Mario Vargas Llosa wins Nobel literature prize

Associated Press
Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa attends a news conference Thursday, Oct. 7, 2010, in New York. The Peruvian won the 2010 Nobel Prize in literature on Thursday as the academy honored one of the Spanish-speaking world's most acclaimed authors and an outspoken political activist who once came close to being elected president of his tumultuous homeland. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
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Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa attends a news conference Thursday, Oct. 7, 2010, in New York. The …

Mario Vargas Llosa, the newest winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, has never found much honor in boundaries.

"Literature shouldn't be secluded, provincial or regional," the Peruvian author said in New York after Thursday's announcement in Sweden. "It should be universal, even if it has deep roots in one place."

The 74-year-old author and political activist, a charter member of the Latin American literary boom of the 1960s, has for decades been regarded as one of the world's greatest and most adventurous writers, an unpredictable and provocative mixer of literature and social consciousness in both his work and his life.

Artists are born dissenters — often, but not always, of the left. Like such recent Nobelists as Herta Mueller and Doris Lessing, Vargas Llosa is a dissenter from communism, a former party member who ran for president of Peru in 1990 as an advocate of privatization and remains a critic of leftist leaders such as Cuba's Fidel Castro and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.

The author of more than 30 novels, plays and works of nonfiction, he is known for his expansive language, his alertness to the profound and the profane, and his fierce and dark disdain for tyranny. His books are not without magical touches, but he is more grounded, more a "realist" than fellow Nobel laureate and South American Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

"Vargas Llosa's style is a kind of baroque style — long sentences, complicated sentences. The writer in English closest to his style is William Faulkner, who influenced so many of the Latin American writers," says Edith Grossman, the English-language translator for novels by Vargas Llosa and Garcia Marquez.

"He has a great range of styles and a great range of subjects, from comedies of manners to really profound political analysis. He is thought of as very political, but 'The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto' ('Los Cuadernos de Don Rigoberto') is immensely funny and I don't think there's a political word in it."

In 1995, Vargas Llosa won the Cervantes Prize, the most distinguished literary honor in Spanish. He is the first South American winner of the $1.5 million Nobel Prize in literature since Colombia's Garcia Marquez in 1982, and the first Spanish-language writer to win since Mexico's Octavio Paz in 1990.

His best-known works include "Conversation in the Cathedral" and "The Green House."

Vargas Llosa's work covers personal and historical territory, especially political violence and oppression. "The War of the End of the World" dramatizes "The War of Canudos," the 19th-century standoff between the Brazilian military and rebellious settlers. He satirized the Peruvian armed forces in "Captain Pantoja and the Special Service" and took on Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo in "Feast of the Goat."

The Swedish Academy said it honored Vargas Llosa for mapping the "structures of power" and for his "trenchant images of the individual's resistance, revolt and defeat." Its permanent secretary, Peter Englund, called him "a divinely gifted storyteller."

"His books are often very complex in composition, having different perspectives, different voices and different time places," Englund said. "He is also doing it in a new way. He has helped evolve the art of the narration."

Vargas Llosa's work has been translated into more than 30 languages. Unlike the works of the vast majority of foreign-language writers, his books are widely available in English. As of Thursday afternoon, two of his books were in the top 50 on Amazon.com's best-seller list and were out of stock: "The Feast of the Goat" and "The War of the End of the World."

The publisher Picador announced that new printings are planned for 10 of his books. A new novel, "El Sueno del Celta" ("The Celt's Dream"), comes out in Spanish next month and is scheduled for an English-language release in 2012.

Filmgoers may know his name through "Tune in Tomorrow," an English-language adaptation of Vargas Llosa's "Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter" that starred Peter Falk, Keanu Reeves and Barbara Hershey.

His writing is celebrated throughout Latin America, but his shift right estranged him from much of the hemisphere's intellectual elite. He reportedly has not spoken in decades with Garcia Marquez, a former friend who remains close to Castro. He irritated his centrist friend Octavio Paz, the late Mexican Nobel literature laureate, by playfully referring to Mexico's political system — dominated at the time by a single party — as "the perfect dictatorship."

Vargas Llosa, still politically combative, recently helped win support for building a museum to the memory of the nearly 70,000 people killed in Peru's 1980-2000 war with Shining Path insurgents. When President Alan Garcia's government, presented with a $2.2 million donation from Germany, resisted the idea, Vargas Llosa lashed out, accusing the government of "a deep-rooted intolerance and lack of culture."

A frequent traveler who often lives abroad, Vargas Llosa has lectured and taught at universities in the U.S., South America and Europe, and is spending this semester at Princeton University in New Jersey. Another Nobel laureate and Princeton faculty member, Toni Morrison, said in a statement that giving him the prize was a "brilliant choice."

He debuted as an author in 1959 with the story collection "Los Jefes" ("The Cubs and Other Stories") and four years later rose to leadership of the "boom," or "new wave," of Latin American writers with his groundbreaking novel, "The Time of the Hero" ("La Ciudad de los Perros"), which builds on his experiences at the Peruvian military academy Leoncio Prado. (He later said the academy "was like discovering hell.")

The book won the Spanish Critics Award and the rage of Peru's military. A thousand copies of the novel were later burned by military authorities, with some generals calling the book false and Vargas Llosa a communist.

At 15, he was a night-owl crime reporter. While still in his teens, he joined a communist cell and eloped with 33-year-old Julia Urquidi, the Bolivian sister-in-law of his uncle. Their nine-year marriage helped inspire the comic best seller "Aunt Julia and the Script Writer" ("La Tia Julia y el Escribidor").

After they divorced, Vargas Llosa in 1965 married his first cousin, Patricia Llosa, 10 years his junior, and together they had three children.

In the 1970s, he denounced Castro's Cuba and slowly warmed to free-market capitalism, although he does not consider himself a conservative. In a famous incident in Mexico City in 1976, Vargas Llosa punched out Garcia Marquez, whom he later ridiculed as "Castro's courtesan." It was never clear whether the fight was over politics or a personal dispute.

In 1990, he ran for the presidency in Peru but lost to Alberto Fujimori. Disheartened by the broad public approval for Fujimori's harsh rule, Vargas Llosa took Spanish citizenship, living in Madrid and London. He maintained a penthouse apartment in the Peruvian capital of Lima overlooking its Pacific coast, but tended to keep a low profile during visits home long after Fujimori fled to Japan in 2000, toppled by vast corruption in his government — a twist worthy of a Vargas Llosa novel.

"I have never cut my relationship with my country. I have always been spending a few months a year in Peru. I go there every year and I follow very closely what happens in Peru," the author said Thursday. "But I feel myself a citizen of the world. And this, I think, has enriched very much my vision of the world, and also my idea of what literature should be."

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Associated Press writers Karl Ritter, Malin Rising and Louise Nordstrom in Stockholm; Daniel Woolls in Madrid; Carla Salazar in Lima, Peru; Frank Bajak in Bogota, Colombia; and Verena Dobnik and Ana Elena Azpurua in New York contributed to this report.

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