The life of Peruvian-born author Mario Vargas Llosa is like the story of the prodigal son.
Peru’s most famous author was on Thursday awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature. He has lived and worked for half his adult life in Europe and North America, winning numerous prizes along the way, among them the 1995 Cervantes Prize and the 1996 German Peace Prize sponsored by the German publishers and booksellers association.
As a result, the author is often referred to as a “European-thinking” writer.
But only three of Vargas Llosa’s numerous novels are not related to Peru. These are ‘The War at the End of the World’ and his two most recent works, ‘The Feast of the Goat: A Novel’ and ‘The Way to Paradise: A Novel’. Everything else by the Madrid-based author, who by his own account lived in more than 40 homes in his life, was about life in his native country.
‘The Way to Paradise: A Novel’, published in Buenos Aires by Alfaguara, is about the lives of painter Paul Gauguin and his grandmother, Flora Tristan, a 19th century socialist and feminist. It asks questions about finding paradise and whether this would be best achieved through the establishment of an equitable society or through a withdrawal to a primitive world.
“Whenever people have sought paradise, they have found hell,” Vargas Llosa wrote in an article published in Germany’s Die Zeit newspaper. In the same article, Vargas Llosa — a supporter of the US- led war in Iraq — said he did not believe in world peace.
In Peru, where he was a centre-right candidate for president in 1990, Vargas Llosa is known for speaking out. He campaigned for a settlement of territorial disputes between Bolivia, Chile and Peru and for beefing up the fight against corruption.
Vargas Llosa was born on March 28, 1936 in Arequipa, Peru. His upbringing in an upper-class family is evident even today and he makes no attempt to hide it. As a law and literature student, he was a member of the communist-allied underground group Cahuide and became acquainted with the repressive apparatus of the regime of General Manuel Odria, who ruled Peru for eight years after seizing power in a military coup in 1948.
The subject of Vargas Llosa’s dissertation was Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who has since become his enemy on both the political and personal levels.
Two dictatorships in Peru and the regime of Fidel Castro in Cuba influenced Vargas Llosa, who grew away from leftist rebels and evolved into a representative of the liberal middle class.
He lived in Madrid from 1958 to 1974, completing his doctorate there. He has had two wives, both of whom were his relatives. At the age of 19 he married his 32-year-old aunt, Julia Urquidi. They lived together for nine years in a union that later provided the foundation for his novel ‘Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter’. He remains in his second marriage to his cousin Patricia.
Vargas Llosa became famous in 1963 with the publication of his first novel, ‘The Time of the Hero’. The book touched on his experience at the cadet school Leoncio Prado in Lima and is an impressive portrayal of an authoritarian system.
His brief foray into politics began in 1987 when he opposed leftist president Alan Garcia. In 1990 after his surprising defeat by Alberto Fujimori, he became a sharp critic of the dictatorial style of the president, who was born of Japanese parents. Fearing expatriation, he applied for Spanish citizenship, which was granted in 1993.