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Mario Vargas Llosa - Nobel Laureate 2010

Updated on January 27, 2014
Peruvian-Spanish writer, Mario Vargas Llosa.
Peruvian-Spanish writer, Mario Vargas Llosa. | Source
Llosa at the University of Cambridge, Churchill College, Honorary Fellow.
Llosa at the University of Cambridge, Churchill College, Honorary Fellow. | Source

Mario Vargas Llosa 1936 -

Another brilliant writer from the Latin American Boom of the 1960's and 70's is Peruvian-Spanish writer, Mario Vargas Llosa.

He is originally from Peru but has been a citizen of Spain since the 1993. He has maintained his Peruvian nationality and is therefore considered a Peruvian - Spanish writer, politician, journalist,, essayist and college professor.

He is best known as the recipient of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature. The Swedish Academy awarded him the prize "for his cartography of power and his trenchant images of the individual resistance, revolt and defeat."

He is considered one of Latin America's most significant novelist and essayist and a leading writer of his generation. His contemporaries are/were Carlos Fuentes, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Octavio Paz, and Julio Cortazar just to name a few.

Today, he is a visiting professor in the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University.

His writings and novels are prolific and have delved into the serious, historical, comical and political. Of the Latin American writers, Llosa is the most ecclectic. He writes on various topics and themes on what is happening to him at the time.

He has been politically informed and active during his lifetime and writing career and his voice has been important both in Peru and Spain as he has a great love of both countries. In 1990, he ran for president of Peru, but was defeated by Alberto Fugimori.

His political views have ranged from leftist to liberal to neo-liberalism, which is quite a conservative view in Latin America. Like the other Latin American writers, he supported Fidel Castro's revolution in Cuba and like the other writers became quite disillusioned with Castro when he realized Castro had installed a Communist dictatorship in Cuba.

Llosa's written works have been influenced by his political views and his perception of Peruvian society when he lived in Peru. His novels have been described by literary critics as part of the modernism and postmodernism style of writing.

He writes from his own personal experiences and on historical material and uses his writing to question the national government of Peru and to challenge the inadequacies of Peruvian society. He writes of the individual's struggle for freedom within an oppressive reality.

Llosa as a child with his mother.
Llosa as a child with his mother. | Source

Jorge Mario Pedro Vargas Llosa, his given name, was born into a middle-class family in Arequipa, Peru. His parents separated and divorced a few months after his birth and he and his mother went to live with his maternal grandparents.

As a child, he was told his father had died as his mother and grandparents did not want to explain the divorce to him. His grandfather was a diplomat and so the family lived in several different cities and also outside of Peru.

In 1946, when Llosa was ten years old, the family moved to the capital city, Lima, Peru, and it is here he met his father for the first time. His mother and father reunited and later married and they lived in a suburb of Peru.

When Llosa was fourteen years old, his father, sent him to Leoncio Prado Military Academy in Lima. It is his experience here that would lead to one of his future novels. Before graduating, Llosa worked as a journalist for some local newspapers and eventually withdrew form the academy and finished his studies in Piura, Peru as he worked for a local newspaper, La Industria.

After completing his high school studies he went on to study law and literature at Lima's National University of San Marcos, the oldest and most prestigious university of the Americas.

At the age of nineteen, he married Julia Urquidi, his maternal uncle's sister-in-law, and ten years his senior.

He published his first book, a collection of short stories, The Leaders (Los Jefes) and The Grandfather (El abuelo) in 1957 and this began his professional literary writing career. He was also working for two Peruvian newspapers at the time.

He graduated from the university in Lima in 1958 and received a scholarship to study at the Complutense University of Madrid in Spain. This began his love fest with Spain and he spent the next several years living in Europe with Julia.

After his scholarship in Madrid expired he and Julia headed for Paris, France because he thought he had a scholarship waiting for him there. When he reached Paris he found out that his scholarship had been denied, but he decided to stay in Paris anyway and continued to write.

His marriage to Julia ended in divorce in 1964 and he then married his first cousin, Patricia Llosa with whom he has had three children.

Llosa speaking at the Nobel awards ceremony. 2010.
Llosa speaking at the Nobel awards ceremony. 2010. | Source

It was while living in Europe that he began writing his novels with serious themes and a serious look at Peruvian society and government.

Time of the Hero (La ciudad y los perros) 1963, is his depiction of the corrupt institution of his military academy he attended, Leoncio Prado Academy. He takes a harsh look at the army codes and the strict military hierarchy. Through his novel he shows the reader a group of young cadets subjected to bullying, hazing and a violent environment; everything he had experienced when he was there as a student.

He mocked the moral standards the academy was suppose to uphold. Llosa believed the corruption of the school represents and is a reflection of the corruption of Peruvian society at the time the novel was written.

The themes of this novel look at the demoralization and oppression by those in political power towards those who challenge this power. He would experience more of this when he would run for president of Peru later in life.

One of his most ambitious and expansive novel, Conversation in the Cathedral (Conversacion en la catedral) 1969 was so huge it took two volumes to write. Here he looked at the tyrannical dictatorship of Peru and the presidency of Peruvian President Manuel A. Odria.

In this novel his main character, Santiago, rebels against the suffocating dictatorship by participating in subversive activities of leftist political groups and bears the consequences for that.

After the publication of this novel his writing shifted to a more satirical and comical tone and away from the serious themes of politics and problems in society. He embarked on a "discovery of humor" in his writings.

Now, he illustrated the military in a comical way. In his novel, Captain Pantoja and the Special Service 1973. It was about the Peruvian armed forces and a corps of prostitutes hired by the Peruvian army and brought in to serve the soldiers in the jungle.

In 1977, he published his comical view of his own first marriage in his novel, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter. It was loosely based on his marriage to Julia Urquidi. It is a tongue-in-cheek story of a student and aspiring writer, Marito, who falls in love with his uncle's sister-in-law, really his aunt by marriage, who's producing telenovelas (soap operas) daily for a 1950's local radio station.

Here he wanted to portray how the language and imagery of popular culture can be used in literature. It was hugely popular and was later adapted into a Hollywood film, Tune in Tomorrow.

His next novels were serious, historical and political in nature and again Llosa was shining a light on the dark and corrupt areas of Peruvian and Latin American life.

In 1981, he published what the literary critics have called his most ambitious and tragic historical novel, The War of the End of the World. Critics consider this novel his masterpiece work. It was inspired by the true events that occurred in Bahia, Brazil in the late 19th century.

The novel portrays the economic decline and breakdown of the empire of Brazil. Llosa shows how the poor are drawn to a charismatic and fanatical religious preacher, Antonio Conselheiro, who is predicting the end of the world to come soon.

He takes his poor and vulnerable followers to Canudos, Brazil to set up a new utopia under his dominance. Of course, this utopia is in defiance of the established national government in Brazil. Violence happens and armies are sent into bring order and a massacre of the people occurs. This novel has a very serious theme and a dark tone to it. He shines a light on this account of a man made catastrophe brought on by fanaticism on all sides.

During this time in Peruvian history, the 1980's, there were many politically leftist insurrections happening in the Andres mountain range. The Sendero Luminoso (Shining Light) is the Communist Party in Peru and a Maoist guerrilla insurgent organization. There was an uprising and massacre of Peruvians in Uchurraccay, Peru.

Llosa was asked to join the Investigation Commission for this incident. Politically, this was a very controversial commission and Llosa published a series of essays and articles to defend his position on the commission.

This was a very uncomfortable event politically for Llosa and there were negative reactions and defamation from the Peruvian press against his role and positions on the commission. He was accused of colluding with the government to cover up army involvement in the massacre.

Llosa was stung by the reactions which he felt he received unjustly and this incident showed him how vulnerable democracy is in Latin America and how easily it dies under dictatorships on the right and the left.

In response to all this, Llosa in 1986 wrote Who Killed Palomino Molero? to answer his critics. The plot of this mystery novel is similar to the tragic events that occurred at Uchuraccay and critics have described it as a "literary exorcism" of Llorsa's own experiences during the commission.

Since the 1990's Llosa has lived mainly in Spain, but does spend approximate three months a year in Peru with his extended Peruvian family.

In 1993, he became a Spanish citizens though he still holds Peruvian nationality. He has continued with his writing career writing both journalism and fiction and travels extensively.

In 1994 he was elected a member of the Real Academia Espanola (Royal Spanish Academy) a Spanish prestigious honor.

He wrote the Feast of the Goat 2000 based the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic. The novel follows the aging Generalissimo through his last day on earth as his assassins close in. He is seen as a grotesque figure, his body failing but still maintaining his machismo attitude of his youth.

The novel was praised by critics for its vividness and realism and again shines a light on a destructive and evil dictatorship.

In 2003 he wrote The Way to Paradise set in France and Tahiti and shows how social reformer Flora Tristan and painter Paul Gauguin were unable to find paradise but still able to inspire followers to keep working towards a socialist utopia.

Llosa has remained interested in politics both in Peru and Spain and has also taught as a visiting professor at a number of prominent universities and he continues to speak on political and literary topics around the world.

In 2011, Llosa was raised into the Spanish nobility by King Juan Carlos I with the hereditary title of Marquis de Vargas Llosa and today is known officially as Jorge Mario Pedro Vargas Llosa, 1st Marquis of Vargas Llosa.

Llosa speaks on The Importance of Literature


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    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      5 years ago from Taos, NM

      Mklow: I am so glad you enjoyed reading this and are reading his essays. I haven't read his essays so I am not familiar with "Touchstones." I would recommend his novels. "War at the End of the World." and "Conversation in the Cathedral." They portray the time in Latin America when the dictatorships made life difficult and harsh for Latin Americans. He captures that time so well. I am so glad you are enjoying his essays and I wish you well in your readings and studies. Thanks so much for stopping by.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I am reading his collection of essays called Touchestones, and it is fantastic. His writing is so effortless and easy to read, yet his descriptions are so in depth that you can visualize what he is talking about. After reading this, I cannot wait to read some of his fiction. Which one do you think is the best to start with?

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      5 years ago from Taos, NM

      Marie, I am so glad you enjoyed reading this and I do hope you try reading one of his novels some day. I have to admire these Latin American writers also, for using their literary voices to bring reform to their countries and all of Latin America. They have been so corrupt for so many years. And, sadly, these writers don't like the imperialistic hand of the U.S. stirring things up either. I think what they have done, Vargas Llosa included, very important to the history of their respective countries. Glad you have been inspired to learn more. Thanks for your comments and your visit. Most appreciated.

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      5 years ago from Taos, NM

      Yes, Mike, he not only talked the talk but walked the walk. Ironically, the man he lost to, Fugimori lasted about a year in office and was run out because of corruption. Vargas Llosa was much more conservative and reform minded. I admire all these Latin American writers for using their literary voices to shed some light on the dark corners of corruption in their respective countries and all of Latin America for that matter. And, they write in such an imaginative and creative way. Thanks so much for reading and for your comments.

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      5 years ago from Taos, NM

      Yes, Anne, his writings are so interesting and he shines a light on the dark corners of corruption in Peru and Latin America. Through his literary voice he was trying to change Latin America and his own country for the better. Thanks so much for reading and for your comments. Most appreciated.

    • Marie Flint profile image

      Marie Flint 

      5 years ago from Tawas City, Michigan USA

      A great job in detail and capturing the essence of the man. I agree with him that writing carries with it a responsibility of the writer to effect changes in society, although I personally am less motivated than he to write this way.

      As dreamer, I am so ignorant of world politics. Llosa's running for the Peruvian presidency certainly tells something about the man in his drive to improve the social conditions around him. Bravo!

      Whether I actually will read one of his books is unknown, but I will certainly remember his name.

      Thank you for this enlightening read.

    • mckbirdbks profile image


      5 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      What a wonderful personality that is Mario Vargas Llosa. An acclaimed writer and a political figure, running for president in his country. Some people are born to take their proper place in history. You have recorded his story very well. Those fortunate enough to stop by will learn much from your presentation.

    • Anne Harrison profile image

      Anne Harrison 

      5 years ago from Australia

      I'm slowly expanding my horizons from the classic of English literature on which I was raised. These works sound fascinating - I can't wait to get started!

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      5 years ago from Taos, NM

      Thank you Faith! I appreciate your comments and I am glad I could acquaint you with this writer. These are all writers I have found so interesting.

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      5 years ago from Taos, NM

      Jackie: Thank you for reading and I am so glad you enjoyed this!

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 

      5 years ago from southern USA

      Very interesting, dear suzette! I am learning a lot about great writers who I have never known before due to your most engaging hubs. Excellent write.

      Up and more and sharing

      Blessings, Faith Reaper

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 

      5 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Sounds like an extremely interesting man. I had never heard of him so thank you for acquainting me. Another good job pulling the reader right down in an easy flow from beginning to end. ^

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      5 years ago from Taos, NM

      Ashok: I have looked up and read a little about V.S. Naipaul. He is very interesting and I will have to read a book or two by him and then shall write about him in the future. Thanks for bringing him to my attention!

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      5 years ago from Taos, NM

      Ashok: How interesting because I don't know anything about the 2001 winner. I have not heard of him before nor have I read anything by him. I have written about the ones I am familiar with and have read their writings. I will have to look into this writer and Nobel Laureate.

    • Ashok Rao profile image

      Ashok Rao 

      5 years ago from Mumbai, India

      I got to know about about Noble Prize winners in Literature through media. But I had never given them a serious thought. When I think about a Noble laureate, the only writer who comes in my mind is 2001 winner V.S. Naipul. Although he was born in Trinidad, He is still considered to be an Indian. I would like to thank you for introducing me to the works of Latin American writers.

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      5 years ago from Taos, NM

      Bill: Thank you and I just have to highlight these writers because I have read them and they really do deserve all the accolades and prizes for their literature that they win. Sometimes the Latin American writers have been given short shrift in the literary department and I have wanted to highlight them for some time. Thanks so much for your support and comments.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      You have found your niche and you are doing it great justice. Very interesting series on people that many of us never heard of or only knew by name. Thank you for broadening my horizons a bit.


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