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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.


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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