|Mario Vargas Llosa|
by Alejandro Cabeza
Mario Vargas Llosa: a master of humour and humanity
by Robert McCrum
The Peruvian writer of novels with spellbinding narrative power has also taken on the comic romp and politics, through his books and via a presidential bid
Thursday 7 October 2010 18.42 BST
or many readers Mario Vargas Llosa has been the most approachable and exhilarating Latin American writer of our times. For his many fans, of whom I am one, the recognition by the Swedish academy is long overdue. Throughout his career Vargas Llosa has always had the demeanour of a great writer on a quasi-Victorian scale, addressing the great issues of the day through the exercise of his imagination but refracted through the prism of modernism and post-modernism. William Faulkner remains a lifelong influence. In 1994 his importance to the Hispanic world was acknowledged when he won the Miguel de Cervantes prize.
As well as regularly publishing novels of spellbinding narrative power (notably The War of the End of the World and The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta), he has also engaged passionately with the politics of his time in journalism, essays and even political thrillers.
Although as a young man he supported Fidel Castro's Cuban revolution, in 1990 he ran for the presidency of Peru as a moderate reformer. When that quixotic bid failed, swamped by the late populist surge of Alberto Fujimori, he withdrew from national politics but continued to explore the complex dissonances of South American politics. In the words of the Nobel citation, his fiction is obsessed with "the cartography of structures of power and trenchant images of the individual's resistance, revolt and defeat".
One of many disarming qualities of Vargas Llosa – the globetrotting expatriate and family man – is that allied to his fierce engagement with the society of which he is a part is a witty, often wry detachment that colours all his work with humour and profound humanity. The "Mario" of Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, a comic romp that was adapted by Hollywood as Tune in Tomorrow, is as real and vivid as the polemical author of Death in the Andes. To assuage his lifelong passion for football he has written about the game for El País.
Winning this prize can be, for the new laureate, a terrible distraction. Vargas Llosa will, I suspect, take it in his stride. He has a natural grace in the public arena, an appetite for crowds, a remarkable command of English, plus an instinctive preference for a literary routine, combined with a love of travel.
He is also a passionate anglophile who prefers to write in the reading room of the British library and has kept an apartment in Knightsbridge with his wife, Patricia, for more than 30 years. He says he likes the anonymity he can enjoy in the streets of London. As a popular Nobel laureate he may find, in the near future, that it's more difficult to be incognito.