Nobel-winning author Mario Vargas Llosa’s favorite part of creating fiction is when a novel “emancipates itself” and the writer becomes a mere intermediary, he said at the National Book Festival on the National Mall September 23.
“What I really like in writing novels is when I no longer have control, when it emancipates itself from the author…This is the moment when writing becomes fascinating, a mystery — the writer is the (inter)mediary,” the Peruvian-born author, journalist, and former presidential candidate told the standing room only audience.
“Writing is very difficult, but at the same time, a fantastic pleasure,” he said at the Library of Congress annual event.
“When I write fiction, I use my knowledge, research, and also my emotions, my instincts, my ghosts — the irrational parts of my personality are a very important part of my fiction.”
His combination of rational and irrational are sublimely evident is his more than 30 works, ranging from his virtual fables of Latin American revolutions such as “The Feast of the Goat” (Dominican Republic) and “The War of the End of the World” (Brazil), to his witty and wild “Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter”.
Vargas Llosa was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 2010 “for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt and defeat.”
All of that is epitomized in his first post-Nobel novel, “The Dream of the Celt”. It’s about Sir Roger Casement, hanged for treason in the Tower of London in 1916. The British consul had reported colonial abuses in the Belgian Congo and in Peru — and then participated in the Easter Rising Irish Nationalist revolt in Dublin. Sir Roger’s diaries exposing him as a homosexual helped seal his fate.
Vargas Llosa is often mentioned with Gabriel García Márquez of Colombia, a former friend who won the literature Nobel in 1982, and with Octavio Paz of Mexico, who won the prize in 1990. Vargas Llosa became the first Peruvian to win the Nobel Prize for literature.
Vargas Llosa is also the only Nobelist ever known to cry during their acceptance speech.
“Usually, I control my emotions very well, but when I talked about all I owe my wife, I started to cry,” he confessed to the National Book Festival crowd. “All I do is write. She does all the rest, taking care of our three children — a lot, a lot.”
What was it like to win the highest literature prize? “The first week’s like a fairy tale, followed by a year that’s a nightmare. I was under such pressure to go to book fairs (big laugh from the book fest audience), to universities, to be interviewed by journalists from all over the world,” he complained. “It’s an interruption. For several months I was unable to write or even read.”
And what was it like to lose the presidential election in Peru in 1990? “I think I was very lucky. For five years, I wouldn’t have written one word of literature, just a lot of political speeches.” Another laugh from the Washington audience during this election year.
He said he “never had political ambitions. I was pushed to be a candidate because of the democratic, liberal reforms I had been advocating.”
He lost to Alberto Fujimori, whose authoritarian reign lasted from 1990 until late 2000, when he fled during one of many scandals. After losing his long battles against extradition, Fujimori now is serving four concurrent jail terms for abuse of power, human rights abuses, and other crimes.
Sounds like the Fujimori story would be excellent “cartography” for the writer to mix with his “ghosts”, and other irrational aspects, after writing an autobiographical account in “A Fish in the Water”.
In that memoir, and in the talk September 23, he spoke of discovering at age ten that his father was alive, and leaving his mother to live with his father. Becoming a writer “was a way to resist his totalitarian, brutal authority, which I hated…so I became what he hated most, a writer.”
As Vargas Llosa said in his Nobel speech, “Literature not only submerges us in the dream of beauty and happiness but alerts us to every kind of oppression.”