The Guardian Profile Mario Vargas Llosa Essay

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The Guardian Profile: Mario Vargas Llosa Essay, Research Paper Fiction and hyper-realityWhen Mario Vargas Llosa, the precocious star of the 1960s “boom” in Latin American fiction, ran for president in 1990 in his native Peru, many of his most avid readers prayed he would lose. As his friend, the Cuban writer Guillermo Cabrera Infante, observed: “Peru’s uncertain gain would be literature’s loss. Literature is eternity, politics mere history.” That may have been scant consolation to the vanquished Vargas Llosa when the dark-horse victor, Alberto Fujimori, seized dictatorial powers in 1992 and fell only in 2000 in one of the most bizarre corruption scandals in Latin American history. But for the nearly man, who maintains that he lost the election largely for telling

the truth, his candidacy was a “terrible mistake” which he does not regret. “It was a very instructive experience, though not pleasant,” he smiles stiffly. “I learned a lot about Peru, about politics and about myself: I learned I’m not a politician but a writer.” For the expatriate Spanish writer Juan Goytisolo, Vargas Llosa is “one of the best novelists in the Spanish language of our time”. In 1963 at only 26, having published a ground-breaking debut novel The Time Of The Hero, Vargas Llosa was in the forefront of the boom, garnering international acclaim for Latin American literature, alongside the Mexican Carlos Fuentes and the Colombian Gabriel García Márquez. But far from being an exponent of their “magic realism” he is a “hyper-realist”, says

Jason Wilson, professor of Latin American literature at University College London. Yet Vargas Llosa’s political trajectory has brought him enemies. His move from supporting to denouncing Fidel Castro’s Cuba in the early 1970s spurred a falling out with the boom authors; he ridiculed his erstwhile friend García Márquez as “Castro’s courtesan”. By the 1980s he had declared a curious affinity with British conservative thinking. He later stood for the Peruvian presidency on a platform of Andean Thatcherism. “His political position stains his literature,” says the Argentinian writer Luisa Valenzuela. For many admirers he remains a perplexing composite. “He’s a wonderful novelist but a hopeless, dangerous politician,” says Richard Gott, author of a recent book on

Venezuela’s president Hugo Chávez. “He agrees with everything the United States does in Latin America.” For the critic Alberto Manguel there is a “troubling paradox” in the “two Vargas Llosas” between the vision of the novelist and playwright and his views in the press. Vargas Llosa began a parallel career as a journalist at 15 and now writes columns for the Madrid newspaper El País. Likening him to a “sightless photographer… blind to the human reality that his lens had so powerfully captured”, Manguel says “it seems as if the politician has never read the writer”. Vargas Llosa’s bruising political defeat drove the memoir A Fish In The Water (1993), whose captivating chapters on the budding artist alternate with what the Observer reviewer Boyd Tonkin

called an “epic whinge” about his failed presidential bid. His 13th novel, The Feast Of The Goat, published here next month in an English translation by Edith Grossman, may be a subtler reflection of his political baptism. Hailed by Manguel as a masterpiece, it is set during and after the brutal 1930-61 dictatorship of President Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, the Spanish-speaking country abutting Haiti on the island of Hispaniola. It anticipates Trujillo’s assassination in 1961 through the dictator’s eyes, those of his would-be assassins and the expatriate daughter of one of his aides. The portrayal of his heroic assassins as flawed proved explosive in the Dominican Republic when the author visited for the Spanish publication in 2000. “The families [of the