The Hispanic world unanimously celebrated the decision on Thursday to award the Nobel Prize in Literature to Mario Vargas Llosa, the Peruvian-born author of The Feast of the Goat and The War of the End of the World. Among those who congratulated the 74-year-old writer was the Peruvian president, Alan García, who described the decision as "an act of justice."
Vargas Llosa at one point entered politics himself and ran for the presidency of Peru in 1990, losing against Alberto Fujimori. Although he has since said he would not repeat the experience, his extensive writings have always included incisive political commentary. Vargas Llosa, who is a regular columnist for EL PAÍS, told this newspaper that the victory came as a surprise and "a great joy" to be shared "with so many friends."
"I have always felt great anguish at the thought of those writers who lose their fire and become silent"
"When we got the call, Patricia [his wife] thought it might be a prank," he said. In statements to the Swedish news agency TT, he added that he thought he'd been completely forgotten by the Swedish Academy. "I didn't even know the award was being announced this month." He also told a Peruvian radio station that when the call came through early in the morning, he was sitting in his apartment in New York, where he is spending a semester teaching at Princeton University before returning to Spain, which has been his permanent home since his political defeat in Peru.
The Academy decided to favor Vargas Llosa "for his cartography of the structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual's resistance, revolt and defeat." Until now, the Nobel had been the last major prize to escape Vargas Llosa, who is a member of the Royal Spanish Academy and the recipient of scores of awards, from the Cervantes Prize to the Prince of Asturias. After years as a runner-up, the author of contemporary classics such as Green House and Conversation in the Cathedral finally joins fellow Latin American literary giants Gabriel García Márquez (Nobel in 1982) and Octavio Paz (1990).
Together with these and other authors, such as Julio Cortázar or Carlos Fuentes, Vargas Llosa helped fuel a literary revolution in the 1960s. His work has been translated into 25 languages, a figure that will soon grow with the addition of Chinese, Croat, Georgian and Estonian.
News of the victory spread like wildfire at the Frankfurt Book Fair on Thursday, where in just a matter of seconds everyone converged on the stand of the Carmen Balcells agency, which represents Vargas Llosa. For a while, there was nobody to see to the visitors: both agents were glued to their cellphones, trying to reach their boss Balcells, who in turn had just received the news straight from the Academy.
"No photos, no champagne, nothing. We have nothing to celebrate with," sighed Karina Pons, one of the agents in Frankfurt. "What can I say, it's amazing," said Balcells herself in a telephone interview 15 minutes after the announcement. "I wouldn't change the feeling of having a Nobel for all the money in the world."
Juan González, head of content for the Santillana group, which publishes Vargas Llosa's books in Spanish, said that they would try to move forward the release date for his latest work, El sueño del celta (or, The Celt's dream), initially set to launch on November 3 with a print run of 140,000 copies. "That number will now rise, and we will make sure the Spanish launch coincides with the Latin American one," he said.
Last August, Vargas Llosa said in an interview with EL PAÍS that "thinking about [the Nobel Prize] is bad for style." "I have always felt great anguish at the thought of those writers who lose their fire and become silent," he said back then about acclaimed authors who tend to stagnate. "I would be very unhappy if I was unable to work. With time, you lose faculties, I'm afraid that is so, but you still need to stay clear-headed and maintain a critical spirit. Losing your spirit is a disease that many writers contract. It's like becoming a statue while still alive."