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Mario Vargas Llosa, et al.

8 October 2010

¡Felicitaciones a Maria Vargas Llosa!… winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature 2010 and — as far as we know —  the first Nobel laureate to have punched out another Nobel laureate.    As noted in the CNN article that linked to the Mex Files,  Gabriel Garcia Marquez did NOT send a twitter reading “now we’re even” (something noted in a CNN article, and linked to my post on the infamous February 1976 Palacio de Bellas Artes Vargas Llosa-Garcia Marquez Literary Heavyweight Bout.

Left (top to bottom): Mistral, Asturias, Neruda. Right (top to bottom): Garcia Marquez, Paz, Le Clézio

Vicente Fox … who once said his favorite Mexican author was some guy named José Luís Borges… did send an e-mail to Vargas Llosa, congratulating him on joining the august company of other three Latin American laureates… Colombian-born Mexican resident Garcia Marquez, Mexican poet Octavio Paz (1990)  and Argentine writer Jorge Luís Borges.  At least Fox got the writer and his nationality right for a change, but there are now six Latin Laureates, Borges not among them.

Ah well… Fox was unique among Mexican presidents for — shall we say — “philistine” taste in literature, but to merely point out that Borges never received his Nobel Prize (reportedly because of his support for military dictators in his country), the Mexican press should be ashamed of itself for missing so many other Latin American laureates, most with Mexican connections.

The Mexican connection of two Chileann laureates — poets Gabriela Mistral (1945) and Pablo Neruda (1971) and Guatemalan novelist, Miguel Ángel Asturias (1967), were overlooked .  Perhaps Fox only meant laureates who had lived in Mexico, in which case he rightly listed Vargas Llosa and Garcia Marquez (but not Borges, who never lived here — and wasn’t a Nobel Laureate in any case), but should have included Mistral (who worked for the Secretariat of Public Instruction with José Vasconcellos for many years and whose canon includes several Mexican poems) — and perhaps  both Asturias and 2008’s Laureate, J.M. Le Clézio –who, although his language is French, and his nationality is Mauritian, made Mexico and the Mexicans central to his literary and anthropological writing and study.

Asturias was the Guatemalan Ambassador to Mexico in the late 1940s and his first novel and recognized master-work, Hombres de maiz (“Men of Maize”) was written in Mexico, dealing with Mayan customs and beliefs, although reflecting conditions in our neighbor to the south.

The new club kid — Mario Vargas Llosa

Vargas Llosa is something of a bête noir among Latin Americanists, given his overt political support for neo-liberalism in the region, and his political activities in his native Peru.  He was a presidential candidate for the neo-liberal and rightist coalition in Peru in 1990.  Of course, to be fair, Neruda was a Stalinist, so I don’t think it’s quite right to judge literary activity by political coloration.  Still, where one can read Neruda, Mistal, Garcia Marquez, or  Paz without reference to their politics, Vargas Llosa — as a political novelists — has to ground his fictions in political assumptions, which in his case, are conservative.  Which doesn’t mean he isn’t worth reading One of my favorite books on Latin history is Fiesta del chivo (“Feast of the Goat”) a conventionally structured historical novel on the overthrow of Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo.  His 1982 La guerra del fin del mundo (“War at the end of the world”) — another historical tragedy, dealing with the destruction of a millenialist cult  that rebelled against the government in 1880s Brazil.

Whether or not I “approve” of Vargas Llosa’s politics is irrelevant (the Swedish Academy never asked me anyhow).  He deserves his prize, and to be read for the skillful way he provides insight into the complexities of humans caught up by their own frailties and complexities in political and economic situation beyond their control.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Chris K permalink
    8 October 2010 7:09 am

    Merely a coincidental comment…

    On Thursday I happened to be at the Manhattan branch of Instituto Cervantes yesterday for my weekly Spanish class. I was delayed on my way out by the arrival of the new Nobel Laureate, who was there to give his first press conference after having learned of the award several hours earlier. The throng of press and well-wishers around him completely filled the ample entry hallway as they moved to the auditorium; the atmosphere was electric. I didn’t get close enough to do more than catch a glimpse of the top of his white hair!

    Still, very exciting!

  2. 8 October 2010 1:13 pm

    I can’t decide which book of Mario Vargas Llosa to read first. Help me please by taking part in my poll:
    Thanks 🙂

  3. 9 October 2010 10:43 am

    Was at LASA when the award was announed and two white-hairs in front of me chuckled a little and one leaned over to the other and said “I bet you Fuentes is pissed.”

  4. 17 January 2011 6:27 am

    Congrats to Vargas Llosa! Great for Latin American literature (Although he changed his nationality to become Spanish about three years ago). His politics are indeed contentious and led to his co-authoring of the embarrasing ‘Manual del Completo Idiota Latinoamericano’ (as I remember the title). However, his early novels; Time of The Hero, The Green House, Conversations in the Cathedral, are all superb.


  1. My favorite Colombian | The Mex Files

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