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Nobel Prize for Literature 2010: Mario Vargas Llosa

abstract:By now you have heard the news about this year's winner for the Nobel Prize for Literature. Peruvian born Mario Vargas Llosa is one of the most acclaimed writers in the Spanish-speaking world. He has written more than 30 novels, plays and essays and is currently teaching at Princeton University. The Swedish Academy's Peter Englund said Llosa is "a divinely gifted story-teller," whose writing touches the reader. Let us explore this 74-year-old author and review his body of work, which has been described as "a cartography of structures of power" with "trenchant images of the individual's resistance, revolt, and defeat," by the Academy. Vargas Llosa's good friend (admittedly, it's a complicated friendship) and 1982 Nobel Laureate, the Colombian Gabriel Garcia Marquez tweeted upon hearing the news: "Cuentas iguales" "Now we're even". (Losa wrote his doctoral thesis on the writing of Marquez.) It has been 18 years since a Spanish language author has been selected. In the previous six years, the academy awarded the 10 million kronor (£938,000) prize to five Europeans and one Turk. This drew criticism that the prize was becoming too Euro-centric and too left wing. Wikipedia writes: "Vargas Llosa rose to fame in the 1960s with novels such as The Time of the Hero (La ciudad y los perros, literally The City and the Dogs, 1963/1966[4]), The Green House (La casa verde, 1965/1968), and the monumental Conversation in the Cathedral (Conversación en la catedral, 1969/1975). He writes prolifically across an array of literary genres, including literary criticism and journalism. His novels include comedies, murder mysteries, historical novels, and political thrillers. Several, such as Captain Pantoja and the Special Service (1973/1978) and Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter (1977/1982), have been adapted as feature films. For a complete list of available books click here.


October 08, 2010
— &campMany of Vargas Llosa's works are influenced by the writer's perception of Peruvian society and his own experiences as a native Peruvian. Increasingly, however, he has expanded his range, and tackled themes that arise from other parts of the world. Another change over the course of his career has been a shift from a style and approach associated with literary modernism, to a sometimes playful postmodernism.

Like many Latin American authors, Vargas Llosa has been politically active throughout his career; over the course of his life, he has gradually moved from the political left towards the right. While he initially supported the Cuban revolutionary government of Fidel Castro, Vargas Llosa later became disenchanted. He ran for the Peruvian presidency in 1990 with the center-right Frente Democrático (FREDEMO) coalition, advocating neoliberal reforms." [This aspect of his life is capture in his book A Fish in the Water (El pez en el agua ) published in 1993. It is said that his opponents read the lurid excerpts of his novels over the radio to dismay voters as to his character.] He has subsequently supported moderate conservative candidates."

If you had only two selections to choose from between the author's works, I would choose his most celebrated: The Time of the Hero and The Green House. The first is a powerful social satire which outraged the authorities of the author's native Peru, where 1000 copies were publicly burned. The second has been considered by critics 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". It is 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".

One that I am quite interested in is Letters to a Young Novelist, if not only to compare with so many other noted "letters" to writers: E.M. Forrester (to a young novelist), Rilke (to a young poet), Hitchens (to a young contrarian).

The Guardian published a wonderful tribute by novelist, William Boyd who met Llosa back in 1989 at a dinner party orchestrated so that he could write the screenplay of Llosa's semi-autobigraphical novel, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter. Boyd writes, "He gave the enterprise his blessing: 'Make it a bold adaptation,' Llosa said, urging me to take risks. And so, taking him at his word, I did. And I am relieved to report that he liked the eventual film (starring a young Keanu Reeves in the Vargas Llosa role)."

Boyd continues,"Vargas Llosa's novels understand and reproduce the absurd and melancholy tragicomedy of our lives and their occasionally inspiring moments of pure happiness. The Nobel is hugely merited and I suspect Vargas Llosa will be very pleased. But then he'll say to himself: it's only a prize, it's the books that matter."

Be sure to read one piece of work by the Nobel winner each year.



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