Vargas Llosa, (Jorge) Mario (Pedro) 1936-
VARGAS LLOSA, (Jorge) Mario (Pedro) 1936-
PERSONAL: Born March 28, 1936, in Arequipa, Peru; became Spanish citizen, 1994; son of Ernesto Vargas Maldonaldo and Dora Llosa Ureta; married Julia Urquidi, 1955 (divorced); married Patricia Llosa, 1965; children: (second marriage) Alvaro, Gonzalo, Morgana. Education: Attended University of San Marcos; University of Madrid, Ph.D., 1959. Politics: Liberal. Religion: Agnostic. Hobbies and other interests: Films, jogging, football.
ADDRESSES: Home—Spain. Agent—Agencia Carmen Balcells, Diagonal 580, 08021 Barcelona, Spain.
CAREER: Writer. Journalist with La Industria, Piura, Peru, and with Radio Panamericana and La Cronica, both in Lima, Peru, c. 1950s; worked in Paris, France, as a journalist with Agence France-Presse, as a broadcaster with the radio-television network ORTF, and as a language teacher; Queen Mary College and Kings College, London, England, faculty member, 1966-68; Washington State University, Seattle, writer-in-residence, 1968; University of Puerto Rico, visiting professor, 1969; Libre, Paris, France, cofounder, 1971; Columbia University, New York, NY, Edward Laroque Tinker Visiting Professor, 1975; former fellow, Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington, DC; former host of Peruvian television program The Tower of Babel; Peruvian presidential candidate, Liberty Movement, 1990.
MEMBER: PEN (president 1976-79), Academy Peruana de la Lengua.
AWARDS, HONORS: Premio Leopoldo Alas, 1959, for Los jefes; Premio Biblioteca Breve, 1962, for La ciudad y los perros; Premio de la Critica Española, 1963, for La ciudad y los perros, and 1967, for La casa verde; Premio Nacional de la Novela, and Premio Internacional Literatura Romulo Gallegos, both 1967, both for La casa verde; annual prize for theater (Argentina), 1981; Congressional Medal of Honour (Peru), 1981; Instituo Italo Latinoamericano Iila prize (Italy), 1982; Ritz Paris Hemingway Award, 1985, for The War of the End of the World; Legion d'honneur (France), 1985; Principe de Asturias Prize for Letters, 1986; named Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (France), 1993; Cervantes prize for literature, 1994; Jerusalem prize, 1995; National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism, 1997, for Making Waves.
Los jefes (story collection; title means "The Leaders"; also see below), Rocas (Barcelona, Spain), 1959, translation by Ronald Christ and Gregory Kolovakos published in The Cubs and Other Stories, Harper (New York, NY), 1979.
La ciudad y los perros (novel), Seix Barral (Barcelona, Spain), 1963, translation by Lysander Kemp published as The Time of the Hero, Grove (New York, NY), 1966, 2nd edition, Alfaguara (Madrid, Spain), 1999.
La casa verde (novel), Seix Barral (Barcelona, Spain), 1966, translation by Gregory Rabassa published as The Green House, Harper (New York, NY), 1968.
Los cachorros (novella; title means "The Cubs"; also see below), Lumen (Barcelona, Spain), 1967.
Conversacion en la catedral (novel), two volumes, Seix Barral (Barcelona, Spain), 1969, translation by Gregory Rabassa published as Conversation in the Cathedral, Harper (New York, NY), 1975.
Los cachorros; Los jefes, Peisa (Lima, Peru), 1973.
Pantaleon y las visitadoras (novel), Seix Barral (Barcelona, Spain), 1973, translation by Ronald Christ and Gregory Kolovakos published as Captain Pantoja and the Special Service, Harper (New York, NY), 1978.
La tia Julia y el escribidor (novel), Seix Barral (Barcelona, Spain), 1977, translation by Helen Lane published as Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1982.
The Cubs and Other Stories, translations by Ronald Christ and Gregory Kolovakos, Harper (New York, NY), 1979.
La guerra del fin del mundo (novel), Seix Barral (Barcelona, Spain), 1981, translation by Helen Lane published as The War of the End of the World, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1984.
Historia de Mayta (novel), Seix Barral (Barcelona, Spain), 1985, translation by Alfred MacAdam published as The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1986.
Quien mato a Palomino Molero? (novel), Seix Barral (Barcelona, Spain), 1986, translation by Alfred MacAdam published as Who Killed Palomino Molero?, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1987.
El hablador (novel), Seix Barral (Barcelona, Spain), 1987, translation by Helen Lane published as The Storyteller, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1989.
Elogio de la madrastra (novel), Tusquets (Barcelona, Spain), 1988, translation by Helen Lane published as In Praise of the Stepmother, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1990.
Lituma en los Andes (novel), Planeta (Barcelona, Spain), 1993, translation by Edith Grossman published as Death in the Andes, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1996.
Los cuadernos de don Rigoberto, Alfaguara (Madrid, Spain), 1997, translation by Edith Grossman published as The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1998.
La fiesta del chivo, Alfaguara (Madrid, Spain), 2000, translation by Edith Grossman published as The Feast of the Goat, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2002.
El paraíso en la otra esquina, Alfaguara (Lima, Peru), 2003, translation by Natasha Wimmer published as The Way to Paradise, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2003.
La senorita de Tacna (produced as Senorita from Tacna in New York, NY, 1983; produced as The Young Lady from Tacna in Los Angeles, 1985), Seix Barral (Barcelona, Spain), 1981, translation by David Graham-Young published as The Young Lady from Tacna in Mario Vargas Llosa: Three Plays (also see below), 1990.
Kathie y el hipopotamo: Comedia en dos actos (translation by Kerry McKenny and Anthony Oliver-Smith produced as Kathie and the Hippopotamus in Edinburgh, Scotland, 1986), Seix Barral (Barcelona, Spain), 1983, translation by David Graham-Young published in Mario Vargas Llosa: Three Plays (also see below), 1990.
La chunga (translation by Joanne Pottlitzer first produced in New York, NY, 1986), Seix Barral (Barcelona, Spain), 1986, translation by David Graham-Young published in Mario Vargas Llosa: Three Plays (also see below), 1990.
Mario Vargas Llosa: Three Plays (contains The Young Lady from Tacna, Kathie and the Hippopotamus, and La chunga), Hill & Wang (New York, NY), 1990.
El señor de los balcones (title means "Lord of the Balconies"), Seix Barral (Barcelona, Spain), 1993.
Also author of Le Huida (title means "The Escape"), produced in Piura, Peru.
La novela, Fundacion de Cultura Universitaria (Montevideo, Uruguay), 1968.
(With Gabriel García Márquez) La novela en America Latina, Milla Batres (Lima, Peru), 1968.
(Editor, with G. Brotherston) Seven Stories from Spanish America, Elsevier Science, 1968.
Antologia minima de M. Vargas Llosa, Tiempo Contemporaneo (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1969.
Letra de batalla per "Tirant lo Blanc," Edicions 62, 1969, published as Carta de batalla por Tirant lo Blanc, Seix Barral (Barcelona, Spain), 1991.
(With Oscar Collazos and Julio Cortazar) Literatura en la revolucion y revolucion en la literatura, Siglo Veintiuno (Mexico City, Mexico), 1970.
Los cachorros; El desafio; Dia domingo, Salvat (Barcelona, Spain), 1970, Dia domingo published separately, Amadis (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1971.
García Márquez: Historia de un deicidio (title means "García Márquez: The Story of a Deicide"), Seix Barral (Barcelona, Spain), 1971.
La historia secreta de una novela, Tusquets (Madrid, Spain), 1971.
(With Martin de Riquer) El combate imaginario: Las cartas de batalla de Joanot Martorell, Seix Barral (Barcelona, Spain), 1972.
(With Angel Rama) García Márquez y la problematica de la novela, Corregidor-Marcha (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1973.
Obras escogidas: novelas y cuentos, Aguilar (Madrid, Spain), 1973.
La orgia perpetua: Flaubert y "Madame Bovary," Taurus (Madrid, Spain), 1975, translation by Helen Lane published as The Perpetual Orgy: Flaubert and "Madame Bovary," Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1986.
Conversacion en la catedral; La orgia perpetua; Pantaleon y las visitadoras, Aguilar (Madrid, Spain), 1978.
Jose Maria Arguedas, entre sapos y halcones, Ediciones Cultura Hispanica del Centro Iberoamericano de Cooperacion (Madrid, Spain), 1978.
La utopia arcaica, Centre of Latin American Studies, University of Cambridge (Cambridge, England), 1978.
The Genesis and Evolution of "Pantaleon y las visitadoras," City College (New York, NY), 1979.
Art, Authenticity, and Latin-American Culture, Wilson Center (Washington, DC), 1981.
Entre Sartre y Camus, Huracan (Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico), 1981.
Contra viento y marea (journalism; title means "Against All Odds"), three volumes, Seix Barral (Barcelona, Spain), 1983–1990.
La cultura de la libertad, la libertad de la cultura, Fundacion Eduardo Frei (Santiago, Chile), 1985.
El debate, Universidad del Pacifico, Centro de Investigacion (Lima, Peru), 1990.
La verdad de las mentiras (essays; title means "The Truth of Lies"), Seix Barral (Barcelona, Spain), 1990.
A Writer's Reality, Syracuse University Press (Syracuse, NY), 1991.
El pez en el agua: Memorias, Seix Barral (Barcelona, Spain), 1993, translation by Helen Lane published as A Fish in the Water: A Memoir, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1994.
Desafios a la libertad, Aguilar (Madrid, Spain), 1994.
Ojos bonitos, cuadros feos, Peisa (Lima, Peru), 1996.
Making Waves, edited and translated by John King, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1997.
Una historia no oficial, Espasa Calpe (Madrid, Spain), 1997.
(With Paul Bowles) Claudio Bravo: Paintings and Drawings, Abbeville Press (New York, NY), 1997.
Cartas a un joven novelista (title means "Letters to a Young Novelist"), Ariel/Planeta (Barcelona, Spain), 1997.
Obra reunida. Narrativa breve (short stories), Alfaguara (Madrid, Spain), 1999.
(With others) Los desafios a la socieda abierta: A fines del siglo XX (title means "Challenges to the Open Society: At the End of the Twentieth Century"), Ameghino (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1999.
(Author of introduction) Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza, and Carlos Alberto Montaner, Guide to the Perfect Latin-American Idiot, translation by Michaela Lajda Ames, Madison Books, distributed by National Book Network (Lanham, MD), 2000.
El lenguaje de la pasion, El Pais (Madrid, Spain), 2001, translation by Natasha Wimmer published as The Language of Passion, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2003.
(Author of text) Andes, photographs by Pablo Corral Vega, National Geographic Society (Washington, DC), 2001.
Literatura y politica (transcription of conferences), Technical School of Monterrey (Monterrey, Mexico), 2001.
Palma, Valor nacional (speech given October 6, 1956), Universidad Ricardo Palma (Lima, Peru), 2003.
(Author of text) Diario de Irak, photographs by daughter, Morgana Vargas Llosa, Aguilar (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 2003.
Contributor to The Eye of the Heart, 1973; contributor to periodicals, including Commentary, Harper's, National Review, New Perspectives Quarterly, New York Times Book Review, New York Times Magazine, UNESCO Courier, and World Press Review. Selected works have been recorded by the Library of Congress Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature.
ADAPTATIONS: The Cubs was filmed in 1971; Captain Pantoja and the Special Service was filmed in 1976 (Vargas Llosa directed the film, which was banned in Peru); Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter was adapted as a television series in Peru, as a screenplay written by William Boyd and directed by Jon Amiel in 1989, and as a motion picture titled Tune in Tomorrow, c. 1990; The Feast of the Goat was adapted for the stage by Veronia Triana and Jorge Ali Triana and directed by Jorge Ali Triana at the Gramercy Arts Theater in New York in 2003.
SIDELIGHTS: Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa often draws from his personal experiences to write of the injustices and corruption of contemporary Latin America. At one time an admirer of communist Cuba, since the early 1970s Vargas Llosa has been opposed to tyrannies of both the political left and right. He advocates democracy, a free market, and individual liberty and cautions against extreme or violent political action, instead calling for peaceful democratic reforms. In 1989 Vargas Llosa was chosen to be the presidential candidate of Fredemo, a political coalition in Peru; though at one point he held a large lead in election polls, in the end he lost the election to Alberto Fujimori. Through his novels—marked by complex structures and an innovative merging of dialogue and description in an attempt to recreate the actual feeling of life—Vargas Llosa has established himself as one of the most important of contemporary writers in the Spanish language.
As a young man, Vargas Llosa spent two years at the Leoncio Prado Military Academy. Sent there by his father, who had discovered that his son wrote poetry and was therefore fearful for the boy's masculinity, Vargas Llosa found the school, with its "restrictions, the military discipline and the brutal, bullying atmosphere, unbearable," he later recalled in the New York Times Magazine. His years at the school inspired his first novel, The Time of the Hero, first published in Spanish as La ciudad y los perros. The book is, R. Z. Sheppard stated in Time, "a brutal slab of naturalism about life and violent death." The novel's success was ensured when the school's officials objected to Vargas Llosa's portrayal of their institution. "One thousand copies were ceremoniously burned in the patio of the school and several generals attacked it bitterly. One of them said that the book was the work of a 'degenerate mind,' and another, who was more imaginative, claimed that I had undoubtedly been paid by Ecuador to undermine the prestige of the Peruvian Army," Vargas Llosa recalled in his New York Times Magazine article.
Vargas Llosa wrote The Time of the Hero after leaving Peru for Europe in 1958, when he was twenty-two. In embracing Europe and entering into self-imposed exile from his native land, Vargas Llosa was following in the footsteps of numerous Latin-American writers, including Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortazar, and Carlos Fuentes. Vargas Llosa was to stay in Europe for thirty years, not returning to Peru until the late 1980s after the country had slipped into political chaos and economic impoverishment. These conditions prompted Vargas Llosa's decision to seek the presidency of Peru. During his three decades in Europe, Vargas Llosa became an internationally celebrated author.
Though Vargas Llosa had attracted widespread attention with his first novel, it was his second novel that cemented his status as a major novelist. In the award-winning La casa verde (The Green House), Vargas Llosa draws upon another period from his childhood for inspiration. For several years his family lived in the Peruvian jungle town of Piura, and his memories of the gaudy local brothel, known to everyone as the Green House, form the basis of his novel. The book's several stories are interwoven in a nonlinear narrative revolving around the brothel and the family that owns it, the military that runs the town, a dealer in stolen rubber in the nearby jungle, and a prostitute who was raised in a convent. "Scenes overlap, different times and places overrun each other . . . echoes precede voices, and disembodied consciences dissolve almost before they can be identified," Luis Harss and Barbara Dohmann wrote in Into the Mainstream: Conversations with Latin-American Writers. Gregory Rabassa, writing in World Literature Today, noted that the novel's title "is the connective theme that links the primitive world of the jungle to the primal lusts of 'civilization' which are enclosed by the green walls of the whorehouse." Rabassa saw, too, that Vargas Llosa's narrative style "has not reduced time to a device of measurement or location, a practical tool, but has conjoined it with space, so that the characters carry their space with them too . . . inseparable from their time." Harss and Dohmann found that The Green House "is probably the most accomplished work of fiction ever to come out of Latin America. It has sweep, beauty, imaginative scope, and a sustained eruptive power that carries the reader from first page to last like a fish in a bloodstream."
With Conversacion en la catedral, translated as Conversation in the Cathedral, Vargas Llosa widened his scope. Whereas in previous novels he had sought to recreate the repression and corruption of a particular place, in Conversation in the Cathedral he attempts to provide a panoramic view of his native country. As John M. Kirk stated in the International Fiction Review, this novel "presents a wider, more encompassing view of Peruvian society. . . . [Vargas Llosa's] gaze extends further afield in a determined effort to incorporate as many representative regions of Peru as possible." Set during the dictatorship of Manuel Odria in the late 1940s and 1950s, the society depicted in the novel "is one of corruption in virtually all the shapes and spheres you can imagine," Wolfgang A. Luchting wrote in the Review of the Center for Inter-American Relations. Penny Leroux, in a review of the book for the Nation, called it "one of the most scathing denunciations ever written on the corruption and immorality of Latin America's ruling classes."
The nonlinear writing of Conversation in the Cathedral was seen by several critics to be the culmination of Vargas Llosa's narrative experimentation. Writing in the Review of the Center for Inter-American Relations, Ronald Christ called the novel "a masterpiece of montage" and "a massive assault on simultaneity." Christ argued that Vargas Llosa links fragments of prose together to achieve a montage effect that "promotes a linking of actions and words, speech and description, image and image, point of view and point of view." Kirk explained that in Conversation in the Cathedral, Vargas Llosa is "attempting the ambitious and obviously impossible plan of conveying to the reader all aspects of the reality of [Peruvian] society, of writing the 'total' novel." By interweaving five different narratives, Vargas Llosa forces the reader to study the text closely, making the reader an "accomplice of the writer [which] undoubtedly helps the reader to a more profound understanding of the work." Kirk concluded that Conversation in the Cathedral is "both a perfect showcase for all the structural techniques and thematic obsessions found in [Vargas Llosa's] . . . other work, as well as being the true culmination of his personal anguish for Peru."
Speaking of these early novels in Modern Latin American Literature, D. P. Gallagher argued that one effect of their complex nonlinear structures is to "reenact the complexity of the situations described in them." By juxtaposing unrelated elements, cutting off dialogue at critical moments, and breaking the narration, Vargas Llosa suggests the disparate geological conditions of Peru, recreates the difficulties involved in living in that country, and re-enacts "the very nature of conversation and of communication in general, particularly in a society devoted to the concealment of truth and to the flaunting of deceptive images," Gallagher believed. Ronald de Feo pointed out in the New Republic that these early novels all explore "with a near-savage seriousness and single-mindedness themes of social and political corruption." But in Captain Pantoja and the Special Service "a new unexpected element entered Vargas Llosa's work: an unrestrained sense of humor," de Feo reported.
A farcical novel involving a military officer's assignment to provide prostitutes for troops in the Peruvian jungle, Captain Pantoja and the Special Service is "told through an artful combination of dry military dispatches, juicy personal letters, verbose radio rhetoric, and lurid sensationalist news reports," Gene Bell-Villada wrote in Commonweal. Vargas Llosa also mixes conversations from different places and times, as he did in previous novels. And like these earlier works, Captain Pantoja and the Special Service "sniffs out corruption in high places, but it also presents something of a break, Vargas Llosa here shedding his high seriousness and adopting a humorous ribald tone," Bell-Villada concluded. The novel's satirical attack is aimed not at the military, a Times Literary Supplement reviewer wrote, but at "any institution which channels instincts into a socially acceptable ritual. The humor of the narrative derives less from this serious underlying motive, however, than from the various linguistic codes into which people channel the darker forces."
The humorous tone of Captain Pantoja and the Special Service is also found in Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter. The novel concerns two characters based on people in Vargas Llosa's own life: his first wife, Julia, who was his aunt by marriage, and a writer of radio soap opera whom Vargas Llosa names Pedro Camacho in the novel. The eighteen-year-old narrator, Mario, has a love affair with the thirty-two-year-old Julia. Their story is interrupted in alternate chapters by Camacho's wildly complicated soap opera scripts. As Camacho goes mad, his daily scripts for ten different soap operas become more and more entangled, with characters from one serial appearing in others and all of his plots converging into a single unlikely story. The scripts display "fissures through which are revealed secret obsessions, aversions and perversions that allow us to view his soap operas as the story of his disturbed mind," Jose Miguel Oviedo wrote in World Literature Today. "The result," explained Nicholas Shakespeare in the Times Literary Supplement, "is that Camacho ends up in an asylum, while Mario concludes his real-life soap opera by running off to marry Aunt Julia."
Although Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter is as humorous as Captain Pantoja and the Special Service, "it has a thematic richness and density the other book lacked," de Feo believed. This richness is found in the novel's exploration of the writer's life and of the relationship between a creative work and its inspiration. In the contrasting of soap opera plots with the real-life romance of Mario and Julia, the novel raises questions about the distinctions between fiction and fact. In a review for New York, Carolyn Clay called Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter "a treatise on the art of writing, on the relationship of stimuli to imagination." It is, de Feo observed, "a multilayered, high-spirited, and in the end terribly affecting text about the interplay of fiction and reality, the transformation of life into art, and life seen and sometimes even lived as fiction."
In The War of the End of the World, Vargas Llosa for the first time sets his story outside of his native Peru. He turns instead to Brazil and bases his story on an apocalyptic religious movement that gained momentum toward the end of the nineteenth century. Convinced that the year 1900 marked the end of the world, these zealots, led by a man named the Counselor, set up the community of Canudos. Because of the Counselor's continued denunciations of the Brazilian government, which he called the "antichrist" for its legal separation of church and state, the national government sent in troops to break up this religious community. The first military assault was repulsed, as were the second and third, but the fourth expedition involved a force of some 4,000 soldiers. They laid waste to the entire area and killed nearly 40,000 people.
Vargas Llosa told Wendy Smith in Publishers Weekly that he was drawn to write of this bloody episode because he felt the fanaticism of both sides in this conflict is exemplary of late-twentieth-century Latin America. "Fanaticism is the root of violence in Latin America," he explained. In the Brazilian war, he believes, is a microcosm of Latin America. "Canudos presents a limited situation in which you can see clearly. Everything is there: a society in which on the one hand people are living a very old-fashioned life and have an archaic way of thinking, and on the other hand progressives want to impose modernism on society with guns. This creates a total lack of communication, of dialogue, and when there is no communication, war or repression or upheaval comes immediately," he told Smith. In an article for the Washington Post, Vargas Llosa explained to Curt Suplee that "in the history of the Canudos war you could really see something that has been happening in Latin American history over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries—the total lack of communication between two sections of a society which kill each other fighting ghosts, no? Fighting fictional enemies who are invented out of fanaticism. This kind of reciprocal incapacity of understanding is probably the main problem we have to overcome in Latin America."
Not only is The War of the End of the World set in the nineteenth century, but its length and approach are also of that time. A writer for the London Times called it "a massive novel in the nineteenth-century tradition: massive in content, in its ambitions, in its technical achievement." Gordon Brotherston of the Times Literary Supplement described the book as being "on the grand scale of the nineteenth century," while Salman Rushdie in the New Republic similarly defined the novel as "a modern tragedy on the grand scale." Richard Locke wrote in the Washington Post Book World that The War of the End of the World "overshadows the majority of novels published . . . in the past few years. Indeed, it makes most recent American fiction seem very small, very private, very gray, and very timid."
Vargas Llosa's political perspective in The War of the End of the World exhibited a marked change from his earlier works. He does not attack a corrupt society, instead treating both sides in the Canudos war ironically. The novel ends with a character from either side locked in a fight to the death. As Rushdie observed, "This image would seem to crystallize Vargas Llosa's political vision." This condemnation of both sides in the Canudos conflict reflects Vargas Llosa's view of the contemporary Latin-American scene, where rightist dictatorships often battle communist guerrillas. Suplee described Vargas Llosa as "a humanist who reviles with equal vigor tyrannies of the right or left (is there really a difference, he asks, between 'good tortures and bad tortures'?)."
Although his political views have changed during the course of his career, taking him from a leftist supporter of communist Cuba to a strong advocate of democracy, Vargas Llosa's abhorrence of dictatorship, violence, and corruption has remained constant. He sees Latin-American intellectuals as participants in a continuing cycle of "repression, chaos, and subversion," he told Philip Bennett in the Washington Post. Many of these intellectuals, Vargas Llosa explained further, "are seduced by rigidly dogmatic stands. Although they are not accustomed to pick up a rifle or throw bombs from their studies, they foment and defend the violence." Speaking of the late-twentieth-century conflict in Peru between the government and the Maoist guerrilla movement the Shining Path, Vargas Llosa clarified to Suplee that "the struggle between the guerrillas and the armed forces is really a settling of accounts between privileged sectors of society, and the peasant masses are used cynically and brutally by those who say they want to 'liberate' them."
Vargas Llosa believes that a Latin-American writer is obligated to speak out on political matters. "If you're a writer in a country like Peru," he told Suplee, "you're a privileged person because you know how to read and write, you have an audience, you are respected. It is a moral obligation of a writer in Latin America to be involved in civic activities." This belief led Vargas Llosa in 1987 to speak out when the Peruvian government proposed to nationalize the country's banks. His protest quickly led to a mass movement in opposition to the plan, and the government was forced to back down. Vargas Llosa's supporters went on to create Fredemo, a political party calling for democracy, a free market, and individual liberty. Together with two other political parties, Fredemo established a coalition group called the Liberty Movement. In June of 1989 Vargas Llosa was chosen to be the coalition's presidential candidate for Peru's 1990 elections. Visiting small rural towns, the urban strongholds of his Marxist opponents, and the jungle villages of the country's Indians, Vargas Llosa campaigned on what he believes is Peru's foremost problem: "We have to defend democracy against the military and against the extreme Left." Opinion polls in late summer of 1988 showed him to be the leading contender for the presidency, with a 44-to-19-percent lead over his nearest opponent. By the time of the election, however, Vargas Llosa's lead had eroded, and he ended up losing the election to Alberto Fujimori.
Vargas Llosa chronicles his experience as a presidential candidate in A Fish in the Water. In addition to discussing the campaign, however, the author also offers a memoir of his early years in Peru. Noted Rockwell Gray in Chicago's Tribune Books, "One string of alternating chapters in the book ends with the young writer's departure for France in 1958; the other recreates the exhausting and dangerous [presidential] campaign that carried him to every corner of Peru." Alan Riding in the New York Times Book Review added that the book "serves as [Vargas Llosa's] . . . mea culpa: he explains why the aspiring writer of the 1950's became a politician in the late 1980's and why, in the end, this was a terrible mistake." Vargas Llosa's account of his childhood and young adulthood includes his ambivalent relationship with his father, whom he met for the first time at age eleven and toward whom he had an intense dislike. Mark Falcoff, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, declared, "The pages of this book dealing with the father-son relationship are among the most violent and passionate Vargas Llosa has ever written." The author also covers his years at a military prep school and his university years in Lima.
In discussing his failed presidential campaign in A Fish in the Water, Vargas Llosa portrays the political backstabbing, unavoidable compromises, and character attacks that characterized the campaign against Fujimori. He also writes about his alienation from the majority of Peruvians: as a white, wealthy, educated, expatriate intellectual, he had little in common with poor Peruvians of Indian descent, many of whom do not speak Spanish. Commented Riding, "Tall, white and well dressed, he invariably looked out of place." Falcoff explained that "the chapters dealing with the presidential campaign suggest an impressive knowledge of Peruvian society at all levels and in the several regions, particularly the needs of its humblest groups." Gray, however, remarked, "Much of this book is engaging and informative, but it becomes at times slack, even gossipy, and assumes an interest in the nuances of Peruvian political and literary life shared by very few American readers."
After losing the campaign, Vargas Llosa returned to Europe—this time to Spain, where he assumed Spanish citizenship. His first novel after running for president, Death in the Andes, is set in his homeland amid the modern political and social strife evidenced by the rebellion of the Shining Path guerrilla movement. In part a murder mystery, the novel follows Corporal Lituma as he ventures from his home in Peru's coastal region to a mountain village to investigate the disappearance of three men. In addition to the story line of the missing men, Vargas Llosa intersperses tales of violence committed by the Shining Path as well as a romantic story involving Tomas Carreño, Lituma's guide and partner. Critics praised Vargas Llosa's skill in creating a technically ambitious novel, although some reviewers remarked that the author failed to integrate the various plot lines into a coherent story line. New York Times Book Review contributor Madison Smartt Bell, for instance, commented that "amid this multiplicity of plot potential, the reader may share Lituma's difficulty in finding any central focus, or even in identifying a single continuous thread." Similarly, Rockwell Gray, again writing in Chicago's Tribune Books, averred that "for all the author's adroit weaving of shifts in viewpoint, voice and time—his attempt to grasp Peru's dilemma from many angles—this technically interesting novel is not on a par with his best work." In contrast, Washington Post Book World contributor Marie Arana-Ward wrote, "This is well-knit social criticism as trenchant as any by [Honore] Balzac or [Gustave] Flaubert—an ingenious patchwork of the conflicting mythologies that have shaped the New World psyche since the big bang of Columbus's first step on shore." And Bell admitted, "The individual vignettes are often brilliant."
Vargas Llosa's next novel, The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto, is also set in Peru. In this dream-like narrative, Don Rigoberto has separated from his beautiful wife, Doña Lucrecia, because of a sexual encounter between her and her stepson, Fonchito, a precocious boy who has yet to reach puberty. Don Rigoberto misses his wife terribly, and to appease his loneliness he imagines, and writes about, Lucrecia's erotic life—with him as well as with other lovers. It is unclear how much of the narrative is meant to be true and how much is a fantasy. This book lacks the political overtones of much of Vargas Llosa's work, but it does provide "grand, sexy reading for sophisticated audiences," reflected Barbara Hoffert in Library Journal. A Publishers Weekly writer remarked, "As in much of his writing, Vargas Llosa creates a certain timelessness, a dream-like play on the present. The more he leaves sex to the imagination, the more erotic and beautifully suggestive it becomes."
The author mixes fiction and fact in his novel The Feast of the Goat, concerning Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo. Trujillo was assassinated in 1961, and his death remains a cause for celebration in the Dominican Republic. Despite his cruelty and perversions, Trujillo was supported by the U.S. government since he was seen as being strongly against communism. Vargas Llosa tells the story of Urania Cabral, a successful New York City lawyer who was victimized by her father and Trujillo shortly before the dictator's death. Moving forward and back in time, in the author's trademark style, the novel gives a detailed portrait of Trujillo and his frustration with the one enemy he could not conquer: his own advancing age. Obsessive about his habits and grooming, he is unable to do a thing about his increasing incontinence and sexual impotence. The methods he used to victimize individuals and, in fact, his entire country are laid out here, while the stories of Urania, her father, and the men who killed Trujillo are also presented with empathy. "This is an impressively crafted novel," commented Sebastian Shakespeare in the New Statesman. "The set pieces are magnificent . . . but it's the small details that you recall: the smell of cheap perfume sprayed on to electric chairs to conceal the stench of urine, excrement and charred flesh." Noting that the Trujillista era was noted for its vileness, Liliana Wendorff added in Library Journal that Vargas Llosa "skillfully uses language to demystify subjects that could easily offend." Concluded Jonathan Heawood in the Guardian Unlimited, "The Feast of the Goat is as dark and complicated as a Jacobean revenge tragedy; but it is also rich and humane."
"A major figure in contemporary Latin American letters," as Locke explained, and "the man whom many describe as the national conscience of his native Peru," as George de Lama wrote in the Chicago Tribune, Vargas Llosa is usually ranked with Jorgé Luis Borges, Gabriel García Márquez, and other writers in what has been called the Latin American "Boom" of the 1960s. His body of work set in his native Peru, Suzanne Jill Levine explained in the New York Times Book Review, is "one of the largest narrative efforts in contemporary Latin American letters. . . . [He] has begun a complete inventory of the political, social, economic and cultural reality of Peru. . . . Very deliberately, Vargas Llosa has chosen to be his country's conscience." But Vargas Llosa warns that a writer's role is limited. "Even great writers can be totally blind on political matters and can put their prestige and their imagination and fantasy at the service of a policy, which, if it materialized, would be destruction of what they do," Sheppard quoted Vargas Llosa as telling a PEN conference. "To be in the situation of Poland is no better than to be in the situation of Chile. I feel perplexed by these questions. I want to fight for societies where perplexity is still permitted."
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"Vargas Llosa, (Jorge) Mario (Pedro) 1936-." Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 21, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/educational-magazines/vargas-llosa-jorge-mario-pedro-1936
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