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The Remarkable Life and Work of Mario Vargas Llosa

By Abigail Wheetley. Mar 28, 2016. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Legendary Authors, Nobel Prize Winners

Mario Vargas Llosa may be one of the finest writers of his generation, but that is not all the man does. His passion for language is coupled with his passion for book collecting and a desire to do great works as well as write them. Among numerous other endeavors, he is finding his place on the stage, and he has recently donated two massive collections to the Arequipa Regional Library. Along with his ongoing commitment to donate further from his personal collection, this donation brings the total number of volumes into the tens of thousands.  

a_fish_in_the_water_llosa.jpgThe books are part of a larger tour that are open to students, including school children. In this way, Llosa will be influencing future scholars and current lovers of the book as a physical object. Llosa, unsurprisingly, is concerned with the influence of technology and the changing ways that information and culture are created and shared: “I hope that the future youth of Colombia, of Latin America, and Spain will not allow the artificial brain and the robot to steal the fundamental pleasure of creating stories, of inventing different worlds, and to live fantasy as if it were reality. This entertainment, this fire of imagination has been one of the most important factors in human evolution, in the de-animalization of man,” said Llosa.

Llosa has had a remarkable career. He is a Nobel Prize in Literature winner and found fame and notoriety through the works he created in the 1960s such as Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter and The Time of the Hero. This last title was an example of Llosa’s role as political activist. The plot revolves around life at a military school, and though it was burned, it wasn’t banned.

Hero.jpgThe subtlety of literature gave Llosa license to communicate through his writing what others working in a mass communication capacity might not have been able to do under a dictatorship. The Time of the Hero became a bestseller, and his message came through.

Though his career spans decades and he is no longer young, for Llosa this is inconsequential: “The human beings I have admired the most are those holding out until the end and those for whom death is like an accident that surprises them in action. I would like to die while I am still alive.”

And while he is alive, he is working. In 1990 he ran for president, and though he lost to Alberto Fujimori, this ambitionthe way he thinks above and outside of the box and looks for places to make his mark and have his voice heardis one of the staples of the man who continues to reinvent himself while staying productive and true to his art. In his own words: "I was fairly vulnerable in that campaign, because I didn't lie. I said exactly what we were going to do.” His genuine nature is something apparent to anyone who is fortunate enough to encounter him.

mario_vargas_llosa-1.jpgWhile doing research in New York City, he was befriended by Robert Dumont, a librarian and fellow writer, who was fascinated with the writer’s work and his ability to concentrate, unaffected by distractions, for hours at a time. Their interactions resulted in a behind the scenes tour of the Berg Collection and the two of them shared an experience that confirms the love that Llosa has for rare books and primary sources.  First editions of Don Quixote, a copy of A Christmas Carol owned by Dickens, annotated with notes and directions, a portable writing desk owned by the Brontë sisters, a typescript of The Heart of Darkness...all met with a childlike fascination from Llosa. In the collection that he donated, his own annotationslike those of Dickensmark up the work and create a conversation on the page that will last generations and inform future researchers.

Upon receivingapparently very unexpectedlythe Nobel Prize in Literature, Llosa said during a press conference that he felt that this award created evidence of “recognition of the importance of the Latin American Literature which in the last decades has been acquiring a kind of citizenship in the world of modern culture and modern literature,” and that after winning the award his plans were simply to keep writing. In fact, he would “keep writing until the last day of [his] life.” This is the voice and these are the words of a man who values art and the pursuit of the creation of that art above all things. His personal success, for him, is a shared recognition of his culture, and it is that which he celebrates, rather than personal victory.

Not satisfied with writing, accolades, teaching, politics, and activism, Llosa became an actor in his late 70s. Recently starring in “Los Cuentos de la Peste” in Madrid, one must wonder: where does such a figure go next?

We do know that his booksthose that he wrote and those that he ownsare of the utmost importance. He says it best: "I think that literature has the important effect of creating free, independent, critical citizens who cannot be manipulated."

Browse the Nobel Laureate Collection

Ojeda, H. (2015, February 24). Mario Vargas Llosa to donate 2,000 books of his own private collection. Living in Peru. Retrieved March 2, 2016, here.
Andrew V. [Screen name]. (2010, October 10). Nobel Prize Winner Mario Vargas Llosa holds press conference in New York  [Video file]. Retrieved here.

Abigail Wheetley
Abigail Wheetley is a freelance writer and librarian living in the midwest. She has her MFA from Southern Illinois University and her MLS from the University of Illinois. Her work has appeared in Cake, Flywheel, and the Journal of Academic Librarianship. She has three children, three cats, and a muse who is also a graphic artist.


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