Commentary Magazine

Article Preview

A Writer's Reality, by Mario Vargas Llosa.

- Abstract

For the last 25 years, the Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa has been known to connoisseurs of fiction as one of the greatest living novelists (The Time of the Hero, The Green House, Conversations in the Cathedral). And over the last ten years he has emerged as one of the leading “public intellectuals” of Latin America, challenging the asphyxiating statism which, he holds, is largely responsible for the backwardness of that continent—a point of view set forth in a series of essays published in Spanish under the title Contra viento y marea (“Against Wind and Tide”). Two years ago he moved from polemics to politics proper, running for the presidency of his unhappy country. Defeated by an unscrupulous opportunist (whose just punishment is now to govern that hopeless land), Vargas Llosa has been released to return to the republic of letters. We—if not the Peruvians—are much the richer for it.

If evidence were needed, we have here his latest volume, A Writer’s Reality, which brings together a series of lectures Vargas Llosa delivered in 1988 at Syracuse University. These talks—which are really spoken essays—deal with the task of being a writer, and at the same time they constitute something of an intellectual and artistic autobiography. Chapter by chapter, Vargas Llosa moves us through his entire ouevre, and explains the particular issues and problems he has chosen to address in each of his novels. He also reveals some of the tricks of the novelist’s trade. In fact, I know of no work, not even Henry James’s The Art of Fiction, which so lucidly explains what a novelist does and how he does it. Better still, one need not have read any of Vargas Llosa’s books to follow his argument, though after reading these witty and stimulating commentaries few will be able to resist the temptation.

About the Author

Mark Falcoff is resident scholar emeritus at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.