The Swedish Academy gave an odd reason for granting Mario Vargas Llosa its Nobel Prize for Literature — for his “cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt and defeat.”
Some gobbledygook. I imagine the writer was struck speechless. It would have been far simpler to say that the academy rewarded the most outstanding living novelist in Spanish literature.
The news found Mario at Princeton University, where he’s teaching a class this semester. Oscar Haza, the Dominican journalist from Miami, was first to interview him after the announcement. That, in journalistic parlance, is called a “scoop.”
I was on the air with his son, Alvaro Vargas Llosa, celebrating the triumph, when Haza managed to contact Mario. This year, the critics didn’t even mention him among the candidates. Mario had even forgotten that around this time every year the Swedish academicians select the winner. Always an early riser and careful teacher, he was preparing his lesson when he received the unexpected phone call from Stockholm.
Ever since, in 1981, Mario published The War of the End of the World, an extraordinary novel with a Brazilian theme, he deserved this recognition. It is probably the only important award he had not received.
The list of prizes, doctorates and distinctions he has been given in the course of his 74 years is impressive. Some were given to honor him; others, to extol the institutions that granted them, but that’s the inevitable ambiguity of all medals.
In this case, if Mario died without the Nobel for Literature, it would have been another unpardonable mistake by an institution that, throughout its history, has ignored figures the size of Kafka, Joyce or Borges while rewarding some writers with a lot less heft.
On this opportunity, however, there is a phenomenon beyond literature that morally boosts the figure of Mario Vargas Llosa. Among the dozens of messages I have received, many come from Venezuelans, Nicaraguans, Cubans and Chileans. All express their thanks for the permanent defense of freedom that the Peruvian-born author, along with his wife, Patricia, and son Alvaro, have turned into a true family leitmotif.
Paraphrasing Churchill, “Never did so many owe so much to so few.” There is no Latin American tyrant who hasn’t faced Mario’s criticism. There is no persecuted democrat who hasn’t encountered his helping hand when knocking at his door. There is no public protest that he hasn’t endorsed if the cause is worthwhile.
He even created (and heads) the International Foundation for Liberty, with the collaboration of Argentine economist Gerardo Bongiovanni, for the purpose of effectively disseminating the ideas in which he believes.
For us Latin Americans, this is very important. We live in dangerous political quicksand, where liberty and democracy always hang from a thread.
In the past, the generals would strike a blow and seize the government, but today the most obvious threat comes from elected leaders who use their authority to dismantle the rule of law and turn the judiciary into a tool to perpetuate themselves in power and persecute their adversaries, as happens in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Ecuador.
Faced with such leaders, because of the legitimacy of their origin, the genuinely democratic governments and institutions such as the OAS remain silent. Only the protests led by major figures manage to make headlines in the media.
This firmness in the defense of freedom has been costly to Mario Vargas Llosa. As always happens, the friends of tyrannies have accused him of selling out to Washington or being a CIA agent and have not spared their worst insults and slander.
They have even put his life in danger, as happened in Rosario, Argentina, a couple of years ago, when the most violent communist groups stoned and tried to burn a bus in which he traveled, along with other writers participating in a seminar organized by the International Foundation for Liberty.
What is going to happen to Mario now that he holds the Nobel? Nothing special, except in one aspect, which his son Alvaro has referred to in jest: Nobody will again mortify him with the uncomfortable question, “Why didn’t you get the Nobel this year?”
Justice has finally been done.
The Miami Herald
Posted on Tue, Oct. 12, 2010
Oct 12 , 2010