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Nobel Literature Winner Tried Other Jobs

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Nobel Literature Winner Tried Other Jobs

Art & Design

Nobel Literature Winner Tried Other Jobs

Nobel Literature Winner Tried Other Jobs

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The winner of this year's Nobel Prize for Literature, Mario Vargas Llosa, is primarily a novelist, although he's also been a newspaper columnist, a talk show host, and, by his own account, a failed politician.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

The winner of this year's Nobel Prize for Literature was announced this week. Mario Vargas Llosa is one of the most acclaimed writers in the world.

NPR's Neda Ulaby has a profile of the first Peruvian to win a Nobel Prize.

NEDA ULABY: When he was a little boy, Vargas Llosa was told his father was dead. In fact, he had abandoned the family and it shocked the child when he returned. In a 1988 interview with WHYY's FRESH AIR, Vargas Llosa said the two did not get along.

Mr. MARIO VARGAS LLOSA (Winner, Nobel Prize for Literature): My father, as many middle-class people in Latin America in the '50s, thought that to be a writer was to be an eccentric, as someone marginal.

ULABY: Or even worse, effeminate. So Vargas Llosa was sent to military school. It was, he later said, a discovery of hell. But it provided grist for his first novel, published in 1962.

Unidentified Man: I think I'm sick, Lieutenant. I mean mentally, not physically. I have nightmares every night.

ULABY: A reading from that book, "The Time of the Hero."

Unidentified Man: They're awful, Lieutenant. Sometimes I dream I would kill her and sometimes these animals with human faces are chasing me. I wake up sweating and shaking. It's horrible, Lieutenant. Honest.

ULABY: The book was seen as an indictment of Peruvian society's acceptance of brutal military rule. Officers burned a thousand copies in the school's courtyard. Since then, Vargas Llosa has produced mysteries, sweeping political epics, and earthy comedies. Like his friend - later enemy - Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Peruvian moved to Europe, working in journalism and soaking up intellectual trends.

Edith Grossman has translated both authors.

Ms. EDITH GROSSMAN (Translator): These men write in a large baroque style. They have very long complicated sentences. They experiment with punctuation, the structure of sentences.

ULABY: Grossman has translated five of Vargas Llosa's novels.

Ms. GROSSMAN: "The Feast of The Goat" was harrowing to translate.

ULABY: That novel, "The Feast of The Goat," from 2000, delves into the villainous regime of General Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic.

Ms. GROSSMAN: It's a very powerful book. There were times when I had to stop working because scenes of torture were really heart-wrenching.

ULABY: Mario Vargas Llosa's own political views shifted from the far left towards the liberal right. His free market views led to a run for Peru's presidency 20 years ago. But his opponents called his work obscene, as he told NPR soon after losing the election.

Mr. LLOSA: When I am asked about this, you know, I say, well, if that was true, I must say that 40 percent of Peruvians voted for obscenity and pornography then.

ULABY: Mario Vargas Llosa has written over 30 novels and plays. Language, he says, is a protagonist that helps him explore the vagaries of power, history, and human desire.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

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