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the Complete Review

A Literary Saloon and Site of Review

Mario Vargas Llosa
at the
complete review:

biographical | bibliography | quotes | pros/cons | our opinion | links


Nationality: Peruvian
Born: 28 March 1936
Awards: Principe de Asturias Prize for Letters (1986)
Cervantes Prize(1994)
Jerusalem Prize (1995)
National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism (1997)
Nobel Prize in Literature, 2010

  • Received his Ph.D. from the University of Madrid
  • Ran for the presidency of Peru

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Highlighted titles are under review at the complete review

  • Los jefes - stories, 1959 (in The Cubs and Other Stories, trans. Ronald Christ and Gregory Kolovakos, 1979)
  • La ciudad y los perros - novel, 1963 (The Time of the Hero, trans.Lysander Kemp, 1966)
  • La casa verde - novel, 1966 (The Green House, trans. Gregory Rabassa, 1968)
  • La novela - non-fiction, 1968
  • Conversacion en la catedral - novel, 1969 (Conversation in the Cathedral, trans. Gregory Rabassa, 1975)
  • García Márquez: Historia de un deicidio - non-fiction, 1971
  • La historia secreta de una novela - non-fiction, 1971
  • Pantaleon y las visitadoras - novel, 1973 (Captain Pantoja and the Special Service, trans. Ronald Christ and Gregory Kolovakos, 1978)
  • The Perpetual Orgy - non-fiction, 1975 (La orgia perpetua, trans. Helen Lane, 1986)
  • La tia Julia y el escribidor - novel, 1977 (Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, trans. Helen Lane, 1982)
  • The Young Lady from Tacna - drama, 1981 (La señorita de Tacna, trans. David Graham-Young), 1990
  • La guerra del fin del mundo - novel, 1981 (The War of the End of the World, trans. Helen Lane, 1984)
  • Entre Sartre y Camus - non-fiction, 1981
  • Kathie and the Hippopotamus - drama, 1983 (Kathie y el hipopotamo, trans. David Graham-Young, 1990 (also trans. Kerry McKenny and Anthony Oliver-Smith, 1986))
  • Historia de Mayta - novel, 1985 (The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta, trans. Alfred MacAdam, 1985)
  • La Chunga - drama, 1986 (La chunga , trans. David Graham-Young, 1990 (also trans. Joanne Pottlitzer, 1986))
  • Quien mato a Palomino Molero ? - novel, 1986 (Who Killed Palomino Molero?, trans. Alfred MacAdam, 1987)
  • El hablador - novel, 1987 (The Storyteller, trans. Helen Lane, 1989)
  • In Praise of the Stepmother - novel, 1988 (Elogio de la madrastra, trans. Helen Lane, 1990)
  • Three Plays - dramas, 1990 (includes La Chunga, Kathie and the Hippopotamus, and The Young Lady from Tacna, trans. David Graham-Young)
  • A Writer's Reality - non-fiction, 1991, ed. Myron I. Lichtblau
  • Lituma en los Andes - novel, 1993 (Death in the Andes, trans. Edith Grossman, 1996)
  • El señor de los balcones - drama, 1993
  • A Fish in the Water - autobiography, 1993 (El pez en el agua, trans. Helen Lane, 1994)
  • Making Waves - non-fiction, trans. John King, 1997
  • Letters to a Young Novelist - non-fiction, 1997 (Cartas a un joven novelista, trans. Natasha Wimmer, 2002)
  • The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto - novel, 1997 (Los cuadernos de don Rigoberto, trans. Edith Grossman, 1998)
  • The Feast of the Goat - novel, 2000 (La fiesta del chivo, trans. Edith Grossman, 2002)
  • The Language of Passion - non-fiction, 2001 (El lenguaje de la pasion, trans. Natasha Wimmer, 2003)
  • The Way to Paradise - novel, 2003 (El paraíso en la otra esquina, trans. Natasha Wimmer, 2003)
  • The Temptation of the Impossible - non-fiction, 2004 (La tentación de lo imposible, trans. John King, 2007)
  • The Bad Girl - novel, 2006, (Travesuras de la niña mala, trans. Edith Grossman, 2007)
  • Wellsprings - non-fiction, 2008
  • Sabers and Utopias - non-fiction, 2009 (Sables y utopías, trans. Anna Kushner, 2018)
  • The Dream of the Celt - novel, 2010 (El sueño del celta, trans. Edith Grossman, 2012)
  • Notes on the Death of Culture - non-fiction, 2012 (La civilización del espectáculo, trans. John King, 2015)
  • The Discreet Hero - novel, 2013 (El héroe discreto, trans. Edith Grossman, 2015)
  • The Neighborhood - novel, 2016 (Cinco esquinas, trans. Edith Grossman, 2018)
  • Harsh Times - novel, 2019 (Tiempos Recios, trans. Adrian Nathan West, 2021)

Please note that this bibliography is not necessarily complete.
Dates given are of first publication.

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What others have to
say about
Mario Vargas Llosa:

  • "The great achievement of Vargas Llosa is that he showed Peruvians, after revealing the madhouse, that they could leave it. His great challenge now, and for some years hereafter, is to show them how -- to analyze without scolding, advise without obstructing, define, remind, persuade, and prophesy. (And he might remember that Peruvians believe more in God and less in Karl Popper than he does.) This is not, of course, the business of electoral politics. Rather it is the agenda of an hablador -- new, fresh, effective, and, notwithstanding his disdain for such a claim, victorious." - James Como, National Review (17/4/1995)

  • "Mr Vargas Llosa writes brilliantly crafted novels which baffle readers with shifts from past to present and intertwining plots." - The Economist (15/6/1996)

  • "Mario Vargas Llosa has long been a literary adventurer of the very first order. (...) Vargas Llosa, I am convinced, can tell us stories about anything and make them dance to his inventive rhythms." - Lisa Appignanesi, The Independent (30/3/2002)

  • "When a novelist as gifted, intelligent and perceptive as Mario Vargas Llosa takes on the subject of tyranny and the fantasies of tyrants, the results are spectacular and incontrovertibly plausible. There is nobody comparable in the English-language novel (.....) The Nobel Prize, surely, cannot be long coming." - Philip Hensher, The Spectator (30/3/2002)

  • "Llosa, a former Peruvian presidential candidate, writes as one who knows his political and historical material intimately. The author of novels (e.g., The Green House) that explore the nature of narrative, he also writes as one who knows intimately how stories are constructed, be they in the form of literature or the narrative of fear and mythology created by a dictator to stay in power." - Steve Tomasula, Review of Contemporary Fiction (Spring/2002)

  • "In his insights and the gravity of his work, Vargas Llosa, to my mind, sometimes makes Garcia Marquez look like a thematic dilettante." - Olga Lorenzo, The Age (15/7/2002)

  • "Though he is sometimes labeled a conservative, Vargas Llosa is further to the left than any current U.S. Democratic Party presidential hopeful. He is also determinedly independent, because he's a writer first of all, a moralist second, and, for better or worse, a politician last." - Bob Blaisdell, San Francisco Chronicle (29/6/2003)

  • "The older he gets, the more difficult Mario Vargas Llosa becomes. It's not that his work is more obscure or challenging, but he makes things increasingly hard on himself. He writes about historical figures but seems unsure of his ability to fictionalise them." - Jonathan Heawood, New Statesman (24/11/2003)

  • "The bold, dynamic and endlessly productive imagination of the Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, one of the writing giants of our time, is something truly to be admired. It feeds almost always on the material of history and transforms such matter into fiction quite personal without ever losing the effect of universality." - Alan Cheuse, San Francisco Chronicle (7/12/2003)

  • "Vargas Llosa has reached that happy position in which he can write about whatever he wants knowing that he will always be published, and in many languages. It's hard to overestimate how admired he is in the Hispanic world, and his El País column is widely syndicated. Nowadays, though, you seldom meet English-language writers who cite him as an influence, as perhaps they once might have done when Faber first began to translate and publish his early novels in the 1980s. It is almost as if our culture is too sceptical, sophisticated and self-mocking for a writer as earnestly engaged and sincere as Mario Vargas Llosa. We do not like our writers telling us what to read or how to live, and we wouldn't listen anyway if they tried." - Jason Cowley, New Statesman (16/4/2007)

  • "For all his bracing work decrying totalitarian strongmen, Vargas Llosa is no radical revolutionary. He has been described as an intransigent neoliberal, a man with unshakeable convictions that his country and people need strict economic discipline, membership in the world market and tough austerity measures at home. (...) But perhaps the most winning aspect of Vargas Llosa's career is his deep and abiding humanity. Generous in friendship, unfailingly curious about the world at large, tireless in his quest to probe the nature of the human animal, he is a model writer for our times." - Marie Arana, The Washington Post (7/10/2010)

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Pros and Cons
of the author's work:

  • variety of work
  • a very fine storyteller
  • humour
  • politically engaged without allowing it to overwhelm his art
  • at home in both Latin America and Europe, and with both traditions

  • uneven quality of work
  • many, many English translators

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the complete review's Opinion

     Mario Vargas Llosa's reputation would be high even if all he had done was produce the fiction he is best known for -- which includes some of the most significant novels to come out of South America for the past fifty years. He is, however, also a widely read and respected essayist, writing everything from newspaper opinion pieces to critical works on other writers (including his wonderful Flaubert-study, The Perpetual Orgy). He is also active outside the literary arena, and was a serious contender for the presidency of Peru in 1990 (eventually losing to the now disgraced Alberto Fujimori).
     Vargas Llosa has written all sorts of novels, from the massive Conversation in the Cathedral, The War of the End of the World, and the wonderful Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter to smaller but often no less effective efforts. His oeuvre provides a sweeping look, from many vantage points, of Latin and South America over the past decades -- with Vargas Llosa's close familiarity with European tradition (cultural and otherwise) adding to the appeal of his books.
     His writing is admittedly uneven: many of the books don't fully live up to their ambition, and some of his newspaper columns are pedestrian -- but in part this is more noticeable because so much that he does is exceptional. There's also the fact that he simply does so much, and is willing to explore new approaches, subjects, and themes, making the occasional failures or slips stand out all the more.
     Certainly one of the leading authors of our time, Vargas Llosa is always worth reading.

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Mario Vargas Llosa: Mario Vargas Llosa's books at the complete review: See also:

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