Mario Vargas Llosa: “It is very difficult to be optimistic in the face of a Latin America that is paralyzed by the new dictatorships”

Mario Vargas Llosa during the presentation of “The quiet gaze”

Mario Vargas Llosa confirmed tonight his role as star guest at the 46th Buenos Aires International Book Fair. The Nobel Prize for Literature referred to his recent essay on Benito Perez Galdos, the still gazebut also caught the audience reeling off anecdotes about Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortazar Y John Joseph Sebreli. At the same time, he made a crude account of his recent convalescence from coronavirus.

“Losing your breath is a truly traumatic experience,” said the award-winning writer, who leaned on a cane to walk. At 86 years old, the Peruvian author was present at the cultural and publishing event, where he showed off his oratorical fluency. The dialogue with the journalist and writer Jorge Fernandez Diaz it stretched out, distended, for more than an hour.

The last survivor of the “boom” of Latin American literature showed himself in a suit and without a tie. And he gave his testimony about how he lived the disease. “I started to feel very cold in my legs. It was sunset already and suddenly I began to lose my breath. I began to choke, to breathe very badly, with great difficulty, and then Isabel (Preysler) called a doctor, ”recalled José Hernández before a packed room, who followed each of his words in absolute silence.

“I heard the doctor in the distance, a voice that was lost. He said ‘he has a very high fever and it is essential to take him to the hospital’. This formula that the doctor used made me very nervous and I think the difficulty in breathing increased a lot. He was in a completely gone state and I remember that he was waiting for the van from the clinic and it never came”, he commented in the framework of his last intervention in this edition of the fair.

Jorge Fernández Díaz spoke with the Nobel Prize for Literature
Jorge Fernández Díaz spoke with the Nobel Prize for Literature

“Finally the van came, they took me to the clinic, and I remember it as a real release when they put me on oxygen and then I got my breath back. It was just a 24-hour experience, but frankly unpleasant”, she recalled from the stage.

Fernández Díaz recalled that the author of Pantaleon and the visitors Y Conversation in the Cathedral he began to write an article as soon as he recovered, and asked if this task did not take away “narrative energy” for his literary profession. Vargas Llosa replied that no, because he has “both activities very well separated. A novel for example takes from Monday to Saturday, but on Sundays I write the articles”.

The Peruvian author said that he met for breakfast in La Biela this Sunday with his friend John Joseph Sebreli. “We met many years ago in Paris and I think we had a discussion, the first time we met, in which I defended Cortázar. He was a close friend of Cortázar and saw him with some frequency. Instead, he had many reservations with Julio Cortázar. I found that his novels had a political deficiency, that he did not embrace political issues in a deep, rich, creative way, and I argued with him a lot about this, to end up agreeing with him over the years.”.

I consider that Cortazar he had belatedly discovered politics. And “that discovery greatly influenced him, so that he began to write political novels. But in the novels or stories he had written before, there was always something very surprising, very disconcerting, and the lack of political commitment was not noticeable at all“, I consider.

Regarding his relationship with the author of The Aleph, recalled that Borges never forgave him for pointing out in an article that he was full of admiration for the great storyteller that there was a leak in his apartment on Maipú street. “Because Borges had those huachaferías, as we would say in Peru. He did not find enough respect in pointing out that in a house, in which he occupied, in a room there was a leak ”.

“My admiration for Borges remains absolutely intact despite the bad jokes he made about it,” he settled the issue. And she also said that the Argentine writer “I did not understand that there was a social problem in Latin America, that there was a difference between what some Latin Americans earned and what others earned”.

Presentation of
Presentation of “The Still Gaze”.

Instead, Vargas Llosa (Arequipa, 1936) agreed with Sebreli that “if there is a country in Latin America that should find a path to progress, it is without a doubt Argentina.”

As the program anticipated, the conversation also revolved around his recent essay the still gaze, where he creates a complete, personal and suggestive profile of the Spanish writer. He recalled that Pérez Galdós published two articles a day in Spanish newspapers, although he “was not a good columnist, he was an essential novelist.”

Vargas Llosa indicated that Pérez Galdós’s dream was to be translated into French, something he did not achieve. He also put on the scale that the case of this essential author of contemporary Spanish literature is that of many writers: “being unequal, writing works that were very important and works that were not, works that were a bit of padding.” He highlighted his attempt to “write the 19th century through simple, light, entertaining novels written in a language that is very accessible to a large audience. He was very successful with the National Episodes, but curiously they were not published outside of Spain”.

As detailed by Vargas Llosa -who dedicated himself to reading the work of Pérez Galdós from beginning to end during the pandemic-, the Spaniard “planned 15 novels, of which he wrote only 12. It was a way of reaching the general public through anecdotes , stories, which put in a simple, light, unofficial way, historical facts within the reach of the general Spanish public”, which earned it great success.

Vargas Llosa considered that probably the author of Fortunate and Jacinta was probably “the first professional writer to appear in our letters both in Latin America and in Spain. He promised to write a novel every three months and he fulfilled it. Now they did not always turn out well, other times they came out in a defective way.

Presentation of
Presentation of “The Still Gaze”.

“A great writer is not always a great writer,” he stressed. And, unlike Pérez Galdós, who corrected with small annotations by hand, but never rewrote a novel, he affirmed that he does correct a lot. “In that sense, I am exactly the opposition to Pérez Galdós. He could not lightly write a novel.”

In political matters, the author who gained notoriety with the publication of The city and the Dogs (1963) asserted that he places very little trust in the Latin American left, “it has a profoundly distorted vision of reality, to which it puts a very closed dogmatism before it. The case of the left compared to what is happening today in Ukraine, for example. Mr. Putin in an absolutely virulent way attacks a small country and yet that left does not react, does not condemn.

He was also convinced that democracy is not in crisis, but “is alive”. “The Russian invasion of Ukraine has served, among other things, to extraordinarily strengthen the European Union. My impression is that Putin has made a profound mistake in invading Ukraine, regardless of the state of the military forces at his disposal. It gives the impression that Ukraine has been extraordinarily ennobled by facing the invasion and that the invasion is not going to mean for the Russian troops that ride that Putin had conceived, ”he asserted.

Instead, he was pessimistic about the outlook for Latin America, whose situation “could not be more tragic. It is very difficult to be optimistic in the face of a Latin America that is paralyzed by the new dictatorships or about to plunge again into a period of violent actions. It is very difficult to be optimistic, which does not mean that you have to stop fighting”, insisted the author of The party of the goat.

“Latin America, if you choose well, will choose what true freedom means,” he stressed. “Depending on this freedom, he is going to get out of his enormous problems that he faces today,” she still said. Before walking away again leaning on his cane, the room gave him a thunderous applause. The fair, even in a pandemic, celebrated the participation of the Nobel Prize for Literature and the last survivor of the mythical “boom”.


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