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You submitted the following rating and review. Mario Vargas Llosa was born in in Arequipa, a small town in southern Peru. At nineteen he married his aunt by marriage, Julia Urquid Illanes, who was fourteen years his senior. After finishing his studies in Lima, Vargas Llosa went into a seventeen-year self-imposed exile from Peru, during which he worked as a journalist and lecturer. It was during this period of exile that he began writing novels.
Vargas Llosa is also a playwright, an essayist, and has produced a weekly interview program on Peruvian television. He has been the recipient of numerous international literary awards and was the president of PEN from to He has three children and lives with his second wife, Patricia, in Lima, in an apartment overlooking the Pacific.
Will you tell us what you read? In the last few years, something curious has happened. I read much more from the nineteenth century than from the twentieth. These days, I lean perhaps less toward literary works than toward essays and history. When you turn fifty, you become aware that your days are numbered and that you have to be selective. When I was young, I was a passionate reader of Sartre. Of the authors I read when I was young, he is one of the few who still means a lot to me. I have never been disappointed when I reread him, the way I have been occasionally with, say, Hemingway.
They are full of contradictions, ambiguities, inaccuracies, and ramblings, something that never happened with Faulkner. Faulkner was the first novelist I read with pen and paper in hand, because his technique stunned me. He was the first novelist whose work I consciously tried to reconstruct by attempting to trace, for example, the organization of time, the intersection of time and place, the breaks in the narrative, and that ability he has of telling a story from different points of view in order to create a certain ambiguity, to give it added depth.
As a Latin American, I think it was very useful for me to read his books when I did because they are a precious source of descriptive techniques that are applicable to a world which, in a sense, is not so unlike the one Faulkner described. I had to teach it at the university in London, which was a very enriching experience because it forced me to think about Latin American literature as a whole. I also began reading nineteenth-century Latin American literature because I had to teach it. I realized then that we have extremely interesting writers—the novelists perhaps less so than the essayists or poets.
But if I were forced to choose one name, I would have to say Borges, because the world he creates seems to me to be absolutely original. Aside from his enormous originality, he is also endowed with a tremendous imagination and culture that are expressly his own. And then of course there is the language of Borges, which in a sense broke with our tradition and opened a new one.
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Spanish is a language that tends toward exuberance, proliferation, profusion. Borges is the opposite—all concision, economy, and precision. He is the only writer in the Spanish language who has almost as many ideas as he has words. I saw him for the first time in Paris, where I lived in the early sixties. I still remember it with emotion. After that, we saw each other several times in different parts of the world, even in Lima, where I gave a dinner for him.
At the end he asked me to take him to the toilet. When he was peeing he suddenly said, The Catholics, do you think they are serious? Probably not. The last time I saw him was at his house in Buenos Aires; I interviewed him for a television show I had in Peru and I got the impression he resented some of the questions I asked him. Strangely, he got mad because, after the interview—during which, of course, I was extremely attentive, not only because of the admiration I felt for him but also because of the great affection I had for the charming and fragile man that he was—I said I was surprised by the modesty of his house, which had peeling walls and leaks in the roof.
This apparently deeply offended him. I saw him once more after that and he was extremely distant.
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Octavio Paz told me that he really resented that particular remark about his house. The only thing that might have hurt him is what I have just related, because otherwise I have never done anything but praise him. According to him, he never read a single living writer after he turned forty, just read and reread the same books.