The Jerusalem Prize

1995 - Mario Vargas Llosa

Born: March 28, 1936, Arequipa, Peru

Author's quote: "Memory is a snare, pure and simple; it alters, it subtly rearranges the past to fit the present."

Field: Author, Politician

Prize share: 1/1

Books Written By Mario Vargas Llosa

About Mario Vargas Llosa

Jorge Mario Pedro Vargas Llosa is a Peruvian writer, politician, journalist, essayist, college professor, and recipient of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature. Vargas Llosa is one of Latin America's most significant novelists and essayists, and one of the leading writers of his generation. Some critics consider him to have had a larger international impact and worldwide audience than any other writer of the Latin American Boom. Upon announcing the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature, the Swedish Academy said it had been given to Vargas Llosa "for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual's resistance, revolt, and defeat".

Vargas Llosa rose to fame in the 1960s with novels such as The Time of the Hero (La ciudad y los perros, literally The City and the Dogs, 1963/1966), The Green House (La casa verde, 1965/1968), and the monumental Conversation in the Cathedral (Conversación en la catedral, 1969/1975). He writes prolifically across an array of literary genres, including literary criticism and journalism. His novels include comedies, murder mysteries, historical novels, and political thrillers. Several, such as Captain Pantoja and the Special Service (1973/1978) and Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter (1977/1982), have been adapted as feature films.

Many of Vargas Llosa's works are influenced by the writer's perception of Peruvian society and his own experiences as a native Peruvian. Increasingly, however, he has expanded his range, and tackled themes that arise from other parts of the world. In his essays, Vargas Llosa has made many criticisms of nationalism in different parts of the world. Another change over the course of his career has been a shift from a style and approach associated with literary modernism, to a sometimes playful postmodernism.

Like many Latin American writers, Vargas Llosa has been politically active throughout his career; over the course of his life, he has gradually moved from the political left towards liberalism or neoliberalism. While he initially supported the Cuban revolutionary government of Fidel Castro, Vargas Llosa later became disenchanted with his policies. He ran for the Peruvian presidency in 1990 with the center-right Frente Democrático coalition, advocating neoliberal reforms, but lost the election to Alberto Fujimori. He is the person who, in 1990, "coined the phrase that circled the globe", declaring on Mexican television, "Mexico is the perfect dictatorship", a statement which became an adage during the following decade.


Conversations in a Cathedral - Mario Vargas Llosa

By jacr100 "jacr100"

Conversation in the Cathedral, set in Peru during the dictatorship of Manuel Odria from 1948 to 1956, is Vargas Llosa's favourite novel among those he has written. I was curious to see why.

The Cathedral in question is a run-down bar in a working class district, and the conversation is between Santiago Zavala, son of the late minister Don Fermin, and Ambrosio, Don Fermin's former chauffeur, now fallen on hard times. Around this chance conversation, which occurs when Santiago recognises Ambrosio after many years while rescuing his dog from a pound, Vargas Llosa structures the entire novel, through their reminiscences and recollections of the Odria era, and those people whom they both knew.

And what a novel it is: in its scope, it encapsulates the hegemony of political power, the migration of indigenous peoples to Peru's cities, the rise of tabloid journalism and cabarets, and the uneasy interplay of Peru's classes during a period of social upheaval. Santiago embodies this: born into the wealthy middle class, he initially falls for Communist ideology, then chooses the life of a hack journalist over a position in his father's business, consciously embracing failure as a failing Peru strangles him. Ambrosio is less resistant and more servile, but he too is sucked into a downward spiral.

Perhaps the greatest quality of this work is the way it parses dialogue into snippets, from different periods and different narrators, and presents them jumbled up. Initially this Faulkner-like technique can frustrate, particularly early on as the story is being set and certain characters have yet to be drawn out, or scenes explained. Later, as the reader understands the full context, it is as if Vargas Llosa is placing the remaining pieces into the jigsaw to complete his audacious puzzle. We move backwards and forwards across time and location, and suddenly we realise why something happened earlier, or why this character had reacted that way, and so on. And no one character dominates: each takes his or her turn on the stage, disappears and then reappears when we know more about them. It is a masterclass in how to structure a narrative to create intrigue, suspense and rich context.

In many ways it is also a very dark tale: any idealism or aspiration in Odria's dystopic Peru is quickly snuffed out. Those who embrace vice or corruption win out, and those who are downtrodden continue to be trodden on. A magnificent fictionalisation of a dark era for Latin America, rightly considered by many to be the quintessential Peruvian novel.


Conversations in a Cathedral - Mario Vargas Llosa

By Sebastian Fernandez

When one of the best contemporary Latin-American authors says "If I could only save from the one of the novels I have written, I would save this one", you know that the experience of reading this work has to be invaluable. In this novel, the author explores, through the use of some fictional characters, the effects of the dictatorship of Manuel A. Odria in Peru. One of the aspects that shocked me and that I still find surprising is how well the impact of these terrible events translates to other dictatorships that occurred later in the Latin American history.

Vargas Llosa uses a very difficult style throughout this novel, since he jumps back and forth through time and space, and also changes continuously among the viewpoint of different characters, without warning the reader about what is going on in each case. It does take some getting used to in order to fully enjoy the novel, but once you achieve this, the rewards are abundant and leave us satisfied. In this regard, it may help to read "The Time of the Hero" first, since in this book the author uses a similar technique, but keeping it a little simpler.

I have heard some of my friends and family complain about Vargas Llosa's style in this work, saying that the author is just trying to be fancy with his writing when there is no need for it. I do not agree with this; I think that the point the author is trying to make through his convoluted technique has to do with the frustration that people feel during a dictatorship and he wants you to feel some of it too when you are going through the experience of reading about it. But also, the author knows that you are going to have to give the book your full attention if you want to understand it, so his style helps assure that you will grasp his point.

In my opinion, there is only one other book that can compete with this one for the best Latin-American novel of all times, and most people can probably figure out pretty quickly that I am referring to "One Hundred Years of Solitude". I am not sure which one comes on top, but I know for sure that I would not want to have to make a choice in terms of which of the two to save from the fire!