Since he rose to fame, Mario has greatly impacted the international literature scene through his award winning and bestselling works that he draws from historical material and his own experiences, and portray modern and postmodern themes.
One of the things that make Mario a great novelist (and a person as a whole) is his attitude towards hard work. Having been raised in a hardworking family, Mario values the effort and strength that he puts into his novels greatly. In an interview regarding what makes a great novel, Mario said:
“A good novel is a conjunction of many factors, the main of which is without a doubt, hard work. There are many things behind a good novel, but in particular there is a lot of work—a lot of patience, a lot of stubbornness, and a critical spirit. It has been said that the secret to a masterpiece is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration. “
As one of the greatest journalists of his generation, Mario emphasizes the importance of journalism in the course of societal life as it allows the voices of those who cannot speak for themselves be heard. Mario often says:
“Journalism is a way of voicing opinion, of participating in the political, social, or cultural debate. It has been very important for me—for a long time I made my living as a journalist, and it also serves as a source of ideas. Many of the things I have written I would not have written without the experience of being a journalist.”
But aside from being a literary genius and a master writer, Mario is also a patriot. His love and devotion for his country and its people are reflected in his works, and have become a very significant factor in voicing out the concerns of the common people. Growing up in Peru and living in Spain, Mario acknowledges the roles that both countries have played in shaping him as a person, and thus is always using his time, effort and energy to seek out the betterment of the peoples of both nations.
He says in an interview regarding his view of both Peru and Spain:
“I carry Peru deep inside me because that is where I was born, grew up, was formed, and lived those experiences of childhood and youth that shaped my personality and forged my calling. I love Spain as much as Peru, and my debt to her is as great as my gratitude. If not for Spain, I never would have reached this podium or become a known writer.”
The Early Life of a Great Novelist
Mario Vargas Llosa was born in 1936 to a middle class family in the city of Arequipa. His parents, Maldonado Vargas (who was a former operator in an aviation company) and Dora Llosa Ureta (who was a member of a criollo family, which was of high social class in the Spanish caste system), separated shortly after Mariano was born due to his father Maldonado admitting that he had an affair with a German woman, which resulted in Mario having two younger half-brothers: Enrique and Ernesto.
Because of the leaving of Maldonado, Mario was taken under the care of Dora and her parents, who later on moved to Cochabamba, Bolivia after his grandmother became the honorary consul for Peru in the country of Bolivia. There, Mario spent the rest of his early childhood years, playing in the cotton farms managed by his grandfather.
Mario never knew what happened between his mother and father until he was ten years old, due to the fact that his grandparents told him that his father was already dead (they did not want Mario to learn of his father’s betrayal and grow up with a grudge). He finally met his father when he moved to Lima sometime in 1946, and understood the issues that arose between his parents. Eventually, Both Maldonado and Dora rekindled their relationship and got back together.
Prior to moving to Lima, Mario spent his elementary years at the Colegio Salesiano after his grandfather was appointed as a diplomat and settled in the coastal city of Piura, Peru. A bright and talented student, Mario was greatly admired by his teachers for his intellectual capacity and brilliant imagination.
A Fondness for Writing: Mario’s First Introduction to Journalism
When his family got back together, Mario lived with his parents in the middle-class village of Magdalena de Mar. Mario then studied at the Colegio La Salle to complete his middle school years. When he graduated, his father enrolled him at the Leoncio Prado Military Academy, where Mario developed his interest in journalism, working as an amateur journalist for local newspapers. Eventually, Mario left the military school before graduating and completed his studies in Piura, working in La Industria, a local newspaper company. It was also during this time that Mario started to write novels, and saw the first theatrical performance of “La huida del Inca,” his very first dramatic story.
In 1953, Mario entered the National University of San Marcos so he can study law and literature. During this time, he met Julia Urquidi, his uncle’s sister-in-law and who was ten years older than Mario. Throughout the next two years, Mario and Julia’s relationship developed, and in 1955 the couple finally decided to marry. Their marriage lasted for the next nine years, until they divorced in 1964.
Having given much devotion to writing, Mario decided to start a professional career in literature in 1957, with the release of his short stories “Los Jefes” (The Leaders) and “El Abuelo” (The Grandfather). The following year, he graduated from the National University of San Marcos and earned his degree in literature. Because of his amazing performance in the university, Mario earned a scholarship to continue his studies at the Complutense University of Madrid.
Releasing His First Novel
In 1960, Mario’s scholarship expired, prompting him to go to France hoping that he would get a scholarship to study there. However, upon arriving in Paris, Mario discovered that his scholarship request was denied; in spite of this, he and his wife Julia decided to stay in the country despite their financial state. Three years later, Mario wrote and released his first novel titled “La Ciudad y Los Perros” (The Time of the Hero), which drew its story from Mario’s own experience in the military academy back in Peru. Upon its release, the book immediately became a critical and financial success, with its theme of criticism of the Peruvian military praised enough for it to win the Premio de la Critica Espanola Award.
From La Casa Verde Onwards: The Successes of Mario Vargas Llosa
A year after Mario’s divorce with Julia, in 1965, he released his second novel, “La Casa Verde” (The Green House). The book, which revolved around a young girl named Bonifacia and the brothel ‘The Green House,’ was critically acclaimed, establishing Mario as one of the most important voices of the Latin American Narrative. The novel earned him the Romulo Gallegos International Novel Prize, which was very spectacular considering that it was pitted against the works of veteran novelists such as Juan Carlos Onetti and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. La Casa Verde was so well-received by the public that it was named as ‘one of the greatest novels to have emerged from Latin America’ by Gerald Martin, a famous critic.
That same year, Mario married his first cousin Patricia Llosa. Patricia bore Mario three children, which all became well-known in their own right: Alvaro Vargas (born in 1966, became a famous writer and editor), Gonzalo (born in 1967, became a businessman), and Morgana (born in 1974, became a photographer).
In 1969, Mario released his third novel, titled “Conversacion en la Caterdral” (Conversation in the Cathedral), which told of the story of Santiago Zavala, the son of a government minister, and his chauffeur Ambrosio. The novel, whose theme revolved around the dangers of dictatorship, became equally successful, with many critics calling it Mario’s ‘most bitter novel.’
In 1971, Mario wrote and published his doctoral thesis for the Complutense University of Madrid which was entitled “Garcia Marquez: Story of a Decade.” The thesis was about the life of his good friend, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who later on went to become a Nobel laureate. Their friendship, however, later on soured due to an issue that neither one commented upon. Five years later, the friendship between Mario and Garcia ended after Mario punched Garcia’s face while attending the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City due to unknown reasons up to now.
In spite of the success attained by Mario’s first three novels, the seventies saw him shifting his stories from societal problem themes to lighter and more humorous stories. Tagged by many historians as his ‘discovery of humor,’ Mario began writing novels such as “Pantaleon y las Visitadoras (Captain Pantoja and the Special Service), which was released in 1973. Aside from this, Mario also started venturing into other career opportunities such as producing and essaying.
Throughout this decade, Mario’s career went upstream as his popularity soared beyond his wildest imaginations. He began to be invited to speak in various universities and institutions, and was recognized to be one of the most influential writers of his time.
Mario released his fourth major novel entitled “La Guerra del fin del Mundo” (The War of the End of the World) in 1981, which was his first attempt at writing a historical novel. Considered to be quite different from how Mario normally themed his writings, the novel greatly emphasized the dark tone of human civilization, citing issues such as the human propensity to violence as well as the catastrophic results of fanaticism. Upon its release, La Guerra del fin del Mundo immediately became a hit, with most of the critics saying that the novel was one of Mario’s greatest literary accomplishments.
From that time on, Mario started working on novels with lesser literary content compared to his previous books, such as “Historia de Mayta” (The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta) and “Quien mato a Palomino Molero?” (Who Killed Palomino Mlero). For the next twenty years, Mario spent lesser time in writing novels because he was preoccupied with another endeavor. He once again wrote a major novel in 2000, titled “La Fiesta del Chivo” (The Feast of the Goat), whose story revolved around the themes of authoritarianism, violence, and the abuse of power.
Diving into the Political Arena
One of the major reasons why Mario spent less time writing in the late eighties and nineties was because of him participating in the Peruvian political arena. Originally a supporter of Fidel Castro’s Cuban revolutionary government, Mario’s political views shifted towards liberalism as he went along his career. Mario’s political ambitions became more developed during the late eighties due to witnessing the problems of his country; in 1987, he became a founding member and leader of the Movimiento Libertad.
Movimiento Libertad merged with two other political parties during the Peruvian Presidential Elections in 1990, forming the Frente Democratico Movement and named Mario as its candidate for president. Among Mario’s platforms were an economic austerity program which focused on the need for free trade, market economy and the equal distribution of private properties. Though he was reported to be ahead during the initial count, Mario was eventually defeated by Alberto Fujimori, an agricultural engineer.
Years later, when Mario was interviewed about his political candidacy, he said:
“During my presidential campaign, I didn't lie. I would tell the people exactly what I was going to do. It was very unpolitical; it made me vulnerable. The opposition used my frankness to destroy my candidacy.”
Mario’s defeat in the political arena made him decide to go back to writing, but it did not stop him from becoming a significant influence in the political situation of his country. From 1991 onwards, he actively wrote numerous essays that discussed his ideas about the politics of Peru and other nations. In 1994, Mario was made a member of the Real Academia Espanola (The Royal Spanish Academy), and has since been involved with the political arena of Spain.
In 2011, Mario was given the title Marques de Vargas Llosa and was inducted into the Spanish nobility by none other than King Juan Carlos I for his contributions to Spain through his writings. That same year, he participated in the Peruvian general election and voted for Alejandro Toledo, who was the president of Peru from 2001 to 2006. Right after he cast his vote, Mario expressed his hopes that Peru would continue in the path of legality and liberty.
Throughout his career, Mario has received numerous honors and awards for his work as a writer and essayist. Among these are the Nobel Prize for Literature, the Prince of Asturias Award of Literature, the Maria Moors Cabot Prize, and the Menendez Pelayo International Prize. These, among the numerous other prestigious awards, have proven time and time again just how much influence Mario has had through his books.
Mario’s love and passion for writing not only expressed his innermost thoughts as a human being, but it also reflected his love for humanity. Through his writings, Mario has been able to fight against the many evils of society such as dictatorship, totalitarianism, violence and inequality, and has become one of the most powerful voices of the literary world that stand up against such atrocities. Mario’s life truly proves that ‘the pen is mightier than the sword.’
“I want to keep writing—I enjoy it enormously. I have never felt the emptiness which paralyzes some writers. I have much more projects than time.”
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- Movimiento Libertad
Awards and Achievements
- 1967: Won the Romulo Gallegos Prize
- 1986: Won the Grinzane Cavour Prize for Fiction Foreign
- 1986: Received the Prince Asturias Award for Literature
- 1993: Won the Planeta Prize (Death in the Andes)
- 1994: Won the Miguel de Cervantes Prize
- 1996: Won the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade
- 2002: Received the PEN/Nabokov Award
- 2004: Won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize
- 2004: Won the Grinzane Cavour Prize
- 2005: Received the Irving Kristol Award from the American Enterprise Institute
- 2006: Won the Maria Moors Cabot Prize
- 2008: Awarded the Grand Cross with Diamonds of the Order of the Sun
- 2008: Won the Freedom Prize from the Friedrich Naumann Foundation
- 2008: Received the Harold and Ethel L. Stellfox Visiting Scholar and Writers Award
- 2010: Won the Nobel Prize for Literature
- 2010: Received the International Award Viareggio-Versilia
- 2012: Included in the 10 Most Influential Ibero American Intellectuals by Foreign Policy Magazine
- 2012: Won the Carlos Fuentes International Prize for Literary Creation in the Spanish Language
- Awarded the Grand Cross with Silver Star of the Order of Christopher Columbus
- Awarded the Grand Cross with Silver Star of the Order of Ruben Dario
- Awarded the Austrian Cross of Honour for Science and Art, 1st Class
- Conferred the title Officer of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
- Conferred the title of Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
- Conferred the title of Commander of the Order of the Aztec Eagle
- Conferred the title Chevalier of the Legion of Honour
- 2003: Honorary Doctor of Letters from Oxford University
- 2005: Honorary Doctorate from Humboldt-Universitat Berlin
- 2006: Honorary Doctor of Humanities from the Universidad Europea Madrid
- 2010: Honorary Doctor of Letters from the City College of New York
- 2011: Honorary Doctorate from the University of Tokyo
- 2011: Honorary Doctorate from Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia
- 2013: Honorary Doctor of Letter from the University of Cambridge
Wikipedia (Mario Vargas Llosa)
Nobelprize.org (The Nobel Prize in Literature 2010: Mario Vargas Llosa)
Texas Monthly (Interview With Mario Vargas Llosa)
PBS (Peruvian Writer Mario Vargas Llosa on the Importance of Literature)
January Magazine (January Interview With Mario Vargas Llosa)