Peru’s titan

Mario Vargas Llosa: A Life of Writing
Raymond Leslie Williams
2014, University of Texas Press
234 pages, hardback

SURPRISINGLY, this is the first complete history to provide a critical overview of the writing of Mario Vargas Llosa, the Nobel-prize winning Peruvian author, whose complex personal story and personality form such an important backdrop to his work. Raymond Leslie Williams provides students of this writer with the essential intellectual biography and bibliographical roadmap with which to trace his evolution from leftwing hothead in the 1960s to something of a conservative institution, albeit one who became a distinguished champion of writers and indigenous people in his homeland – his own incarnation of what Williams points out is a recurrent reflection in his work on a theory of human character that is not stable and fixed but fluid and changing according to social milieu. Among other things we learn about the impact of the writer’s traumatic childhood on his attitudes to authority, and the shifting literary influences on his own corpus of work; his background, essentially, as a journalist; his extensive, almost obsessive travels, and how he was sent to investigate the massacre of journalists at Uchuraccay by villagers fearful of Shining Path guerrillas; and his passionate hostility to the colonial abuses suffered by indigenous people, reflected brilliantly in The Dream of the Celt, a work that also reveals Vargas Llosa’s ever expanding geographical range and truly international versatility as well as clues to his critique of nationalism. Vargas Llosa’s perspectives can be as much of a paradox as his contradictory politics, but as a writer of genius he does not need to justify himself to his critics. This excellent study of his work offers a very valuable testament to one of Latin America’s most significant writers and should be required reading for students of the region’s literature. – EC