Vargas Llosa: Latin American champion

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Mario Vargas Llosa in a file photo from 2006
Image caption,
Vargas Llosa influenced a Latin American renaissance

"This Nobel goes to Latin American literature. It is a recognition of everything that surrounds me," said Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa in New York after winning the 2010 Nobel Prize for literature.

It is indeed an acknowledgment not only of Mario Vargas Llosa's immense contribution to world literature, but also of the cultural, economic and political renaissance taking place across Latin America.

Everyone knows that interesting things are happening there, though their meaning remains somewhat hidden.

First, Latin America has turned its back on all forms of dogmatism, right and left.

Second, there is now an explosion of creativity in the arts and in politics. Vargas Llosa embodies both.


His biography reads like a journey away from the strictures of the 20th Century.

Image caption,
The works of Vargas Llosa have been widely translated

A classical man of the far-left in the 1970s, he became disenchanted with the Cuban revolution after the imprisonment of poet Heberto Padilla.

Like many opinion leaders in Latin America at the time, he became an ally of conservative forces and defended neoliberal free-market ideas. On that platform, he ran for president in Peru in 1990.

In September 2007, after acquiring Spanish citizenship, Vargas Llosa stopped supporting Spain's centre-right Popular Party and helped form the centre-left coalition Union, Progress and Democracy with Basque philosopher Fernando Savater and former Socialist MEP Rosa Diez.

His work has become enormously influential. He is perhaps the mentor of a generation of writers from the Americas that is fast emerging as the next "Latin American Boom" - Junot Diaz, Juan Gabriel Vasquez, Santiago Roncagliolo, myself and others.

This literary explosion will soon join the wave of Latin America cinema, Latino music and the extraordinary experimentalism of social movements and governments in politics and economics. Together, they participate in the Latin American renaissance.

Vargas Llosa has built many of the bridges that link the previous boom and the present one.

Playful streak

His work has moved from strict modernism to the playful self-parodic style of turn-of-the-century postmodernism, beginning with The Time of the Hero, through such monumental literary achievements as The Green House and The War of the End of the World, and ending with Captain Pantoja and the Special Service or The Storyteller.

The former are serious and deal for the most part with the tragic destiny of the individual under oppressive power. The latter are lighter, even farcical.

Similarly, the new generation of writers move between laughter and tragedy in tracing the history of Latin America, while also fanning a spark of hope in the future.

However the future has now arrived. History might repeat itself, but not in the same way.

In his 2004 novel The Way To Paradise, Vargas Llosa suggests his two characters, the feminist socialist Flora Tristan and her grandson Paul Gauguin, lived similar lives.

She left a life of wealth and luxury in colonial Peru to become an activist in Europe. He abandoned his position as a stockbroker in Paris to pursue a dream in painting,a new world in Polynesia, away from the comfortably numb ways of the West.

They both speak to the predicaments of our times. They may have not stormed the Winter Palace but, like Mario Vargas Llosa, in inspiring many others to keep going in search of a better world they have changed this one forever.

Oscar Guardiola-Rivera is author of What If Latin America Ruled the World?

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