Mario Vargas Llosa Llosa, Mario Vargas - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Mario Vargas Llosa 1936-

(Full name Jorge Mario Pedro Vargas Llosa) Peruvian novelist, critic, short story writer, essayist, memoirist, journalist, and playwright.

The following entry presents an overview of Vargas Llosa's career through 2003. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 3, 6, 9, 10, 15, 31, 42, and 85.

A major figure in contemporary literature, Vargas Llosa is respected for his insightful examination of social themes and for the craftsmanship of his work. Known primarily for such novels as El hablador (1987; The Storyteller) and Lituma en los Andes (1993; Death in the Andes, Vargas Llosa often addresses the complexity of existence by combining realism with such experimental techniques as nonlinear plot development, rapidly shifting narrative perspectives, and disparate yet converging story lines. His literary works can generally be divided into three periods according to major changes in his political outlook. In the 1960s Vargas Llosa was a Marxist who enthusiastically supported the Cuban Revolution. In the 1970s, after witnessing the authoritarianism of Fidel Castro's government, he became disillusioned with the Latin American Left and entered a neo-liberal phase during which he sought to strengthen human rights by actively supporting democracy and free market economies. After his failed bid for the Peruvian presidency in 1990, Vargas Llosa entered a third phase marked by a seeming pessimism on his part about the effectiveness of political action in the face of human frailty.

Biographical Information

Vargas Llosa was born on March 28, 1936, in Arequipa, Peru. Although he was born into a middle-class family, Vargas Llosa's parents came from an aristocratic background and held ties with the Peruvian ruling class. At the time of his birth, his parents separated, leaving him to be raised as an only child in his maternal grandfather's home. His early schooling took place in Cochabamba, Bolivia, between 1937 and 1941. Later his grandfather moved to Piura, a city on the northern coast of Peru, where Vargas Llosa attended a private religious school. In 1950 his parents reunited and moved with Vargas Llosa to Lima. He spent two years at the Leoncio Prado military academy, returning to Piura to finish his last year of high school at the Colegio Nacional San Miguel de Piura while living with one of his mother's brothers. His early school experiences served as the basis for the novel La ciudad y los perros (1963; The Time of the Hero) and the novella Los cachorros (1967). In 1952, while finishing high school in Piura, Vargas Llosa contributed articles to a local newspaper and began writing stories and plays. In 1953 Vargas Llosa enrolled in law and literature courses at San Marcos University in Lima. While active in university politics, he also held part-time jobs as a newscaster, librarian, and journalist and worked closely with the historian Raúl Porras Barrenechea. He married a distant relative in 1955 and worked part-time jobs while attempting to start a writing career. His short stories began to appear in journals and newspapers in 1957. That same year, he became a co-editor of the literary journals Cuadernos de composición and Literatura. In 1959 his story “El desafío” received first place in a literary competition sponsored by Revue française, and the prize enabled him to travel to France. Vargas Llosa secured a scholarship to the University of Madrid, where he wrote a doctoral thesis that was later expanded to a book-length study of Gabriel García Márquez's fiction, García Márquez: Historia de un deicidio (1971; García Márquez: Story of a Deicide. After finishing his graduate studies, Vargas Llosa worked as a journalist for Agence France-Presse and the French radio-television network, where he met such prominent Latin American writers as Miguel Angel Asturias, Jorge Luis Borges, Alejo Carpentier, Julio Cortázar, and Carlos Fuentes. Vargas Llosa received international recognition upon the publication of The Time of the Hero, which established him as a prominent young author. In 1967, while in Caracas, Venezuela, accepting an award for La casa verde (1966; The Green House), he met García Márquez, with whom he collaborated on a series of interviews discussing fiction writing called La novela en América Latina (1968). In addition to his works of fiction and journalism, Vargas Llosa is also a playwright, best known for the highly acclaimed La señorita de Tacna: Pieza en dos actos (1981; The Young Lady from Tacna). As a journalist, Vargas Llosa has commented extensively on the politics and social conditions of Peru, championing cultural and intellectual freedom. He was offered the post of prime minister by Peruvian President Fernando Belaunde Terry in the early 1980s, but declined, preferring to concentrate on writing. In 1987 he protested a proposal by the Peruvian government to nationalize the country's banks. His actions quickly led to a mass movement in opposition to the plan, and the government was forced to abandon the proposal. Vargas Llosa's supporters went on to create Fredemo, a political party calling for democracy, a free market, and individual liberty. Together with two other political parties, Fredemo established a coalition group that nominated Vargas Llosa in an unsuccessful bid for the presidency in the 1990 Peruvian election. Throughout his career, Vargas Llosa has won numerous awards and accolades, including the Peruvian Congressional Medal of Honor in 1981, the Chevalier d'Order des Arts et des Lettres in 1993, the Cervantes Prize for Literature in 1994, and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism for Making Waves (1996).

Major Works

Vargas Llosa is often associated with the flourishing of Latin American literature that occurred in the 1960s—known as the “Boom” period—when the production of major works by a number of Latin American authors led to international recognition of the importance of their contributions to modern literature. In his first novel, The Time of the Hero, Vargas Llosa comes to terms with his painful years at the Leoncio Prado military academy. Led by Jaguar, the leader of a gang of cadets, a first-year cadet named Cava steals an exam to share with his peers. Another cadet, nicknamed El Esclavo (The Slave), witnesses the theft, but the secret code of honor shared by the group silences all who know about the robbery. El Esclavo finally breaks down and reports the theft, and the school's military authorities launch an internal investigation, which degenerates into a series of lies and cover-ups. The novel reveals Vargas Llosa's strong antimilitaristic stance, a consistent theme throughout his work. The publication of The Time of the Hero prompted a strong protest by the Peruvian army, which organized a book burning at Leoncio Prado. Vargas Llosa's second novel, The Green House, is split between two distinctive geographical regions of Peru, the northern coastal city of Piura and Santa María de Nieva in the Amazon jungle. The intricate plot and narrative structure divide the book into four chapters and an epilogue to develop a five-story line. Each chapter in turn is carefully crafted to include multiple stories that are fragments the reader must organize themselves. However, the main points of reference for the novel's many characters are the lives of the two main characters, Sergeant Lituma and a girl named Bonifacia. Vargas Llosa continued to explore complex, atypical narrative structures with his ambitious two-volume novel Conversación en la Catedral (1969; Conversation in the Cathedral), which depicts a society torn by corruption and political strife. The complicated plot—set against the backdrop of Vargas Llosa's experience as a university student during the dictatorship of General Odría—is related by means of a single, lengthy conversation between two acquaintances.

Abandoning the blunt realism he used to explore government corruption and militarism in his previous works, Vargas Llosa turned to parody and satire in Pantaleón y las visitadoras (1973; Captain Pantoja and the Special Service). Captain Pantaleón Pantoja is a model officer who genuinely believes in the values of service, obedience, and discipline in the army. Commissioned by his superiors to organize a secret prostitution service for the sex-starved soldiers stationed in the Peruvian jungle, Pantaleón carries out his mission with military zeal, running the operation with enviable efficiency. Humor also serves as a key element in La tía Julia y el escribidor (1977; Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter). Half of the chapters portray a young man concurrently coming to age in a romantic relationship and aspiring to be a great fiction writer; interspersed with these episodes are soap opera stories ostensibly composed by a radio scriptwriter. Vargas Llosa concentrated less on experimentation with form in La guerra del fin del mundo (1981; The War of the End of the World) and Historia de Mayta (1984; The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta), which evince his interest in the artist's manipulation of factual material. Focusing on a series of battles between a group of social outcasts and forces representing a newly established republic, The War of the End of the World is based on Os sertões (1903), an epic account of a Brazilian war by eyewitness Euclides da Cunha. In The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta, the fictional narrator conducts a journalistic investigation of the title character, a Trotskyite who led a failed rebellion against the Peruvian government in the late 1950s. The novel emphasizes the role of the narrator, who attempts to embellish the facts with fictional details that would enhance the impact of his story.

In The Storyteller, Vargas Llosa returns to the Amazon jungle of Peru, adding another piece to the author's growing narrative mosaic of social, cultural, and literary concerns from previous novels. The Storyteller tells of an Amazon Indian tribe, the Machiguengas, and in particular the life of the community's storyteller, Saúl Zuratas. The novel opens with the narrator—who closely resembles Vargas Llosa—remembering his college days with Zuratas before he abandoned his anthropological studies to live permanently with the Machiguengas. In a society without writing or rigid political or religious hierarchies, Zuratas' role as a storyteller becomes crucial to remember the tribe's history. Vargas Llosa experimented with eroticism in Elogio de la madrastra (1988; In Praise of the Stepmother), in which a widower named Don Rigoberto and his new wife, Doña Lucrecia, attempt to arouse each other by telling ribald stories inspired by classic paintings. A sequel to the novel, Los cuadernos de Don Rigoberto (The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto), was published in 1997. The plot follows Rigoberto after he separates from Doña because of a sexual encounter between her and her stepson, Fonchito, a precocious boy who has yet to reach puberty. Rigoberto misses Doña terribly, and to appease his loneliness he imagines, and writes about, her erotic life—with him as well as with other lovers.

Vargas Llosa's first novel after running for president in 1990, Death in the Andes, is set in his homeland amid the modern political and social strife evidenced by the rebellion of the Shining Path guerilla movement. In part a murder mystery, the novel follows Corporal Lituma as he ventures from his home in Peru's coastal region to a mountain village to investigate the disappearance of three men. Vargas Llosa blends fiction and fact in La fiesta del chivo (2000; The Feast of the Goat), concerning the former dictator of the Dominican Republic, Rafael Leónidas Trujillo. Trujillo was assassinated in 1961, and his death remains a cause for celebration in the Dominican Republic. Despite his cruelty and perversions, Trujillo was supported by the U.S. government since he was seen as being strongly anti-communist. Vargas Llosa tells the story of Urania Cabral, a successful New York City lawyer who was victimized by her father and Trujillo shortly before the dictator's death. Moving forward and back in time, the novel gives a detailed portrait of Trujillo and his frustration with the one enemy he could not conquer—his own advancing age. In 2003 Vargas Llosa published Paraíso en la otra esquina (The Way to Paradise), a work of historical fiction which chronicles the lives of the nineteenth-century French Post-Impressionist painter Paul Gauguin and his grandmother Flora Tristán.

Though he is best known for his novels, Vargas Llosa is also an award-winning journalist, essayist, critic, playwright, and memoirist. In 1983 Vargas Llosa began publishing many of his journalistic writings under the title Contra viento y marea. A three-volume anthology, Contra viento y marea gives an overview of Vargas Llosa's political and literary ideals ranging from his early admiration for Sartre and Cuban socialism in the 1960s to his defense of neo-liberal free-market capitalism of the 1980s. This shift to a conservative position often placed him at the center of intellectual controversy both in Peru and abroad. Several additional collections of his essays and journalism have been released, including Making Waves and El lenguaje de la pasión (2001; The Language of Passion: Selected Commentary). Vargas Llosa has also published a variety of works on literary criticism, ranging from critical analysis of Gabriel García Márquez, García Márquez: Story of a Deicide, to analytical commentary on the works of Gustave Flaubert, La orgía perpetua: Flaubert y “Madame Bovary” (1975; The Perpetual Orgy: Flaubert and “Madame Bovary”). After his failed attempt for the presidency of Peru, he produced a volume of memoirs in 1993, El pez en el agua: Memorias (A Fish in the Water: A Memoir). Using the counterpoint technique common in his previous works of fiction, the book is a behind-the-scenes look into Vargas Llosa's political campaign in the context of Peruvian political history as well as a biographical account of his childhood through young adulthood and his slow rise to literary stardom. A passionate and often bitter narrative, A Fish in the Water provides the author's views on Peru's tumultuous history as a nation and his participation as a writer in its cultural development.

Critical Reception

Critics have consistently ranked Vargas Llosa as one of the most significant authors to emerge during the Latin American “Boom” era, often comparing his works with the writings of García Márquez, Cortázar, and Fuentes, among others. His focus on exploring the social implications of South American politics has attracted wide praise from commentators and social activists alike. However, some reviewers have faulted Vargas Llosa's shifting political allegiances throughout the years, arguing that his writing that focuses on the radicalism of the 1960s stands as his finest work. Similar critics have asserted that, since the 1990s, Vargas Llosa has split his attention between literature and politics, resulting in inferior and prejudiced works. Conversely, many scholars have viewed Vargas Llosa's evolving opinions as a microcosm of the tumultuous South American political climate, consistent with the author's concern with the dynamics and shortcomings of Latin American politics and culture. Vargas Llosa's flair for experimenting with narrative forms has also been an issue of debate among critics. Some have lauded his early works—such as Conversation in the Cathedral—for their rejection of Latin American literary conventions and their unique authorial voice. Others have found Vargas Llosa's more technically ambitious works to be confusing and overly dense, claiming his pursuit of style and narrative complexity comes at the detriment of story and character development. For example, some reviewers have asserted that Vargas Llosa's foray into eroticism with The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto resulted in a work of literary pornography. Despite such claims, Vargas Llosa has remained as one of the most dominant contemporary Latin American writers, with many of his most recent works—including A Fish in the Water and The Feast of the Goat—receiving some of strongest reviews of his career.

Principal Works

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

*Los jefes (short stories) 1959

La ciudad y los perros [The Time of the Hero] (novel) 1963

La casa verde [The Green House] (novel) 1966

*Los cachorros (novella) 1967

La novela en América Latina [with Gabriel García Márquez] (interviews) 1968

Conversación en la Catedral. 2 vols. [Conversation in the Cathedral] (novel) 1969

García Márquez: Historia de un deicidio [García Márquez: Story of a Deicide] (criticism) 1971

Pantaleón y las visitadoras [Captain Pantoja and the Special Service] (novel) 1973...

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Renata R. Mautner Wasserman (essay date May 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Wasserman, Renata R. Mautner. “Mario Vargas Llosa, Euclides da Cunha, and the Strategy of Intertexuality.” PMLA 108, no. 3 (May 1993): 460-73.

[In the following essay, Wasserman explores the phenomenon of intertextuality in Vargas Llosa's writing, particularly in La guerra del fin del mundo, his retelling of Euclides da Cunha's Os sertões.]

Intertextuality can be said to arise when literary texts connect with other literary texts, with nonliterary texts, and with broadly conceived cultural contexts. It comprises a historical component in the relation between new cultural productions and earlier ones and includes a notion of activity, by any consumer...

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M. Keith Booker (essay date winter 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Booker, M. Keith. “Fiction and ‘Real Life’: Vargas Llosa's The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta and Nabokov's The Real Life of Sebastian Knight.Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 35, no. 2 (winter 1994): 111-27.

[In the following essay, Booker compares Vargas Llosa and Vladimir Nabokov's approaches to the depiction of realism in The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta and The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, respectively, asserting that both works “are centrally concerned with the relationship between fiction and reality.”]

Both The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta and The Real Life of Sebastian Knight are centrally...

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Paul Berman (review date 6-20 June 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Berman, Paul. “The Novelist as Politician.” New Leader 77, no. 6 (6-20 June 1994): 5.

[In the following review, Berman asserts that A Fish in the Water, though well-written, demonstrates that Vargas Llosa is “better suited to being a novelist” than a politician.]

A novelist who runs for president is a hyphenated personality, and A Fish in the Water, Mario Vargas Llosa's account of his 1990 bid for the presidency of Peru, is a hyphenated book. The even-numbered chapters recount his doomed campaign, the odd-numbered chapters recount his childhood and education up to the age of 22, when he departed provincial Peru for Paris and the big world....

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Raquel Romeu (essay date 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Romeu, Raquel. “Influence of Climate on the Cultures of the Jungle as Perceived by Two Latin American Novelists.” In Climate and Literature: Reflections of Environment, edited by Janet Pérez and Wendell Aycock, pp. 107-13. Lubbock, Tex.: Texas Tech University Press, 1995.

[In the following essay, Romeu examines how the influence of the equatorial climate, experienced by Vargas Llosa and author Alejo Carpentier during separate jungle expeditions, impacted their writing in The Storyteller and The Lost Steps, respectively.]

Differences in [climate] patterns from place to place, and changes in them from time to time, have...

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Richard Eder (review date 11 February 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Eder, Richard. Review of Death in the Andes, by Mario Vargas Llosa. Los Angeles Times Book Review (11 February 1996): 3.

[In the following review, Eder describes Death in the Andes as “less successful and more awkward” than Real Life of Alejandro Mayta but notes that Death in the Andes is “in some ways more haunting.”]

In the Andean regions of South America, travel is by altitudes; new worlds, climates and cultures are discovered not by going north, south, east or west but by going up or down. Those who live at the temperate altitudes (sea level to 4,000 or 5,000 feet) experience physical and psychological malaise when...

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Doris Sommer (essay date spring 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Sommer, Doris. “About-Face: The Talker Turns.” Boundary 2 23, no. 1 (spring 1996): 91-133.

[In the following essay, Sommer expounds on the implications of the opening of Vargas Llosa's Storyteller, in which the narrator expresses frustration at his inability to escape his native Peru.]

The first sentence of Mario Vargas Llosa's El hablador (The Storyteller)1 gives a start, a shock, a double take, as the narrator misses a step to gasp with surprise. Facing him is precisely the thing he had escaped. “I came to Firenze to forget Peru and the Peruvians for a while, and behold, the damned country forced itself upon me this...

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Gene H. Bell-Villada (review date 1 March 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Bell-Villada, Gene H. Review of Death in the Andes, by Mario Vargas Llosa. America 176, no. 7 (1 March 1997): 36-7.

[In the following review of Death in the Andes, Bell-Villada argues that Vargas Llosa “wrote better books when he was a man of the left,” noting that his “greatest works” were written when the author was a sympathizer with 1960s radicalism.]

Few would admit it, but Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa wrote better books when he was a man of the left. His greatest works—The Time of the Hero, The Green House and the truly magisterial Conversation in the Cathedral—all date from the 1960's, when he openly...

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Mario Vargas Llosa and Luis Rebaza-Soraluz (interview date spring 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Vargas Llosa, Mario, and Luis Rebaza-Soraluz. “Demons and Lies: Motivation and Form in Mario Vargas Llosa.” Review of Contemporary Fiction 17, no. 1 (spring 1997): 15-24.

[In the following interview, Vargas Llosa discusses the influence of history and other authors on his work as well as explaining his personal view of fiction as the “secret reality.”]

[Rebaza-Soraluz]: In García Márquez: Historia de un deicidio (García Márquez: Story of a Deicide), a book whose circulation—if I am not mistaken—you helped minimize, you developed your theories of “inner demons” and the “total novel.” What course have these ideas...

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Efraín Kristal (essay date spring 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Kristal, Efraín. “Captain Pantoja and the Special Service: A Transitional Novel.” Review of Contemporary Fiction 17, no. 1 (spring 1997): 52-7.

[In the following essay, Kristal examines Captain Pantoja and the Special Service as an illustration of Vargas Llosa's period of “artistic transition” in the early 1970s, during which the author began to move away from rigidly rule-abiding characters to fanatics who challenge any impediment to their fervent beliefs.]

Mario Vargas Llosa's reflections on socialism have always informed the themes of his major novels. In the 1960s, when he was an enthusiastic supporter of the Cuban revolution, his...

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Elizabeth Dipple (essay date spring 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Dipple, Elizabeth. “Outside, Looking In: Aunt Julia and Vargas Llosa.” Review of Contemporary Fiction 17, no. 1 (spring 1997): 58-69.

[In the following essay, Dipple discusses Vargas Llosa's ambivalence in accepting the classification of much of his fiction as autobiographical.]

In Mario Vargas Llosa's late 1980s novel The Storyteller, his typical and frequent narrator, who is a thinly fictionalized Vargas Llosa, beckons the reader to join him in Florence during an undated stay there, while Vargas Llosa, pursuing his European agenda, reads Dante, Petrarch, and Machiavelli in the tourist-ridden summer heat. The story that he draws us into, after...

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Luis Rebaza-Soraluz (essay date spring 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Rebaza-Soraluz, Luis. “Out of Failure Comes Success: Autobiography and Testimony in A Fish in the Water.Review of Contemporary Fiction 17, no. 1 (spring 1997): 70-5.

[In the following essay, Rebaza-Soraluz criticizes A Fish in the Water for failing to discuss Vargas Llosa's personal experiences during the Boom period in Latin American literature, concluding that the memoir actually “functions as a novel.”]

Between the mid-1950s and mid-1970s, Latin America produced an extraordinary number of novels. They were soon recognized, edited, published, and translated by and for European and North American intellectual and cultural markets. The...

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Richard Eder (review date 20 May 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Eder, Richard. “An Erotic Trip That Traverses Too-Familiar Territory.” Los Angeles Times (20 May 1998): E6.

[In the following review, Eder asserts that The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto offers “stylish turns of phrase but little other excitement,” claiming that the novel is merely “Rigoberto, or perhaps Vargas Llosa, taking his thoughts for a walk.”]

Mario Vargas Llosa seemed to depart from his fictions of Latin American darkness when he wrote In Praise of the Stepmother a few years ago. It is the elegant and highly erotic tale of Don Rigoberto: timid and proper in public and lush keeper of a pleasure garden in the harem-like privacy of...

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Carole Angier (review date 25 July 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Angier, Carole. “The Purest Pornography There Is.” Spectator 281, no. 8868 (25 July 1998): 32.

[In the following review, Angier asserts that, despite Vargas Llosa's skillful prose, The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto is merely a work of literary “pornography.”]

When is pornography not pornography? When it is well written, Mario Vargas Llosa said in a recent interview. That is tempting the gods, or at least the reviewers. Is The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto well written? Is that enough to stop it from being pornography? And does it matter if it is? The answers are yes, no and yes.

Vargas Llosa's arrogance is justified (but...

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David William Foster (review date fall 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Foster, David William. Review of The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto, by Mario Vargas Llosa. Review of Contemporary Fiction 18, no. 3 (fall 1998): 233.

[In the following review, Foster offers a positive assessment of The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto, calling the novel “a masterful exploration of the abyss of erotic endeavors.”]

Erotic fiction in Latin America remains confined to the margins of cultural production. While the reader may find strategically placed erotic encounters in “mainline” fiction, the idea of focusing a work on the erotic is still not widely appreciated. [The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto] is a notable exception: a...

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Deborah Cohn (essay date January-June 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Cohn, Deborah. “‘Regreso a la barbarie’: Intertextual Paradigms for Peru's Descent into Chaos in Lituma en los Andes.Latin American Literary Review 28, no. 55 (January-June 2000): 27-45.

[In the following essay, Cohn observes that “intertextuality pervades” Lituma en los Andes, asserting that an effective reading of the novel considers its political and social backdrop “as well as Vargas Llosa's interpretation of its significance from an evolutionary standpoint.”]

In Jorge Luis Borges' “La muerte y la brújula,” a story of murder, sleuthing, and revenge in Buenos Aires, a single character controls the course of the...

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Mario Vargas Llosa, Jorge Villanueva Chang, and Jimena Pinilla Cisneros (interview date June 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Vargas Llosa, Mario, Jorge Villanueva Chang, and Jimena Pinilla Cisneros. “An Interview with Mario Vargas Llosa.” World Literature Today 76, no. 1 (winter 2002): 65-9.

[In the following interview—originally conducted in June 2000 and published in the June 24, 2000, edition of El Comercio—Vargas Llosa discusses the implications of the computerization of literature, the most successful novels of the past century, and the Boom period in Latin American literature.]

Since the early 1960s, Peru's Mario Vargas Llosa (b. 1936) has been regarded as one of Latin America's leading writers, a novelist whose books can be read as a...

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Seymour Menton (review date summer 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Menton, Seymour. Review of La fiesta del chivo, by Mario Vargas Llosa. World Literature Today 74, no. 3 (summer 2000): 676.

[In the following review, Menton offers praise for Vargas Llosa's La fiesta del chivo, ranking it among the author's four best novels.]

The publication of still another high-quality novel in the postrevolutionary era (1989-) may encourage some cultural-studies devotees to reconsider their hostility toward “elite literature.” Along with Carlos Fuentes, Abel Posse, Sergio Ramírez, Julio Escoto, and many others who have published outstanding works in the past decade, Mario Vargas Llosa has, with his latest effort, written a...

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Gene H. Bell-Villada (review date 9 November 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Bell-Villada, Gene H. “Thirty-One Years of Solitude.” Commonweal 128, no. 19 (9 November 2001): 20-1.

[In the following review, Bell-Villada asserts that The Feast of the Goat, Vargas Llosa's chronicle of the tyrannical reign of Rafael Leónidas Trujillo as leader of the Dominican Republic, “will most surely become the book about the long Trujillo nightmare and the ongoing, sordid aftermath.”]

“The Goat” was one of the popular, clandestine nicknames of Rafael Leónidas Trujillo, the grotesque generalissimo who skillfully combined humiliation and terror, bribery and blood in tyrannizing the Dominican Republic from 1930 until 1961, when...

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Lynne Sharon Schwartz (essay date November-December 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Schwartz, Lynne Sharon. “Sensationalism and Sensibility.” New Leader 84, no. 6 (November-December 2001): 30-1.

[In the following essay, Schwartz takes issue with the recurring “scenes of mayhem, murder, rape, and mutilation” in Vargas Llosa's novels, particularly The Feast of the Goat.]

For several decades Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa has been outspoken on behalf of free speech and against tyranny, which he knew as a young man in his homeland. In 1990 he ran for the presidency of Peru on a liberal platform, unsuccessfully. He has served as president of PEN International, the writers' organization. He loves to write about rebels and revolutions....

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Enrique Krauze (essay date 11 February 2002)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Krauze, Enrique. “Exorcisms.” New Republic 226, no. 5 (11 February 2002): 28-34.

[In the following essay, Krauze remarks on the political climate of Peru circa 1990 and Vargas Llosa's influence in Peruvian politics.]

“There are no limits to deterioration: it can always be worse.” This observation by Alejandro Mayta, the disenchanted guerrilla fighter of Mario Vargas Llosa's novel The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta, who returns to his birthplace after many years, freed of ghosts but devoid of hope, came to mind in March, 1990. I was in Lima to participate in a conference on “The Culture of Freedom,” a meeting of writers and intellectuals that...

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Sebastian Shakespeare (review date 25 March 2002)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Shakespeare, Sebastian. Review of The Feast of the Goat, by Mario Vargas Llosa. New Statesman 131, no. 4550 (25 March 2002): 57.

[In the following review, Shakespeare offers a mixed assessment of The Feast of the Goat, noting that “even if this is not a great novel, Vargas Llosa is still a great storyteller.”]

Mario Vargas Llosa's new novel [The Feast of the Goat] concerns the last days of the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo before he was assassinated in 1961. Mixing fiction and fact, the book offers a masterly portrayal of this most emblematic of tyrants, who ruled his country for 31 years. It is a miracle that this emperor wore any...

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Philip Hensher (review date 30 March 2002)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Hensher, Philip. “Anatomy of a Tyrant.” Spectator 288, no. 9060 (30 March 2002): 38-9.

[In the following review, Hensher praises The Feast of the Goat as a “ugly, mesmerising, masterly novel” and comments that Vargas Llosa should be nominated for a Nobel Prize.]

This ugly, mesmerising, masterly novel [The Feast of the Goat] is as steeped in facts as Macbeth was in blood. Nothing could be further from the popular idea of the South American novel, and nothing could be a more remarkable demonstration of its strengths, obsessions and direction. It is the story of a terrible crisis in a small country's history, and, telling that terrible story,...

(The entire section is 1268 words.)

Gregory Howard (review date spring 2002)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Howard, Gregory. Review of The Feast of the Goat, by Mario Vargas Llosa. Review of Contemporary Fiction 22, no. 1 (spring 2002): 120-21.

[In the following review, Howard describes The Feast of the Goat as “a visceral lesson in the complex synergy of political intrigue, sex, machismo, and history.”]

According to Mario Vargas Llosa, good fiction makes people uneasy. By that standard, his Feast of the Goat is a masterpiece, both to the degree it is sure to make readers squirm and for the multitude of reasons it gives them to do so. Set in the Dominican Republic, this triple-plotted novel is at once a fictionalized character study of Rafael...

(The entire section is 343 words.)

Rafael Torch (review date spring 2002)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Torch, Rafael. Review of The Feast of the Goat, by Mario Vargas Llosa. Antioch Review 60, no. 2 (spring 2002): 342-43.

[In the following review, Torch identifies The Feast of the Goat as “a reminder of the struggle that still exists in and out of the Latin American Hemisphere.”]

Full of the tremendous power of the Latin American epic, Vargas Llosa once again delivers a sweeping statement about the turbulent history of Latin America [in The Feast of the Goat]. Here he explores the final days, in 1961, of the dictator Rafael Trujillo's 31-year regime in the Dominican Republic, and the people he had deceived most, his citizens, who...

(The entire section is 369 words.)

Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 March 2003)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Review of The Language of Passion: Selected Commentary, by Mario Vargas Llosa. Kirkus Reviews 71, no. 5 (1 March 2003): 371.

[In the following review, the critic commends Vargas Llosa's skill with the journalistic form in The Language of Passion.]

“Novelist” just begins to cover the ground, for like many other Latin American writers of his generation—he was born in Lima in 1937 and began to write professionally in Spain in the late '50s—Vargas Llosa cut his teeth writing for daily papers and magazines. He continues to contribute to such periodicals; most of the pieces gathered in this exemplary volume, [The Language of Passion: Selected...

(The entire section is 351 words.)

Publishers Weekly (review date 3 March 2003)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Review of The Language of Passion: Selected Commentary, by Mario Vargas Llosa. Publishers Weekly 250, no. 9 (3 March 2003): 61.

[In the following review, the critic praises The Language of Passion and argues that “these essays should widen Vargas Llosa's appeal considerably, allowing new readers to share his passion.”]

In the United States, Vargas Llosa is best known for his novels (In Praise of the Stepmother, etc.), but in Spanish-speaking countries, he's also noted as a thoughtful, intense newspaper columnist. His essays on the machinations of countries like Argentina and his native Peru have shed light on their politics and provided...

(The entire section is 306 words.)

Sebastian Smee (review date 15 November 2003)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Smee, Sebastian. “Gauguin and His Gritty Granny.” Spectator 293, no. 9145 (15 November 2003): 54.

[In the following review, Smee lauds Vargas Llosa's narrative techniques in The Way to Paradise, calling the work “elegant and involving.”]

Sex has always been a stumbling block for Utopian-minded social reformers. They are attracted to the ideal prospect of ‘free love’ but tripped up by a tendency, seemingly inherent, for men to exploit women if their sexual drive is not held in check by so-called ‘bourgeois’ customs.

Mario Vargas Llosa's elegant and involving new novel [The Way to Paradise] is structured...

(The entire section is 698 words.)

Jonathan Heawood (review date 24 November 2003)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Heawood, Jonathan. “Past Master.” New Statesman 132, no. 4665 (24 November 2003): 55.

[In the following review, Heawood criticizes Vargas Llosa's unsure and anxious characterizations in The Way to Paradise.]

The older he gets, the more difficult Mario Vargas Llosa becomes. It's not that his work is more obscure or challenging, but he makes things increasingly hard on himself. He writes about historical figures but seems unsure of his ability to fictionalise them. At every step of The Way to Paradise, he reaches out anxiously towards his characters, Paul Gauguin and Gauguin's grandmother, the social reformer Flora Tristan, and addresses them directly....

(The entire section is 627 words.)

Further Reading

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)


Abrams, Elliott. Review of A Fish in the Water: A Memoir, by Mario Vargas Llosa. American Spectator 27, no. 9 (September 1994): 68-70.

Abrams predicts that Vargas Llosa's autobiographical A Fish in the Water “will not disappoint fans of his novels,” concluding that the author “emerges here as the brilliant writer he has always been.”

Axelrod, Mark. Review of Letters to a Young Novelist, by Mario Vargas Llosa. Review of Contemporary Fiction 23, no. 1 (spring 2003): 165.

Axelrod offers a positive assessment of Vargas Llosa's insightful literary criticism in Letters to a Young...

(The entire section is 373 words.)