LITERATURE

Mario Vargas Llosa: the ‘Rolling Stone’ of Spanish-language literature

Around 400 guests celebrate the Nobel winner’s 80th birthday at a Madrid ceremony

From left to right: Mario Vargas Llosa, Isabel Preysler and EL PAÍS chairman Juan Luis Cebrián.
From left to right: Mario Vargas Llosa, Isabel Preysler and EL PAÍS chairman Juan Luis Cebrián.Carlos Rosillo

At previous birthday celebrations, Mario Vargas Llosa had said that when he turned 80, he would like to get a Great Dane so he might stroke its head while watching the sunsets in the twilight of his life.

On Monday, the Peruvian-born, Spanish-nationalized writer saw his dream fulfilled.

At a birthday party with 400 guests that included former heads of government, Vargas Llosa received the dog as a gift from his partner, Isabel Preysler.

Guests at the event included two former Spanish prime ministers, the Socialist Felipe González and the conservative José María Aznar

But the Nobel winner has postponed his plans for evening sea-gazing. In fact, he plans to keep working harder than ever on new novels yet to be written.

In a speech at the birthday dinner, which was held in Madrid, his eldest son Álvaro Vargas Llosa – a writer and journalist himself – described his father as “a Rolling Stone of literature.”

Sign up to our newsletter!

The EL PAÍS English Edition is launching a weekly newsletter. Sign up today to receive a selection of our best stories in your inbox every Saturday morning. For full details about how to subscribe, click here.

The idea is that only people like him, or like Mick Jagger, are presumed to retain enough energy to keep producing creative new work at this stage in life. Earlier this month, Vargas Llosa released Cinco Esquinas (or, Five corners), the latest novel in a literary career that began when he was under 20 years old.

In a speech of his own, Vargas Llosa thanked everyone who came to Madrid to celebrate with him, especially those who came from far away. The writer had words of gratitude for his Cuban and Venezuelan guests – the parents of jailed Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López, and Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez among others – and expressed hope that their countries will soon enjoy freedom and that he will be there to see it.

Famous faces

Other famous faces at the event included two former Spanish prime ministers, the Socialist Felipe González and the conservative José María Aznar, as well as Colombian ex-president Álvaro Uribe and ex-Chilean president Sebastián Piñera.

Sitting with Vargas Llosa at his table were his publishers, Nuria Cabutí of Random House and Pilar Reyes of Alfaguara; EL PAÍS chairman Juan Luis Cebrián and editor-in-chief Antonio Caño; Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk and Gregorio Marañón, president of the Teatro Real, the Madrid opera house on whose board Vargas Llosa sits.

In a speech that surveyed a lifetime of political activism and dissidence, Vargas Llosa recalled how he once embraced left-wing ideologies that ultimately brought ruin to countries such as Cuba and Venezuela, and how he later dropped these beliefs in favor of more liberal views.

The more literary segment of his address was aimed at fellow writer and Nobel winner Orhan Pamuk, who was scheduled to join him on Tuesday at a panel discussion organized by the International Foundation for Freedom.

English version by Susana Urra.