ignorance of the Andean world. Vargas Llosa was accused of actively colluding in a government cover-up of army involvement in the massacre.US Latin American literature scholar Misha Kokotovic summarizes that the novelist was charged with seeing "indigenous cultures as a ‘primitive’ obstacle to the full realization of his Western model of modernity". Shocked both by the atrocity itself and then by the reaction his report had provoked, Vargas Llosa responded that his critics were apparently more concerned with his report than with the hundreds of peasants who would later die at the hands of the Sendero Luminoso guerrilla organization.
Over the course of the decade, Vargas Llosa became known for his staunch neoliberal views. In 1987, he helped form and soon became a leader of the Movimiento Libertad.The following year his party entered a coalition with the parties of Peru’s two principal conservative politicians at the time, ex-president Fernando Belaúnde Terry (of the Popular Action party) and Luis Bedoya Reyes (of the Partido Popular Cristiano), to form the tripartite center-right coalition known as Frente Democrático (FREDEMO). He ran for the presidency of Peru in 1990 as the candidate of the FREDEMO coalition. He proposed a drastic economic austerity program that frightened most of the country’s poor; this program emphasized the need for privatization, a market economy, free trade, and most importantly, the dissemination of private property. Although he won the first round with 34% of the vote, Vargas Llosa was defeated by a then-unknown agricultural engineer, Alberto Fujimori, in the subsequent run-off.Vargas Llosa included an account of his run for the presidency in the memoir A Fish in the Water (El pez en el agua, 1993).Since his political defeat, he has focused mainly on his writing, with only occasional political involvement.
A month after losing the election, Vargas Llosa attended a conference of intellectuals in Mexico at the invitation of Octavio Paz, that country’s most eminent writer (as it happens, this was the month before the announcement that Paz himself was to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature). The conference, entitled, "The 20th century: the experience of freedom", was dedicated to discussing the collapse of communist rule in central and eastern Europe. It was broadcast on Mexican television from 27 August to 2 September. In an address delivered 30 August 1990, Vargas Llosa embarrassed his host by condemning the Mexican system of power, which was based on the permanent rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which at that point had been in power for sixty-one years, and which Vargas Llosa criticized by name. He declared, "Mexico is the perfect dictatorship. The perfect dictatorship is not communism, not the USSR, not Fidel Castro; the perfect dictatorship is Mexico. Because it is a camouflaged dictatorship."Referring to the PRI, he added, "I don’t believe that there has been in Latin America any case of a system of dictatorship which has so efficiently recruited the intellectual milieu, bribing it with great subtlety." The statement, "Mexico is the perfect dictatorship" became a cliché in Mexicoand internationally, until the PRI finally lost the presidency of Mexico in 2000.
Vargas Llosa has mainly lived in London since the 1990s,but spends roughly three months of the year in Peru. Vargas Llosa also acquired Spanish citizenship in 1993; he frequently visits Spain for various conferences and enjoys vacationing there.In 1994 he was elected a member of the Real Academia Española (Spanish Royal Academy)and has been involved in the country’s political arena. In February 2008 he stopped supporting the People’s Party in favor of the recently created Union, Progress and Democracy, claiming that certain conservative views held by the former party are at odds with his classical liberal beliefs. His political ideologies appear in the book Política razonable, written with Fernando Savater, Rosa Díez, Álvaro Pombo, Albert Boadella and Carlos Martínez Gorriarán.He continues to write, both journalism and fiction, and to travel extensively. He has also taught as a visiting professor at a number of prominent universities.