Peru’s leading contemporary novelist, Jorge Mario Pedro Vargas Llosa (VAHR-gahs YOH-sah), is regarded as one of the creators (along with such writers as Julio Cortázar, Gabriel García Márquez, and Carlos Fuentes) of the new Latin American novel. Born in the town of Arequipa in southern Peru, Mario Vargas Llosa was the son of Ernesto Vargas Maldonado and Dora Llosa Ureta. His parents were divorced before he was born, and he was taken by his mother to live at Cochabama, Bolivia, with her parents, who spoiled him. When he was nine, he and his mother left for Piura, in northwestern Peru; however, a year later, his parents remarried, and they moved the family to Lima.
The pampered and sensitive boy found himself no longer the center of attention. At the Catholic school he attended in Lima, he was younger than most of his classmates and was consequently ridiculed. At home, his artistic activities had to be kept from his father, who (like many Peruvians) regarded writing as no work for a man. For Vargas Llosa, literature became an escape and, as he later described it, a way of justifying his existence. Intending to “make a man of him,” Vargas Llosa’s father sent his son to a military academy in Lima, the Leoncio Prado. The machismo and brutality he encountered there proved highly traumatic for the young man.
This experience ended in 1952, when Vargas Llosa returned to Piura for his final year of secondary school. In Piura he worked part-time on the newspaper La Industria and wrote a play called “La huida” (the escape). Returning to Lima, Vargas Llosa studied for his degree in literature at the University of San Marcos, while being employed as a journalist with Radio Panamericana and the newspaper La Crónica. In 1955 he married Julia Urquidi, a Bolivian; the marriage ended in divorce. In 1965 he married his first cousin Patricia Llosa, with whom he had two sons and a daughter.
Vargas Llosa made a brief visit to Paris in 1958 and won a prize in a short-story competition sponsored by La Revue française. The winning story, “El desafío” (the challenge), was published in his first book of short stories. The book won for Vargas Llosa the Premio Leopoldo Alas award in Spain, where it was published in 1959. That same year the author traveled to the University of Madrid on a scholarship but decided...
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