After all the speculation and betting, the Nobel Committee once again did not choose from the top of the popular pack, instead announcing this morning that Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, teaching at Princeton this semester, has won 2010’s Nobel Prize for Literature.
The 74-year-old author of more than 30 novels, plays and essays said, “It was a big, big surprise,” Vargas Llosa told NPR. “For a moment, I thought this could be a joke.” He is the first Spanish-language writer to win the prize since Mexican Octavio Paz in 1990.
Vargas Llosa has long been active politically, like many other literature Nobel laureates, finding fame in “The Time of the Hero,” a novel based on his experiences at a controversial military academy his father sent him to after catching Vargas Llosa writing poetry. In 1990, Vargas Llosa ran for Peru’s presidency, starting off strong in the polls but ultimately losing to Alberto Fujimori. Some factors working against him, the Times noted, included “his aristocratic bearing in impoverished Peru and his acknowledgment at one point in the race that in the largely Roman Catholic country, he was an agnostic.”
His public image doesn’t end there, however. As the Wall Street Journal reports, Vargas Llosa and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a fellow Latin American writer and Nobel laureate, came to blows in 1976.
At a movie premiere in Mexico City in 1976, Vargas Llosa greeted García Márquez, who would win the Nobel Prize six years later, with a right hook that knocked the Colombian author in what became a scandal in Latin American literary circles.
Before the punch the two writers were dear friends, with García Márquez serving as godfather for Vargas Llosa’s second son who was also named Gabriel after the Colombian author of “One Hundred Years Of Solitude.”
The blow sparked one of the most famous feuds in modern literature. Both authors have towered over the Latin American literary world for decades yet they seat at opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, with Vargas Llosa fighting for free-market economic policies and espousing a conservative agenda while García Márquez continues to defend the Cuban revolution.
The two authors have never discussed the scuffle publicly, sparking endless speculation about the motives behind Vargas Llosa’s attack. By most accounts, however, it was not politics that ended their friendship, but matters of the heart involving a woman.
However, as he told NPR, Vargas Llosa is not comfortable using literature as a political soapbox.
Let me say first that, although it is true that I have been participated in the political debate since I was young, I think it is very dangerous to use literature as a vehicle to promote political ideals. I think it is very risky because literature can become propaganda, and literature and propaganda are totally incompatible. I think literature can use politics, but that politics shouldn’t use literature, because if it does, it destroys literature. So, when I want to make a political statement, I write an essay, I write an article, or I give a lecture. I think that literature is something that embraces a much larger experience than politics. It’s an expression of what is life, of what are all the dimensions of life. But politics is one among others.