for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual's resistance, revolt and defeat
October 7, 2010 5:47 AM   Subscribe

Mario Vargas Llosa wrote poems when he was young. His father famously responded by sending the boy to military school—where he spent two ghastly years, gathering inspiration for his first novel—La Ciudad y Los Perros, published in English as The Time of the Hero. The military burned a thousand copies of the book and Vargas Llosa's infamy was secured.
Mario Vargas Llosa, who once ran for president of Peru and once punched Gabriel Garcia Márquez in the face, has won the Nobel Prize in Literature, meaning Ladbrokes dodged a bullet.

But what does this mean for Americans? Entertainment Weekly is there with the local angle:
Many Americans may know Vargas Llosa best for his 1977 comic novel, Aunt Julia and the Screenwriter, which was adapted into American director Jon Amiel’s widely praised movie Tune in Tomorrow, starring Peter Falk as a larger-than-life creator of radio soap operas who manipulates the May-December relationship of a young aspiring writer (Keanu Reeves) and his older, twice-divorced aunt by marriage (Barbara Hershey). (EW’s Owen Gleiberman said the film “crackles with romantic heat.”)
posted by gerryblog (34 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Good for him. I'm often astonished he isn't more feted.
posted by WPW at 5:51 AM on October 7, 2010

Atwood will never win it, will she? Have only read Julia and the Screenwriter by Llosa, and I liked it well enough, but it seemed minor. Where do I start.
posted by PinkMoose at 6:33 AM on October 7, 2010

a nice gallery at El Pais
posted by valdesm at 6:34 AM on October 7, 2010

Here's the famous photo of the recently-punched-by-Vargas-Llosa Gabriel Garcia Márquez.

I wonder if this means that right-wingers will finally stop yammering on about the Swedish academy being a bunch of left-wing commie pinko socialists who hate puppies, small children and cheese. Probably not.

Almost certainly not.
posted by Kattullus at 6:35 AM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh, so I should have said "previously"!
posted by gerryblog at 6:37 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Once again, the Nobel people do the right thing:

2010 -- Mario Vargas Llosa, Peru

2007 -- Doris Lessing, United Kingdom

2006 -- Orhan Pamuk, Turkey

2001 -- V. S. Naipaul, United Kingdom

1983 -- William Golding, United Kingdom

1982 -- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Colombia

1980 -- Czeslaw Milosz, Poland and United States

1978 -- Isaac Bashevis Singer, United States

1976 -- Saul Bellow, United States

And then there's "Huh?"
1978 -- Toni Morrison, United States
posted by Faze at 6:48 AM on October 7, 2010

PinkMoose: Vargas Llosa's The War of the End of the World is good. See also Euclides da Cunha's Os Sertões, which is in the public domain here.
posted by montoia at 6:50 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

To be honest, I like it better when they pick somebody I've never heard of; I feel like they're doing a greater service to the literary world by shining a bright light on someone truly great but not well-known than they do when they anoint somebody already widely read. Haldor Laxness and Per Lagerkvist, I have the Nobel Committee to thank for bringing your novels to my attention. Saul Bellow I already read in school.

And Faze, yeah, it would indeed have been a "huh?" moment if they'd given Morrison the Nobel Prize in 1978, when she hadn't done her best work, and when they'd already given one to Singer. Fortunately, they waited until 1993 when "Beloved" was already out.

Also, J.M. Coetzee is a better writer than the majority of people on your "right thing" list, but to avoid starting a fight, I won't say which ones.
posted by escabeche at 7:17 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

They played it safe after all. Unfortunately, none of his books that I've read thrilled me (they were enjoyable at most).
posted by ersatz at 7:53 AM on October 7, 2010

I'll keep rooting for Murakami, even though I suspect he's too much of a "pop" author to be considered a serious candidate by the committee.

Any recommendations on Vargas Llosa's best work? I've only read In Praise of the Stepmother, which underwhelmed me at best.
posted by kingoftonga86 at 7:58 AM on October 7, 2010

The Ladbrokes story is funny. I've always wondered exactly how risky it was for people to handicap picks like this. It seems much more variable (i.e. anyone could win it) than sports or elections.

What were the odds on Vargas Llosa? None of the odds stories mentions him ... ah, google cache. Not that long. 25-1. (Harry Mulisch, now that would have been a nice surprise.)

Cormac McCarthy - 3/1
Tomas Transtromer - 7/2
Ngugi wa Thiong'o - 9/2
Ko Un - 6/1
Haruki Murakami - 8/1
Philip Roth - 8/1
Adonis - 11/1
Les Murray - 12/1
Don DeLillo - 15/1
Gerald Murnane - 15/1
Ulrich Holbein - 20/1
Thomas Pynchon - 22/1
E.L Doctorow - 22/1
Joyce Carol Oates - 25/1
Alice Munro - 25/1
Amos Oz - 25/1
Mario Vargas Llosa - 25/1
John Ashbery - 25/1
Adam Zagajewski - 33/1
Assia Djebar - 33/1
Maya Angelou - 33/1
Carlos Fuentes - 33/1
Bob Dylan - 33/1
Juan Gelman - 33/1
Peter Nadas - 33/1
Vaclav Havel - 35/1
Yves Bonnefoy - 40/1
Arnošt Lustig - 40/1
Javier Marias - 40/1
Margaret Atwood - 45/1
Peter Handke - 45/1
Juan Marse - 45/1
Shlomo Kalo - 45/1
Chinua Achebe - 45/1
Antonio Tabucchi - 50/1
Claudio Magris - 50/1
Milan Kundera - 50/1
A.B. Yehoshua - 50/1
David Malouf - 50/1
Cees Nooteboom - 55/1
Antonio Lobo Antunes - 55/1
Eeva Kilpi - 55/1
Elias Khoury - 55/1
Anne Carson - 55/1
Ian McEwan - 55/1
Ernesto Cardinal - 66/1
Luis Goytisolo - 66/1
Patrick Modiano - 66/1
Bella Akhmadulina - 66/1
Ismail Kadare - 66/1
Michael Ondaatje - 66/1
Salman Rushdie - 66/1
Eduardo Galeano - 66/1
A.S. Byatt - 75/1
Michel Tournier - 75/1
Bei Dao - 75/1
Per Petterson - 75/1
Paul Auster - 75/1
Jon Fosse - 75/1
Atiq Rahimi - 75/1
Gitta Sereny - 100/1
William Trevor - 100/1
Umberto Eco - 100/1
Jonathan Littell - 100/1
Mahasweta Devi - 100/1
Harry Mulisch - 100/1
Julian Barnes - 100/1
F. Sionil Jose - 100/1
Marge Piercy - 100/1
Mary Gordon - 100/1
John le Carre - 100/1
John Banville - 125/1
Kjell Askildsen - 125/1
Peter Carey - 125/1
William H. Gass - 125/1
Vassilis Aleksaskis - 125/1
Yevgeny Yevtushenko - 150/1
Nestor Amarilla - 200/1

posted by mrgrimm at 8:07 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, J.M. Coetzee is a better writer than the majority of people on your "right thing" list, but to avoid starting a fight, I won't say which ones.

Amen, brother. Also, Toni Morrison is fantastic. Literally and figuratively. I'll admit I haven't read anything since Beloved, but Sula to Beloved is five great books.

Where's Kazuo Ishiguro? I would place him around the same odds as somebody like Michael Ondaatje (not only because of the film connections). I'd give it to him for The Unconsoled alone, but several of his other books are excellent.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:25 AM on October 7, 2010

PinkMoose, I would start with The Feast of the Goat. It's the morst accessible of his major novels. Aunt Julia is a very very minor book and not very representative. His big works are The Green House, Conversations in the Cathedral, The War at the End of the World (which he names as his favorite) and The Time of the Hero.

His autobiography, A Fish in the Water, even if you don't know his work is extremely entertaining. Captain Pantoja and the Special Service, another minor, short, comic work is very funny.

As a rule of thumb the further back you go the harder his style becomes. His first novel is Faulkner by way of latin america, complex to the point where it takes you a while to understand who is speaking. His later novels, from the 80's onwards have become more spare, pared down, although the themes he works with (particularly the problems of individual liberty, and individual liberty inside a repressive society) are still treated with a lot of complexity.

I'm very excited by this. I've read him for years, even visited the setting of his first book ( and I'm glad that after 20 years, another spanish writing author (my mother tongue) is recognized.
posted by Omon Ra at 8:33 AM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

The article at the "once punched Gabriel Garcia Márquez in the face" link - WTF?
posted by Eyebeams at 8:53 AM on October 7, 2010

Anyone who's punched Gabo in the face is all right in my book. I love the man's writing, but he's definitely an ass.

As for Vargo Llosa, I haven't read enough of his writing to recommend it, but seeing as he's always held up as one of the leaders of 20th century Spanish language literature, I'm thrilled he's won the Nobel Prize.
posted by librarylis at 9:17 AM on October 7, 2010

It is very WTF.

For the purient out there, here's a photo of García Marquez with the famous black eye from that encounter:
posted by Omon Ra at 9:18 AM on October 7, 2010

Hmmm, I realize I didn't mean prurient, more like gossipy...
posted by Omon Ra at 9:31 AM on October 7, 2010

an interesting blog that follows the betting every year: The Literary Salon

Betting on the Nobel lit prize feels kind of sordid and belonging to the world of low-lives, pimps, cons, hustlers, exactly the sort of world any self-respecting author would love.
posted by Shit Parade at 10:08 AM on October 7, 2010

I would also recommend The Perpetual Orgy, his book length essay on Madame Bovary, as a must read. It's one of those works that expand and change how one reads a book.
posted by Omon Ra at 10:36 AM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

I recommend a brief account of the fist fight between Wallace Stevens and Hemingway.
posted by xod at 12:45 PM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

9/2 on Ngugi. That would have been a pretty bold pick for the Nobel committee.
posted by outlandishmarxist at 1:07 PM on October 7, 2010

In Praise of the Stepmother is the only Vargas Llosa I would recommend, but it certainly deserves some sort of prize.
posted by puny human at 2:07 PM on October 7, 2010

First of all, this is a hugely deserved prize. Vargas-Llosa is one of the greatest writers alive, and one of the all-time greats in the Spanish language. He's written some magnificent novels, like the War of the End of the World, the Time of the Hero, Death in the Andes or The Feast of the Goat. He's also a wonderful humorist, as seen with Captain Pantoja and the Special Service, and no mean essayist. He does have lesser works, but no real duds, and that's quite impressive in such a prolific author.

The only reason why this could be even remotely controversial is politics. The visceral, heartfelt, overwhelming loathing some left-wingers feel for Vargas-Llosa is something to behold. And, quite frankly, more than a bit unfair. Sure, he's a notorious fan of free markets, but he comes to that position from witnessing firsthand how the Latin American oligarchy has been rigging the market for the last three centuries or so to keep itself in power. One doesn't need to be a stone-hearted capitalist to believe that it's a bit absurd to rail against "Anglo-Saxon capitalism" when the home-grown corporatist variety, even when it dons faux-Socialist trappings, is so much more efficient at preserving inequality and widespread poverty.

Politically, Vargas-Llosa's main sin is his refusal to align himself with any orthodoxy (he's also bitten the neocons often enough). Indeed, that's more than a little bit reminiscent of Albert Camus, who was equally reviled by the hard left.
posted by Skeptic at 3:22 PM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

9/2 on Ngugi. That would have been a pretty bold pick for the Nobel committee

That's the most interesting part of the ladbrokes story. 75-1 is conservatively inflated odds. what made all the bettors bring the price down to 9-2? inside info?
posted by mrgrimm at 3:41 PM on October 7, 2010

I read that this was to be the year of the poet, but no; though it’s nice to see Anne Carson on the list (albeit at 55/1), just ahead of M. Ondaatje and behind M. Atwood; but no Leonard Cohen at all, and he a songwriting poet god.
posted by JL Sadstone at 4:14 PM on October 7, 2010

An interesting interview with his swedish translator Jens Nordenhök, in the Stockholm evening paper Aftonbladet,
Its in Swedish of course but googletranslate will only mash it up a little,
Jens admired his writing enormously but considers him a Nobel-victim, who struggled mightily to achieve this recognition.

Jens N.refused to translate him further for his stance on the Indian minority language spoken by 10 million Peruvians.
"Forget them. We'll speak Spanish and stick to it"

My latinamerican friends here are both proud and disgusted.
posted by jan murray at 4:38 PM on October 7, 2010

jan murray not the "Indian minority language", but the Indian minority languages. Plural, there are quite a few of them. It's an important nuance: for him it isn't a matter of cultural snobbery, but of social cohesion. Vargas-Llosa is notoriously hard-headed and unsentimental on the subject of minority languages, and not just in Peru. I guess that if there was one Indian language with ten million speakers in Peru, Vargas-Llosa would be less dismissive. And of course, his doubtlessly massive ego also prevents him from taking much notice of the fact that this stance, coming from the best-known member of the lily-white Arequipan bourgeoisie, may be interpreted less charitably...
posted by Skeptic at 5:17 PM on October 7, 2010

Skeptic: source? quote? I've read him for years and I've never heard him say anything about minority languages. Given the subject of most of his work (personal freedom) it sounds bizarre that he would hold this stance.
posted by Omon Ra at 6:08 PM on October 7, 2010

La Ciudad y Los Perros is one of the first novels I read as a teen. La Guerra Del Fin Del Mundo is a masterpiece and honestly, as much as I dislike his politics, he really deserves it.
posted by liza at 7:13 PM on October 7, 2010

Ten little Indians?
Sorry Skeptic- I just quoted from the article I mentioned.

Source? In a private conversation that took place in Lund (southern Sweden, University town) "several years ago" according , again, to the interview with Jens Nordenhök.

It's not impossible that he have expounded on the subject in one or other of his many articles in El Pais during the 80's and 90's.

Today he dominates the dailies, tomorrow the bookshops.
posted by jan murray at 11:27 PM on October 7, 2010

Vargas Llosa signed the Manifesto for a Common Language, and his stance on minority languages is quite consistent with his defense of personal freedom: he isn't against their use, but against the authorities intervening to "save" them, and he considers that schooling a child in a minority language will later hobble his personal freedom.
And, jan murray, I also quoted from the article - Google Translate translates "languages", not "language".
posted by Skeptic at 12:18 AM on October 8, 2010

I dunno, Skeptic. I read a bit more on the topic and I think he has a more nuanced position. He's not against indigenous cultures per se, but against the "indigenismo" movement, which tries to freeze indigenous cultures in a bubble made from an utopical vision of the past.

The article you linked to is something else altogether, a petition to maintain spanish as the lingua franca of Spain. I agree, he has said some controversial stuff on the topic, but as always with Vargas Llosas politics, people tend to paint him (and them) with a very broad brush.
posted by Omon Ra at 5:12 AM on October 8, 2010

omonra I'm with you, and I think you are confusing me with jan murray. I was answering to the allegations that Vargas Llosa was dismissive towards indigeneous languages, with some evidence that he has an indeed more nuanced, but consistent position with respect to minority languages, as evidenced by his stance in the Spanish debate, namely generally against political intervention to "defend" minority languages, and in favour of preserving a common lenguage in social discourse.
He'll, of course, be the first to admit being biaised in favour of Spanish, language which he loves and that, as a member of the Royal Spanish Academy, he's sworn to "clean, fix and shine".
posted by Skeptic at 9:06 AM on October 8, 2010

Skeptic: facepalm, you're right, I got confused.
posted by Omon Ra at 9:17 AM on October 8, 2010

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