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Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa wins 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature

Peruvian novelist, short story writer, playwright, journalist and literary critic Mario Vargas Llosa is the recipient of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature it was announced by Professor Peter Englund, Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, this morning in Stockholm.

In his announcement of the selection, Englund spoke for the Literature committee in hailing Vargas Llosa "for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt, and defeat."

Vargas Llosa, born in 1936 and widely celebrated as the youngest of the generation of great Spanish language modernist and postmodernist writers associated with "El Boom" in Latin American literature of the 1960s and 1970s, is the author of more than 30 books, including the novels The Time of the Hero (1966), Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter (1982), The War of the End of the World (1984), The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta (1985), In Praise of the Stepmother (1990), Death in the Andes (1996), and The Feast of the Goat (2002).

He is also author of a celebrated study of Gabriel Garcia Marquez (García Márquez: Story of a Deicide (1971) and another on Flaubert's Madame Bovary titled The Perpetual Orgy (1975), as well as the nonfiction collections Letters to a Young Novelist (1997), The Language of Passion (2001) and The Temptation of the Impossible (2004).

Born into a middle-class family in Arequipa, Peru, he spent his childhood in Bolivia with his maternal family, moving back with his father's family in Lima at age 10 following the end of World War II.  He studied at a Christian middle school and a Lima-based military academy during his teen years. While still in the academy, he contributed articles to the local newspaper and saw the production of his first literary work, a play titled La huida del Inca.

He entered the National University of San Marcos in 1953, married his maternal uncle's sister-in-law, began publishing his early short stories and writing on politics for two Peruvian newspapers. Upon his graduation from the University of San Marcos in 1958, he was awarded a scholarship to study at Complutense University of Madrid in Spain, where he remained until 1960. When his scholarship ran its course, he moved to Paris -- where his career as an international author and intellectual was effectively launched -- and later London, where he became a lecturer at King's College.

A close friendship with Garcia Marquez, with whom he shared much in terms of his politics and literary taste and regarded as a mentor, came to an abrupt end when the two writers came to blows (Llosa reportedly got the better of the fisticuffs, and famously gave Marquez a black eye) in a Mexico City theater house in 1976. The two writers have dropped their feud in recent years, but have yet to be reconciled publicly.

Vargas Llosa's politics have shifted from the far left to the moderate right over the decades, to the consternation of some of his former colleagues from his Marxist, anti-colonialist years of political exile from the right wing regimes of Latin America during the 60's and 70's. He is now regarded as one of the literary world's leading spokespersons for a "neoliberal" political philosophy, and was a co-founder of the tripartite center-right coalition known as "Frente Democrático" (or simply, FREDEMO) in 1988. He ran for the presidency of Peru in 1990 as the candidate of the FREDEMO coalition, but was defeated in a run-off election with the now infamous Alberto Fujimori, who fled from Peru in the wake of a corruption scandal in 2000.

Vargos Llosa would reflect back on his campaign for President of Peru in his 1993 memoir, A Fish in the Water.

Among the authors associated with the "Boom" generation of Latin American writers, Vargas Llosa is perhaps the least representative of the narrative technique known as "magical realism" that came to be popularized as a literary style. Aside from Marquez, he has acknowledged European authors such as Flaubert and Jean Paul Sartre as influential in his approach to writing, but reserves his greatest praise for an American Nobel Prize winner, William Faulkner, for shaping his method of plot and character development, and parsing his sense of time in a work of fiction.

The Nobel Prize award to Vargas Llosa 28 years after Gabriel Garcia Marquez won it in 1982 forms a fitting book-end for the literary moment that was perhaps the most influential one in world literature in the second half of the 20th century.

--R.D. Pohl


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