This morning the Swedish academy awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize for Literature to Mario Vargas Llosa “for his cartography of the structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt and defeat.” With benefactors like the ones who authored this overwrought passage, who needs critics? After all, prospective readers might be interested to know that Vargas Llosa is a very funny writer. Still, the solemn boys in white tails have a point.
Vargas Llosa’s Nobel is effectively the closed parentheses around “El Boom,” the remarkable explosion in twentieth century Latin American letters that began to receive its due recognition with Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 1982 Nobel. Garcia Marquez is a great writer, but the prestige the prize brought him was not his to lend, certainly not to men like Fidel Castro. It was no coincidence that the Cuban tyrant calls “Gabo” a friend and made a habit of destroying writers, like two of the pillars of modern Latin American writing, Virgilio Piñera and Jose Lezama Lima. Both writers are fondly recalled in one of last century’s great memoirs, Before Night Falls, Reinaldo Arenas’s testament to, well, resistance, revolt and defeat — particularly his own, at the hands of Castro.
Too often, “El Boom” served as a kind of publicity apparatus for Latin America’s bloody populism – how bad could the politics be if the writing was so good? But Vargas Llosa was never captive to the vicious utopias that inspired the mass graves and political prisons throughout the continent. Some wondered if that was because his formative years were spent abroad not in post-May 1968 Paris, like most Latin American intellectuals, but London. In any case, the Swedish academy hasn’t steered this far “right” since naming V. S. Naipaul in 2001. However, as John Podhoretz explains over at Contentions (with a link to a past Vargas Llosa essay for Commentary), the Peruvian novelist is a liberal, in the classical sense, but not a conservative.
Elsewhere, here’s an interview with the new Nobelist that the Wall Street Journal has reprinted from 2007, and in El Pais, where he writes a regular literary column, there’s an excerpt from his latest book.