The New Nobel

My sincerest congratulations to Mario Vargas Llosa, first of all, for winning the 2010 Nobel Prize for Literature!

It was about time!!!!!!!!!!

The most important parts of this year’s Nobel are the recognition by the Swedish Academy that writing in Latin America has advanced into the 21st Century and that a Latin American author is not restricted to writing about his or her small square miles in his or her country. This quiet revolution has been going on for some years, but now, it’s been recognized.

I’ve felt for many years that, while the Nobel is prestigious and goes to deserving writers, the group of people who choose the winner tend to favor work that is “costumbrista” (or “folkloric”) and adheres to a kind of 19th Century structure. Consequently, the theme(s) is/are narrow, even though the reader can always see the universal in the commonplace. With this Nobel, however, this group has awarded the prize to someone who has, within at least Latin America, reshaped the literature and moved it forward.

Although his first novels centered around Lima and Peru, over time Mario Vargas Llosa became “global” or more sophisticated in his themes. His style moved from the ever-so-correct Spanish to a more modern one, with pretty clear influences of French and English structure. He included women as real people (about which someone will probably write a large tome someday). And finally, he has taken on non-Peruvian and non-Latin American people as his characters without making them cartoons or stereotypes.

But we can not forget that his books actually sell, in Spanish and in translation.

Within Latin America, all these things make Mario Vargas Llosa a rebel, a subversive in ways no dictatorship could ever imagine and a genuine trailblazer.

Not to mention the object of incredible envy. The “model writer,” when he began his career, not only had to write on the side for financial reasons, but because the career of “writer” really did not exist. In many cases, even journalists had to have outside incomes. Second, the dominant role model for literature was the 19th C. French Symbolist movement, epitomized by “Les Fleurs du Mal.” Swooning was almost a requirement, in one form or another. I’ve also read many “book reviews” in Colombia in which all the emphasis was placed on the novelist’s technique (exposition, development, characters) but not a word could be found on the plot.

Vargas Llosa has changed all that, and Thank God he did!!!!!! While the new crop of writers is still free to pick an idea and develop it, they aren’t being hammered down into writing a piece that will fit neatly into a 16th or 19th Century mold. This in itself is interesting because, in the 19th C., Emile Zola revolutionized literature by focussing on daily life, and not necessarily among the rich, while his ideas were discreetly rejected among most Latin American writers. Within his own career, however, and certainly in the last twenty or so years, Mario Vargas Llosa has made it possible for Spanish-speaking authors to break from that old tradition and try something new.

This bears repeating–Congratulations to Mario Vargas Llosa on winning the 2010 Nobel Prize for Literature!!!!!! He has proved time and again that revolutions can be carried out and won with words and ideas. Viva Vargas Llosa!

(But now I hope he does not start appearing in ads for watches, cars, whisky and computers! These days, one can never be sure. . .)

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