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'It Was A Big, Big Surprise,' New Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa Tells NPR

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'It Was A Big, Big Surprise,' New Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa Tells NPR


'It Was A Big, Big Surprise,' New Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa Tells NPR

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


I'm Mary Louise Kelly.

And we're going to hear now from the writer who, today, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. The Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa is one of the most celebrated writers of the Spanish-speaking world. His work chronicles power and corruption in Latin America.

Today, the Swedish Academy called him a divinely gifted storyteller. And we've got him on the line. Mario Vargas Llosa, welcome and congratulations.

Mr. MARIO VARGAS LLOSA (Winner, 2010 Nobel Prize for Literature): Thank you very much, thank you.

KELLY: Tell me how you - how did you get the news this morning?

Mr. VARGAS LLOSA: I received a call very early, 5:30 I think, from the Swedish Academy. For a moment, I thought that this could be a joke of a friend. But 14 minutes later, I discovered that it was real, that I had been awarded with this prize. And I am very happy, of course.

KELLY: And it's still sinking in, I'm sure. Mario Vargas Llosa, I want to take you back a bit to the novel that's considered your international breakthrough. This is the novel titled "The Time of the Hero."

Mr. VARGAS LLOSA: That was my first novel, yes. It's a novel set in Lima, in a military school. I think it's a novel that, well, tried to describe what are the consequences for a community of a military, authoritarian system, you know.

KELLY: Well, and as you know well, the prize for literature is often awarded to writers who intertwine politics with their writing, which is something you started doing at the very beginning of your career and have been known for ever since.

Does this prize that you've just won today, does it give you a new platform for speaking out with your political views?

Mr. VARGAS LLOSA: Well, let me say first that although it is true that I have participated in the political debate since I was young, I think that it's very dangerous to use literature as a vehicle to promote political ideas. I think it's very, very risky because literature can become propaganda, you know, 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 literature is something that embrace much larger experience than politics. It's an expression of what is life, of what are all the dimensions of life, and politics is just one, among others.

KELLY: And literature transcends. What about using the prize as a means of promoting literature from Latin America? I mean, the Nobel Committee has been criticized in the past for being very Eurocentric.

Mr. VARGAS LLOSA: Well, I think that is one of the effects of a prize that has such repercussion in the media, that in a way is a natural promotion of what literature is and what literature is about.

KELLY: It's also obviously a recognition of a lifetime of powerful writing. As you look back over your career, is there one work that you're particularly proud of?

Mr. VARGAS LLOSA: Well, that is difficult to say, you know, because it's as if you were asked which of the children do you prefer, no? Even if you have a preference, you shouldn't say. It wouldn't be proper.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KELLY: It might hurt the others' feelings.

Mr. VARGAS LLOSA: In general, a writer would like to think that the best book that he has written is the book that he's writing, that the next book will be even better. Maybe if this is not true, it is very useful to keep, you know, the illusions alive.

KELLY: Again, congratulations.

Mr. VARGAS LLOSA: Thank you very much, goodbye.

KELLY: That's Mario Vargas Llosa. We reached him in New York, where he is celebrating being awarded today the Nobel Prize for Literature.

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