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Peruvian Writer Says His Nobel is Tribute to Latin American Literature

Mario Vargas Llosa (file photo)
Mario Vargas Llosa (file photo)

Peruvian-born writer Mario Vargas Llosa has won the 2010 Nobel Prize for literature, the first Spanish-language winner in more than two decades.

Peter Englund of the Nobel Committee in Stockholm made the announcement Thursday morning, calling the novelist, essayist and playwright a "divinely gifted" storyteller.  He cited Vargas Llosa's "cartography of the structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual's resistance, revolt and defeat."

Vargas Llosa is the first Latin American writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize in literature since Mexican writer Octavio Paz won in 1990, and the first South-American since Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez received the prize in 1982.

Writer Vargas Llosa, 74, is the author of more than 30 novels, plays and essays, including The Feast of the Goat, Conversations in the Cathedral, and Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter.

He told reporters in New York, where he is living while he teaches Latin American studies at Princeton University, that the award was a tribute not only to his work, but to Latin American literature as a whole.  He said the region existed as a stereotype in the vision of Europeans and Americans when he began writing in the 1960s.

"I think it's interesting how Latin America literature, when I was young, when I started to write, was practically ignored by the rest of the world," he said. "Latin America seemed to be a land in which there were only dictators, revolutionaries, catastrophes. Well, now we know that Latin America can produce also artists, musicians, painters, thinkers and novelists."

Vargas Llosa has always been politically engaged as a writer and as a citizen. "I have always [been] very critical of all kinds of dictatorships, dictatorships from the left, dictatorships from the right," he said. "I have criticized and I still criticize the Cuban dictatorship, as I criticized the Chilean dictatorship in the times of Pinochet.  I defend democracy, I defend liberal reforms -- I think this is the road to progress, to civilization."

After turning from left-wing politics to a free-market convservatism, he ran unsuccessfully for president of Peru in 1990, losing to Alberto Fujimori, who was later convicted of human rights abuses.  Vargas Llosa moved to Spain after the election, not returning to his native land for seven years.

Former Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo also happened to be in New York during the announcement and attended his friend's news conference at the Cervantes Instiitute.

"Mario Vargas Llosa is, a defender of freedom and democracy in the world, particularly in Latin American," Toledo said. "And although Mario Vargas Llosa is as Peruvian as a Pisco Sour [a Peruvian cocktail], he also belongs to the world. And this recognition, that is what it does."

Vargas Llosa still lives part-time in Spain, where he writes an influential column for El Pais, a Spanish-language daily newspaper in Madrid.  He says that politics must be part of literature -- as it is part of life --- but that it is secondary when he writes.

"I am basically a writer, and I would like to be remembered, if I am remembered, because of my writing and because of my work. On the other hand, I am also a citizen, and I have political ideas, which I think is a moral obligation of everybody, not only of writers," he said, adding, "I don't know if these ideas impregnate, really, my literary work. That is difficult for me to say. When I write literature, I think politics, political ideas, ideology, is always secondary. I think literature [embraces] a larger horizon of human experience."

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