In his first public appearance since coming to Argentina, Mario Vargas Llosa landed on Friday at book Fair with two participations in the José Hernández room, one after the other: first, he presented the Ibero-American short story contest that will be organized by the Vargas Llosa Chair with the El Libro Foundation, and then he spoke about the hispanic literature at a table coordinated by Jorge Fernández Díaz. “The less governments mess with writers, the better,” declared the Nobel Prize Peruvian in the first talk, where he went through the tradition of the story in the narrative in Spanish and cited, on more than one occasion, Jorge Luis Borges.
Accompanied by the Spanish writer Javier Cercas, Ariel Granica (president of the FEL) and Alejandro Vaccaro (secretary of the FEL and president of the SADE), the author of “La fiesta del chivo” defined the role of the Vargas Llosa Chair as a “instrument of union between writers” and a bridge to “make life easier for young people who have that vocation.” In this sense, the biannual contest in conjunction with the FEL is a “stimulus” tool. The call will award storybooks published in the last two years and the winner will be announced in the next edition of the FIL Buenos Aires.
“I am convinced that literature establishes bridges, it is a constant search for perfection that we do not find in life and it is also a sign that there is freedom in society,” said the Peruvian. “Literature permanently convinces us that reality is not well done.”
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Vargas Llosa revealed that he only felt like a Latin American writer when he arrived in Paris, at the age of 17 or 18, and discovered the great interest in Europe for culture in general and literature in particular that was made on the American continent. Cercas, in his turn, agreed: he also recognized himself as a Spanish author when he settled in the United States for a few years. “There I began to do what we Spaniards do: eat at three in the afternoon, take a siesta, talk loudly,” he joked.
Both agreed on most of the assessments, except for the issue of government intervention in promoting the language of each country. Cercas, who believes that it is necessary for Hispanic states to support and stimulate the expansion of Spanish, gave as an example the work that France is doing with subsidy programs and other public policies for culture. At this point, Vargas Llosa warned: “I don’t think it’s good for governments to mess with writers. They are not aware of the richness of the language, but if they were they would probably spoil it.”
Regarding the end, when Cercas asked him why he had not returned to writing stories like the ones he brought together in The Bosses, his first book, Vargas Llosa replied: “I have always been a realistic writer. And that does not mean that one should submit to reality. In the story it is possible that something closer to the fantastic arises. But the truth is that reality is what drives me to write. I like literature that insinuates another reality, but through realism”. A great example of this statement is his novel Conversation in the Cathedral, where he structures a story of the real Lima through long dialogues between the protagonists.
That was when Borges, omnipresent, regained prominence in the dialogue. “It is curious that he has written so many stories and not a single novel and that they all have some fantastic element,” said the Nobel.
After 8:30 pm, in the same room, Vargas Llosa spoke about Latin American literature at the table “The new Ibero-American novel. The Case of Dying What Is Necessary, by Alejandro Roemmers” together with the Spanish poet Luis Alberto de Cuenca, María Rosa Lojo and Roemmers himself, moderated by Jorge Fernández Díaz. The LA NACION columnist reviewed the main milestones of contemporary narrative: among them, the boom in the police genre, which he defined as “the great sociological genre of the present.” In that terrain he placed Roemmers’ thriller.
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Dying what is necessary opened the debate among writers regarding the place of “the new Latin American novel.” Vargas Llosa opined: “I believe that narrative in general and the novel in particular is experiencing a very positive moment in Latin America, where the presence of women -in literature- is very important in recent times. Many writers have emerged, especially in Argentina, some who renew the literature of the fantastic genre, who place the stories in different places and who have to do with the trades”, he pointed out.
On the work of Roemmers, the Nobel Prize winner said: “The conclusion is that when one has a vocation, he carries it out against all obstacles. Alejandro’s case is very interesting because you probably don’t know a businessman who is a poet and a novelist at the same time: he is an exceptional case”.
On Sunday, the Nobel laureate will return to the Fair’s Hernández room to talk with Fernández Díaz about his recent book, The Still Gaze (by Pérez Galdós). At 86 years old and after having been hospitalized for Covid in Madrid just two weeks ago, Vargas Llosa has an agenda full of activities in the coming days in Buenos Aires, Rosario and Montevideo, where he will meet with Uruguayan President Luis Lacalle Pou .
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“The less governments mess with writers, the better”: Mario Vargas Llosa