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Mario Vargas Llosa: 1936—: Writer

Stayed On In France

From then on, Vargas Llosa resisted his parents' wishes. Attending law school in Lima with the intention of serving Peru's poor, he began to write in earnest and in 1958 won a trip to France as a prize for a short story he had submitted as a contest entry. The trip would be the beginning of a 15-year exile from Peru, during which Vargas Llosa ascended to literary fame. His first novel, The Time of the Hero (in Spanish La ciudad y los perros, 1962) drew on his experiences at the military school. Military personnel there gave Vargas Llosa invaluable publicity when they burned 1,000 copies of the novel in the school's courtyard.

With the highly acclaimed The Green House (1966) and Conversation in the Cathedral (Conversación en la catedral, 1969), Vargas Llosa adopted what became his characteristic mode of narrative in his more substantial works: a nonlinear approach to storytelling that alternated and juxtaposed, sometimes suddenly, the points of view of various characters. Vargas Llosa's intent was not literary experimentation, but rather an ambitious effort to capture social formations in their totality. The 600-page Conversation in the Cathedral, set during the dictatorship of Peruvian strongman Manuel Odría in the 1940s and 1950s, presented a panoramic view of a society plagued by corruption at many levels.

At a Glance . . .

Born March 28, 1936, in Arequipa, Peru; married Julia Urquidi, 1955; married Patricia Llosa, 1965; three children. Education: Attended military school Peru; attended law school in Peru; University of San Marcos, Spain, Ph.D., 1959.

Career: Moved to Paris, France, after winning literary prize, 1958; worked as journalist with Agence France-Presse and with ORTF radio and television network; published debut novel La ciudad y los perros (trans. as The Time of the Hero), 1963; University of London, faculty member, 1966-68; visiting professorships in Americas and Europe; 1960s-1990s; Peruvian presidential candidate, 1990; has published over 50 books and five plays.

Memberships: PEN international writers' organization; servied as president, 1976-79.

Selected awards: Romulo Gallegos award, 1967, for La casa verde; Cervantes Prize for literature, 1994; National Book Critics Circle award for criticism, 1997.

Addresses: Office—Agencia Carmen Balcells, Diagonal 580, 08021 Barcelona, Spain; Agent—c/o PEN, 7 Duke St., London SW3, England.

Vargas Llosa's unease with military institutions showed through once again in the satirical novel Captain Pantoja and the Special Service (Pantaleón y las visitadoras, 1973), which depicted a military officer assigned to procure prostitutes for a jungle brigade of soldiers. In 1976 Vargas Llosa became president of the international writers' organization PEN, which works to help writers who have been persecuted for their political beliefs. The political cast of many of his novels sensitized him to the plight of writers imprisoned in repressive societies, but Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter (La tía Julia y el escribidor, 1977) was an autobiographical work that juxtaposed the events leading to his own first marriage against a background of televison soap opera. Vargas Llosa has also written erotic novels on occasion.

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: C(hristopher) J(ohn) Koch Biography - C.J. Koch comments: to Sir (Alfred Charles) Bernard Lovell (1913– ) BiographyMario Vargas Llosa: 1936—: Writer Biography - Stayed On In France, Rejected Socialism