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Archive for the ‘Mario Vargas Llosa Nobel Appreciation’ Category

by Jaime Grijalba

Even if the last time I was reviewing a Mario Vargas Llosa novel I said that ‘Conversations in the Cathedral’ was the one book that he had to write for him to receive the Nobel, I think that I’m finally understanding why people like this peruvian writer so much, specially after reading this particularly funny follow-up novel. Being funny was something that Mario Vargas Llosa has always flirted with, but he had never made a completely funny (in the sense of laughing out loud) novel until this one came along, I’m not sure if he repeated the formula, and even if I don’t think that this particular experiment in writing is as good as his serious novels, and specially not as good as his previous effort, it is something different from the Nobel prize winner, and for a dubious and always criticizing reader, I find it miraculous when a writer can turn around its image and reputation to the one who is following him, maintaining a great level of quality and at the same time hinting here and there to the same themes that he has always been pointing at, but with a much more needed refreshing new look at things, as well as a new spin to the dialogue, the writing style and the genre, that is what Mario Vargas Llosa has given us with his wonderful and surprisingly touching/funny/weird/hot novel ‘Captain Pantoja and the Special Service’, whose original title is the much more simple ‘Pantaleón y las visitadoras’, and here, once again, we have a title that is lost in translation, but at the same time I can understand the changes made… for example, we have that the original title translates literally to english as ‘Pantaleón and the visitors’, and while Pantaleón and Captain Pantoja are exactly the same person, I can think that Pantoja is somewhat a more relatable surname than the name Pantaleón, the inclusion of an accent in the name makes it distant inmediatly for the english market. Then we have the issue of ‘the visitors’, and for those who are unfamiliar with the novel, and when you read ‘visitadoras’, the only thing you can think of is female visitors, but who are they? In the english title they have gone above the problem that the ‘visitors’ couldn’t possibly had a genre attached to them (au contraire in the spanish language, where almost every noun has a genre attached to it, and an equivalent in the opposite genre), so they just nickname the ‘visitors’, the ‘special service’, something more akin to the title of ‘Captain’, but what does it actually refer to? Well, let’s see. (more…)

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by Jaime Grijalba.

Wow, it’s been a long time since I last did one of these reviews for Wonders in the Dark, and maybe there are many out there who either don’t remember or don’t know what I’m talking about. Well, the thing is that back all the way in the year 2010 a certain latinamerican writer won the Nobel Prize for Literature, that man is the peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa. You can read my different reactions to the prize and his previous work in earlier installments of this series, but the thing is that I approached Sam Juliano asking if he’d be interested in me writing about the novels and fiction that Llosa wrote and made him a famous and lauded writer, and even if I had some grudges here and there about his political views, some about his own writing voice and then style of writing, but at the end of the day I was praising to high heavens his first novels ‘The Time of the Hero’ and ‘The Green House’, of course, with some reservations, but don’t we all have some of our own? Anyway, time has come for me to finally tell you: yes, this is the one, this is the novel, if there was one work in his entire career that would make him worthy of the Nobel Prize and at the same time a book that I would recommend to anyone who is reading these words, is this one. Hell, I’d even tell you to stop reading right now, get it in your local library, buy it off Amazon.com, download it illegaly, whatever it takes for you to go right now and start reading the over 700 pages of literary brilliance that are waiting for you at the turn of the page. But, I would be lazy if I didn’t actually review it, or at least share a few reasons as to why I think that this particular novel is so good. Well, might as well do it.

So, I’ve mentioned previously how infuriated and actually mad I was about certain things that Mario Vargas Llosa has said in the past few years, and that is regarding his new political views that have blindsided him into thinking that anything that would improve the economic liberties is the greatest thing that mankind has ever known as well as anything that is considered communism in the slightest is the easiest pathway to damnation (hell, even a little bit of left leaning democratic center parties are evil to him), mainly because of how he criticizes and condemns different governments just on the basis of their political beliefs and longings, while other countries that are down in the drain in terms of education, energy and overall what-the-fuck-we-sold-our-biggest-national-investment-for-two-cents-to-the-americans-what-the-fuck (of course I’m talking about Chile and the government of Sebastián Piñera, whom he supported during the campaign and has since then continue to support his views, no matter how strong and loud the student movements were nor how harsh and politically wrong as well as demeaning to the human rights were the treats towards the indigene population to the south of Chile. Even if he seems like he knows what he’s talking about, he actually doesn’t, and while I can keep blaming and criticizing him for what he says, I can say one thing for sure: he sure knows fascism, he wrote a book about it, the best god-damn book of all time about fascism, I’m sure about it. Here you find all that is rotten and wrong about that political right-wing thinking, everything that it supposes and means, it’s a work that constantly tells you that there is a wound in your arm, that it’s getting nasty and infected, but you can’t clean it, and then shoves your nose right into the pus and bacteria that is eating away your arm… that is fascism in a government, that was the dictatorship of Odria in Peru, those are the dictatorships in LatinAmerica, that is the regime that the economical powers want to have to keep us under control. (more…)

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by Jaime Grijalba.

Another year has gone by and it’s time for the usual conversation, discussion and usual ranting about the choices made regarding the Nobel prize winners for literature of each year. As many of you may know, or maybe not, I started writing for this site after an email I sent Sam Juliano, telling him that I was interested in doing some book reviews and that I wanted to exercise the use of my english writing habilities (I don’t know if I’m getting better or worse, but at least I’m getting some readers that comment on my pieces), so I took the chance to do it due to the fact that Mario Vargas Llosa won the Nobel Prize in 2010 and I had in my house a bunch of his books that I didn’t have the chance to read, so I decided to go ahead, dwelve inside the works of this peruvian writer in the hopes of getting something out of it, specially some explanation about what the fuss was about his literature. So I started reading the books and writing essays and I was doing alright until this year, in which I completely stopped my tracks in my discovery of his written word, because I was going in chronological order and the next book that I have to read called ‘Conversations at the Cathedral’ was lost by my father after he left it in some building and he hasn’t got it back. The book is long and heavy, and it’s really difficult to find it in libraries for me to borrow it. Then came last year, in which we celebrated the new nobel prize winner for literature: Tomas Trasntrömer, a swedish poet that turned out to difficult to read his first works, so any advance on his search (Really, I need the compilation that reunites his first poetry books, can anyone borrow and scan it for me?). And now comes this somewhat known chinese writer: Mo Yan, a name that wasn’t a complete mystery when I heard it this morning in the news (as opposed to the whole mess that was finding out about Tranströmer), as it shouldn’t be to anyone that has some interest in chinese cinema, specially the films of Zhang Yimou. He wrote the novel ‘Red Sorghum’, in which the film of the same name is based, so I wasn’t completely lost about it, but… why him?
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by Jaime Grijalba.

Well, that wasn’t long, was it? Just as this review, that may feel a bit short to some, but it has a reason to be that way. Anyway, I feel like I have to repay you after all this time of inactivity, after all I made a promise and I have to honour it, as I said last time. While I know that this is time for celebration and recounts, lists and retrospectives, oportunities for festivals, awards and many other things, specially for those art or just entertainment look-forwarders (I just invented that word, I’m sorry), but here is summer, and for me summer has always had one meaning for me: lots and lots of reading. Lots of dead time to read volumes and pages of infinite books from different authors from all over the world. I mean, I just started myself in the past month, I finished three novels, including this and the earlier reviewed Vargas Llosa novel, and then there was ‘The Tunnel’ by Ernesto Sábato, an argentinian writer who died this year, shy of turning a 100 years old. And then there’s my favorite part of summer: Stephen King. I think he’s a marvelous storyteller and every summer I turn out one or two of his novels, and this year it seems it’ll be 3, because I’m already finishing ‘Bag of Bones’, that just recently had a TV incarnation that I wanted to see, so I needed to finish the novel first. But what am I talking about S. King when we shall be talking about a Nobel Prize Winner… well let me roll my eyes, oh you snarky little lumpy princess, I am saying this and saying it now: I prefer King to Llosa.

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by Jaime Grijalba.

It’s been almost a year since I talked about the books of the peruvian Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa, and many new readers, and I’m sure that most of the old ones as well, completely forgot that I was in charge of reading and reviewing all of his prose work in a chronological fashion, an endeavour that stopped right on its tracks after I reviewed his first novel, the amazingly written and entertaining ‘The Time of the Hero’, that went into personal territory as it dwelved in his own memories on the military school ‘Leoncio Prado’. Why did I stop? Did my constant hate for his political viewings and speeches of hate towards the left that rules certain south american countries, as well as his constant forgiveness for right wing political and social mistakes? I mean, just read the freaking speech he made when he received the Nobel, all my claims can be taken into account as subjective opinions on an objective attitude he has vented through the press during the whole year that he was the center of the literature world during 2010-11. But no, that’s not the reason why I ended (supposedly) my series on his books, after all, I made a promise to do so, and I never break my promises.

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The man

by Jaime Grijalba
I was not entirely happy with the choice the people at the Nobel made when they decided to give the most important award in modern literature to peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa, mainly due to a bad experience reading some of his early short stories, but that dread was surpassed when I had the chance to read ‘The Time of the Hero’, his first novel, which was first rate and a real treat. I did this because I promised myself that I would read every book he had written before the next nobel prize winner was here. And here I am, with only two reviews done on the subject of Vargas Llosa, and a new Nobel has arrived. I’m so sorry, because the reviews were halted because the book I was supposed to look at (the second novel of Vargas Llosa, called ‘The Green House’) was left at a friend’s house, and due to many events that have happened, involving my forgetfulness and his, I still don’t have it and the result is just two reviews in the wake of a new winner, and that is my excuse. A poor excuse, but what the hell, it’s the truth. (more…)

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by Jaime Grijalba

After a long time, and a trippy interlude, I’m back with the debut novel of the recent Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa, which was handed to him just recently (December the 10th) after an acceptance speech given three days earlier called ‘In Praise of Reading and Fiction’, which I recommend reading here. It’s an astounding piece and you should absolutely read it as I’ll make references to it during this and maybe forthcoming reviews of his fiction work.

Before I dwelve into the aspects of ‘The Time of the Hero’, the first published novel written by Mario Vargas Llosa, I do have some reservations regarding his political thinking that I can’t avoid. Reading his acceptance speech was a truly illuminating experience in two senses: one, he truly demonstrates his  capabilities with the written word, with subtle nuances and low blows, passing them as praise and human perfection; and two, his political views are clearly the weakest aspect of his thinking. He may know how to write about political figures, political processes, specially regarding dictatorships, but that doesn’t mean that his hate towards that kind of government makes his astoundingly ridiculous political statements correct. His lack of vision of the real situation of Latin America is caused by the distance he usually has with the continent (he’s a  ‘citizen of the world’, according to his speech), and because of the blindfold that right-wing political thinking can be.

Mario has said that a government without a culture is a goverment that doesn’t work with the people (I’m paraphrasing here), yet he  supported the right-wing presidential candidate of my country (Mr. Sebastián Piñera) who ended up winning the election and now is passing an education reform that it’s currently reducing the hours dedicated to History, now there’s a contradiction caused by the blindness of biased political thinking (‘we’re from the same political party, so I should just aid him’ nonsense). Just one more example before the review, in his speech he has called the indigenous population as an ‘unresolved issue’ in Latin America, specially due to their lack of recognition; yet, at the same time, he calls Bolivia a ‘pseudo populist, clownish democracy’, only because of its socialist democratic regime, which is the only one that’s actively working on the recognition of bolivian indigenous minorities (being the president himself an indigenous descendant).

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by Jaime Grijalba

As you may or may not know, the latest Nobel prize winner in literature is the Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, one of the most lauded Spanish speaking writers from the last 30-35 years, “for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt, and defeat”.

My parents have always liked him, they had read many of his books in the 80’s and 90’s, and about 4 years ago they bought almost everyone of his novels as they appeared with a local newspaper at a right price. In contrast, my relation with this author wasn’t that good. In Language class the teacher made my entire class read ‘The Leaders and The Cubs’, which was a collection of short stories and a novella. I ended up finding the writing of this author quite boring, and got a not-so-good grade on the test that came after it.

You can guess my reaction towards the news that he had been awarded with the Nobel prize for Literature, I was literally freaking out, cursing and screaming against him, I asked how could they award him with that prize, while authors like Haruki Murakami remained without a recognition?  I ranted and ranted, and you know the worse part? No one agreed with me, not even a random troll on the internet, they said I was biased because of his politics, and I was the first to say no, as I love all Jorge Luis Borges’s work, and he was probably centimeters away from being a Nazi.

So I guessed it was just that I hadn’t read enough of him, just one book wasn’t enough, and given that I had the books around, I decided to do it. Then, I figured it would be a whole lot better if people knew of my progress, so I contacted Sam who gave me his support to go on and post a series of reviews on all Mario Vargas Llosa’s fiction work (plays not included) in chronological order, all before the next Nobel prize winner in literature is announced.

Now, the bad news was that I had to read again the book that bored me once, whose first half I review here, and I was kind of certain that it’d bore me, so here I go. (more…)

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