Other literary forms

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In addition to his novels, Mario Vargas Llosa (VAHR-gahs YOH-sah) has written a number of works of literary criticism. Two of his best-known critiques are Gabriel García Márquez: Historia de un deicidio (1971) and La orgía perpetua: Flaubert y “Madame Bovary” (1975; The Perpetual Orgy: Flaubert and “Madame Bovary,” 1986). In 2004, he published La tentación de lo imposible: Victor Hugo y “Los miserables” (The Temptation of the Impossible: Victor Hugo and “Les Misérables,” 2007), in which he extolls Hugo as a timeless author. He has also written several works of short fiction, most of which are included in the collection Los jefes (1959; The Cubs, and Other Stories, 1979). In 1981, he published his first play, La señorita de Tacna. His other works of drama include La Chunga (pb. 1987; English translation, 1990) and El loco de los balcones (pb. 1993). In Cartas a un joven novelista (1997; Letters to a Young Novelist, 2002), Llosa outlines novelistic structure using examples from James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) and from the fiction of Marcel Proust. His other works of nonfiction include Claudio Bravo: Paintings and Drawings (1997; with Paul Bowles), about the Chilean-born painter, and Making Waves (1996), a collection of essays on a wide variety of topics. In 1993, he published a memoir primarily concerning his campaign in 1990 for the Peruvian presidency, Pez en el agua (A Fish in the Water: A Memoir, 1994).


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In the course of an energetic life, Mario Vargas Llosa has created an image of the writer as activist, and both his works and his life conform to his perception of that role. A prolific writer, he is also a constant traveler as a member of literary juries, newspaper commentator, peripatetic professor of Latin American fiction at English and North American universities, soccer enthusiast, and investigator of Amazonian texts. During the years spanned by his career, Vargas Llosa’s fiction has outlived the theory that the sudden explosion of vitality in Latin American fiction in the 1960’s was a mere “boom.”

Vargas Llosa explores new areas of reality in each successive novel. The enthusiasm that characterizes his appreciation for Gustave Flaubert, William Faulkner, the novels of chivalry, and the fiction of his peer Gabriel García Márquez has developed new affinities within the cultural milieu of Latin America, a continent not always open to such influences in the past. Vargas Llosa eloquently decries the pejorative influence of politics on literature, and he simultaneously articulates political opinions that are not always the most popular; he has both supported and excoriated the Cuban Revolution. The Sartrean formulation of praxis could find no clearer illustration than the adventurous life of Vargas Llosa.

Vargas Llosa was a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center and has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the Premio de la Crítica Española (1963 and 1967), the Ritz Paris Hemingway Award (1985), the Cervantes Prize for literature (1994), the Planeta Prize (1994), the Jerusalem Prize (1995), El Sol de Peru (2001), the Nabokov Prize (2002), and the Roger Caillois Prize (2003).

Discussion Topics

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How have Mario Vargas Llosa’s politics changed over the years? Can he still be described as being “leftist” politically?

How was Vargas Llosa associated with Latin American writers of his generation?

How have critics generally perceived Vargas Llosa’s style?

What is the relation of art to life in Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter?

What is the attitude toward the military school in The Time of the Hero?

What is the nature of the rebellion in The War of the End of the World?

What role do Urania Cabral’s memories play in The Feast of the Goat?

How are the personalities of the two leaders, Rafael Trujillo and Joaquín Balaguer, different in The Feast of the Goat?


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Booker, M. Keith. Vargas Llosa Among the Postmodernists. Gainesville: University Presses of Florida, 1994. One of the most comprehensive treatments of Vargas Llosa’s work. Includes chapters such as “The Reader as Voyeur” and “Literature and Modification.”

Castro-Klaren, Sara. Understanding Mario Vargas Llosa. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1990. Offers an insightful analysis of Vargas Llosa’s major works of fiction and views the works in their political and cultural context.

Cevallos, Francisco Javier. “García Márquez, Vargas Llosa, and Literary Criticism: Looking Back Prematurely.” Latin American Research Review 26, no. 1 (1991): 266-275. An interesting article about Vargas Llosa and his peer Gabriel García Márquez.

Farnsworth, Elizabeth. “Peru: A Nation in Crisis.” World Policy Journal 5, no. 4 (Fall, 1988): 726-746. A helpful overview of the many challenges Peru faced as of mid-1988, including details of the opposition’s 1990 electoral strategies. Farnsworth examines Vargas Llosa’s United Left.

Farnsworth, Elizabeth. “The Temptation of Mario.” Mother Jones 14, no. 1 (January, 1989): 22-28. A smartly written popular biography of Vargas Llosa, set in the middle of his presidential campaign.

Gerdes, Dick. Mario Vargas Llosa. Boston: Twayne, 1985. A varied and useful collection of critical essays by Gerdes; includes a chronology of events and a bibliography.

Guillermoprieto, Alma. Looking for History: Dispatches from Latin America. New York: Pantheon, 2001. Discusses Vargas Llosa’s political career.

Kerr, R. A. Mario Vargas Llosa: Critical Essays on Characterization. Potomac, Md.: Scripta Humanistica, 1990. Offers a varied and in-depth study of characterization in Vargas Llosa’s major works.

Kristal, Efra’n. Temptation of the Word: The Novels of Mario Vargas Llosa. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1999. Kristal examines the overarching reasons for Vargas Llosa’s political passions and divides Vargas Llosa’s writing career into sections corresponding to results of his ideas on capitalism and the decline of the Cuban Revolution.

Lutes, Todd Oakley. Shipwreck and Deliverance: Politics, Culture and Modernity in the Works of Octavio Paz, Gabriel García Márquez and Mario Vargas Llosa. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 2003. A comparative study of three of the most important Latin American writers of the twentieth century.

Moses, Michael Valdez. The Novel and the Globalization of Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. Discusses the cultural context of Vargas Llosa’s major works of fiction.

Williams, Raymond L. Mario Vargas Llosa. New York: Ungar, 1986. Provides a detailed overview of the author’s life and work.

Williams, Raymond Leslie, William Gass, and Michel Rybalka. “The Boom Twenty Years Later: An Interview with Mario Vargas Llosa.” Latin American Literary Review 15, no. 29 (January/June, 1987): 201-206. Among many interviews with the author, this one is particularly noteworthy because of Vargas Llosa’s candid comments concerning his own work.


Critical Essays