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Mario Vargas Llosa: 1936—: Writer - Rejected Socialism

published novel translation straus

As a young man Vargas Llosa had admired Cuban Communist Party leader Fidel Castro, but he grew disillusioned with socialism. As a result his long friendship with Colombian novelist Gabriel García Marquez ended in 1976 in a slugfest in a Mexico City theater—Vargas Llosa knocked García Marquez out cold. Vargas Llosa's novel The War of the End of the World (La guerra del fin del mundo, 1981), set in 19th-century Brazil, took a more pacifist view of conflict in its depiction of a struggle between the Brazilian government and a group of religious fanatics holed up in a city they had established. The novel was interpreted as a symbolic representation of the ways in which struggles between right-wing governments and violent left-wing rebels were sapping the strength of Latin American societies.

He cast a jaundiced eye on European and American leftists who embraced a chic radicalism in the Third World while doing little about it at home; he wrote, as quoted in the New Republic, that such activists treated Latin America like "a plebian mistress with who all those secret fantasies and frightful excesses—prudently repressed in their relations with their wives (their native countries)—can be given free rein." Peruvian leftist intellectuals attacked Vargas Llosa for his role in a government commission that blamed members of a small Andean community for the killing of eight journalists, and the experience marked something of a crisis point for the novelist. Vargas Llosa became more and more involved in the political life of the homeland he had abandoned for so long.

After leading several mass protests against the left-wing Peruvian government's plan to nationalize key industries, Vargas Llosa ran for president of the country himself in 1990. Calling for an expansion of free enterprise, he surged to an early lead as his oratorical skills matched those he had shown with the pen. In one speech late in the campaign, according to the National Review, he compared Peru to "an ancient, beautiful, never-ending book." In the end, however, Vargas Llosa lost the election to Alberto Fujimori, who later ran into trouble because of allegations of civil rights abuses. Vargas Llosa has not run for elective office again, but has continued his involvement in Peru's civil life.

Some in the literary community actually welcomed Vargas Llosa's election loss, for the campaign had somewhat reduced his extraordinary fertility as a writer. Vargas Llosa looked back on his campaign in the memoir AFishintheWater (El pez en el agua, 1993), and took up political questions in several new novels. Death in the Andes (Lituma en los Andes, 1993) dealt with the Shining Path (Sendero Luminso) Marxist guerrilla movement that had troubled Peru for many years, and The Feast of the Goat (La fiesta del chivo, 2001) was an epic of the long dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo, who ruled the Dominican Republic from 1930 until his 1961 assassination.

Vargas Llosa had lost none of his ability to provide masses of realistic detail; many of the true-life characters in The Feast of the Goat were so accurately drawn that the book caused a scandal in the Dominican Republic, even half a century after the events it depicted. Well into his seventh decade, Vargas Llosa showed no signs of slowing down. Many called him the conscience of Peru, but his substantial body of writing perhaps qualified him to serve as conscience and moral compass for a much wider area.


Selected writings

Los jefes (The Leaders; short stories), Rocas (Barcelona), 1959, translation by Ronald Christ and Gregory Kolovakos published in The Cubs and Other Stories,Harper, 1979.

La ciudad y los perros (novel), Seix Barral (Barcelona), 1963, translation by Lysander Kemp published as The Time of the Hero, Grove, 1966, 2nd edition, Alfaguara (Madrid, Spain), 1999.

La casa verde (novel), Seix Barral, 1966, translation by Gregory Rabassa published as The Green House, Harper, 1968.

Conversación en la catedral (novel), two volumes, Seix Barral, 1969, translation by Rabassa published as Conversation in the Cathedral, Harper, 1975.

Pantaleón y las visitadoras (novel), Seix Barral, 1973, translation by Christ and Kolovakos published as Captain Pantoja and the Special Service, Harper, 1978.

La tia Julia y el escribidor (novel), Seix Barral, 1977, translation by Lane published as Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, Farrar, Straus, 1982.

La guerra del fin del mundo (novel), Seix Barral, 1981, translation by Lane published as The War of the End of the World, Farrar, Straus, 1984.

Historia de Mayta (novel), Seix Barral, 1985, translation by Alfred MacAdam published as The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta, Farrar, Straus, 1986.

Quien mató a Palomino Molero? (novel), Seix Barral, 1986, translation by MacAdam published as Who Killed Palomino Molero?, Farrar, Straus, 1987.

El hablador (novel), Seix Barral, 1987, translation by Lane published as The Storyteller, Farrar, Straus, 1989.

Elogio de la madrastra (novel), Tusquets (Barcelona), 1988, translation by Lane published as In Praise of the Stepmother, Farrar, Straus, 1990.

Lituma en los Andes (novel), Planeta (Barcelona), 1993, translation by Edith Grossman published as Death in the Andes, Farrar, Straus, 1996.

A Writer's Reality (nonfiction), Syracuse University Press, 1991.

El pez en el agua (memoir), Seix Barral, 1993, translated by Lane as A Fish in the Water: A Memoir, Farrar, Straus, 1994.

Los cuadernos de don Rigoberto, Alfaguara, 1997, published as The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto, translated by Edith Grossman, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998.

La Fiesta del chivo, Alfaguara (Madrid, Spain), 2000, published as The Feast of the Goat, translated by Edith Grossman, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2001.


Sources

Books

Dictionary of Hispanic Biography, Gale, 1996. Periodicals

Economist, January 20, 2001, p. 9.

Library Journal, April 1, 1998, p. 126.

National Review, May 14, 1990, p. 26; April 17, 1995, p. 53.

New Leader, November-December 2001, p. 30.

The New Republic, February 12, 1990, p. 20.

Publishers Weekly, April 11, 1994, p. 49; April 21, 1997, p. 49; July 30, 2001, p. 55.

Review of Contemporary Fiction, Spring 1997, p. 70.

Time, February 12, 1996, p. 75; December 10, 2001, p. 107.

U.S. News & World Report, May 9, 1988, p. 69; November 5, 1990, p. 15.


On-line

Contemporary Authors Online. The Gale Group,

2001. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, MI: The Gale Group, 2001. (http://www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC).

—James M. Manheim

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