Image by Getty Images via @daylifeThe Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, whose deeply political work vividly examines the perils of power and corruption in Latin America, won the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature on Thursday.
Announcing the award in Stockholm, the Swedish Academy praised Mr. Vargas Llosa “for his cartography of the structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt and defeat.”
Mr. Vargas Llosa, 74, is one of the most celebrated writers of the Spanish-speaking world, an anti-totalitarian intellectual whose work covers the range of human experience, whether it is ideology or eros. He is frequently mentioned with his contemporary Gabriel García Márquez, who won the literature Nobel in 1982, the last South American to do so. Mr. Vargas Llosa has written more than 30 works of nonfiction, plays and novels, including “The Feast of the Goat” and “The War of the End of the World.”
The prize is the first for a writer in the Spanish language in two decades, after Octavio Paz of Mexico won in 1990. It renews attention on the Latin American writers who gained renown in the 1960s, like Julio Cortázar of Argentina and Carlos Fuentes of Mexico, who formed the region’s “boom generation.”
During a news conference at the Instituto Cervantes in Manhattan on Thursday, Mr. Vargas Llosa, an elegant, dashing figure with silvery hair, appeared in front of a crowd of giddy journalists, mostly Spanish-speaking, and Alejandro Toledo, the former president of Peru, who sat in the front row. Mr. Vargas Llosa is currently spending the semester in the United States, teaching Latin American studies at Princeton.
Answering questions in English, Spanish and a bit of French, Mr. Vargas Llosa called the Nobel a recognition of the importance of Latin American literature and of the Spanish language, which has acquired “a sort of citizenship in the world,” he said.
When Mr. Vargas Llosa was young and went to Europe for the first time, he said, “Latin America seemed to be a land where there were only dictators, revolutionaries, catastrophes. Now we know that Latin America can produce also artists, musicians, painters, thinkers and novelists.”
The announcement of the prize was greeted largely with enthusiasm in Latin America, where Mr. Vargas Llosa is widely admired for his literary greatness but is a divisive figure because of his conservative politics. He has frequently criticized leftist governments in the region, including those of Cuba and Venezuela.
In Peru, members of Congress took to the floor to praise him. People celebrated in Arequipa, the provincial city where he was born, with Peruvian television showing a band playing the national anthem in the streets.
Felipe Calderón, Mexico’s president, wrote in a Twitter message that the prize was cause for “Latin American pride.”
But illustrating the mixed sentiment that Mr. Vargas Llosa’s views elicit among some in the region, the Mexican writer Paco Ignacio Taibo II said that while the prize was “absolutely deserved,” Mr. Vargas Llosa himself was “deplorable as a citizen and as a person.”
In selecting Mr. Vargas Llosa, the Swedish Academy has once again made a literary choice tinged with politics, though this time from the right instead of the left.
Recent winners of the literature Nobel include Herta Müller, the Romanian-born German novelist; Orhan Pamuk of Turkey; and Harold Pinter of Britain.
“It’s very difficult for a Latin American writer to avoid politics,” Mr. Vargas Llosa said on Thursday. “Literature is an expression of life, and you cannot eradicate politics from life.”
In the days leading up to the announcement, the reliably unreliable speculation over who would win focused on the Kenyan author Ngugi wa Thiong’o; Cormac McCarthy; the Syrian poet Adonis; Philip Roth; and Joyce Carol Oates. The last American to win was Toni Morrison, in 1993.
The awards ceremony is planned for Dec. 10 in Stockholm. Mr. Vargas Llosa will receive 10 million kronor, or about $1.5 million.
Mr. Vargas Llosa first realized that he wanted to be a writer when he was a child, enthralled with an adventure novel by Jules Verne. He spent much of his early childhood in Cochabamba, Bolivia, then moved with his parents to a middle-class suburb of Lima. He attended the University of San Marcos in Lima in the mid-1950s — a tumultuous time in Peru — and later drew from that experience to write “Conversation in the Cathedral,” a novel published in 1969.
After college he wanted to leave Peru, and began his literary career abroad, living in London, Paris and Madrid.
His work found an international audience in the 1960s with the publication of “The Time of the Hero,” a novel based on a Peruvian military academy that aroused some controversy in his home country. By the early 1980s, he was one of the best-selling Latin American writers in the world, having published “Conversation,” “Green House” and the comic novel “Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter,” among other works.
“They’re not only fantastic novels that read beautifully,” Rubén Gallo, a professor of Spanish-American literature at Princeton University, said on Thursday. “He’s one of the authors who in the 20th century has written the most eloquently and the most poignantly about the intersection between culture and politics in Latin America.”
A brief and unsuccessful effort to officially enter the political arena came later. While Peru was besieged by high inflation and the attacks by the Maoists of the Shining Path in 1990, Mr. Vargas Llosa made a quixotic run for the presidency, opposing Alberto Fujimori, then a little-known agronomist.
From the New York Times, October 8, 2010.