Mario Vargas Llosa – 2010

Jorge Mario Pedro Vargas Llosa, 1st Marquis of Vargas Llosa (Spanish: [ˈmaɾjo ˈβaɾɣas ˈʎosa]; born March 28, 1936) is a Peruvian-Spanish writer, politician, journalist, essayist, college professor, and recipient of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature. Born in Peru, Vargas Llosa is one of Latin America’s most significant novelists and essayists, and one of the leading writers of his generation. Some critics consider him to have had a larger international impact and worldwide audience than any other writer of the Latin American Boom. Upon announcing the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature, the Swedish Academy said it had been given to Vargas Llosa “for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt, and defeat”. Vargas Llosa is currently a visiting Professor in the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University.

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), 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 criticismand 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.

Many 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. In his essays, Vargas Llosa has made many criticisms of nationalism in different parts of the world, among others in Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia. 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 writers, Vargas Llosa has been politically active throughout his career; over the course of his life, he has gradually moved from the political left towards liberalismor neoliberalism, a definitively more conservative political position. While he initially supported the Cuban revolutionary government of Fidel Castro, Vargas Llosa later became disenchanted with the policies of the Cuban President. He ran for the Peruvian presidency in 1990 with the center-right Frente Democrático (FREDEMO) coalition, advocating neoliberal reforms, but lost the election to Alberto Fujimori. He is the person who, in 1990, “coined the phrase that circled the globe”, declaring on Mexican television, “Mexico is the perfect dictatorship”, a statement which became an adage during the following decade.

Mario Vargas Llosa was born to a middle-class family on March 28, 1936, in the Peruvian provincial city of Arequipa. He was the only child of Ernesto Vargas Maldonado and Dora Llosa Ureta (the former a radio operator in an aviation company, the latter the daughter of an old criollo family), who separated a few months before his birth. Shortly after Mario’s birth, his father revealed that he was having an affair with a German woman; consequently, Mario has two younger half-brothers: Enrique and Ernesto Vargas.

Vargas Llosa lived with his maternal family in Arequipa until a year after his parents’ divorce, when his maternal grandfather was named honorary consul for Peru in Bolivia. With his mother and her family, Vargas Llosa then moved to Cochabamba, Bolivia, where he spent the early years of his childhood. His maternal family, the Llosas, were sustained by his grandfather, who managed a cotton farm. As a child, Vargas Llosa was led to believe that his father had died—his mother and her family did not want to explain that his parents had separated. During the government of Peruvian President José Bustamante y Rivero, Vargas Llosa’s maternal grandfather obtained a diplomatic post in the Peruvian coastal city of Piura and the entire family returned to Peru. While in Piura, Vargas Llosa attended elementary school at the religious academy Colegio Salesiano. In 1946, at the age of ten, he moved to Lima and met his father for the first time. His parents re-established their relationship and lived in Magdalena del Mar, a middle-class Lima suburb, during his teenage years. While in Lima, he studied at the Colegio La Salle, a Christian middle school, from 1947 to 1949.