Mario Vargas Llosa has been touted as a possible winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature these many years, and now he’s won it. He’s that rare creature, a worthy winner. The Swedes who run this prize are generally on the look-out for someone quite the opposite of him, i.e. a radical, if possible someone with a Marxist background, and best of all anti-American. Günter Grass who hid his S.S. membership by being anti-capitalist, poor bemused Harold Pinter, Elfriede Jelinek (whoever is she?), Gabriel Garcia Marquez who dearly loves a tyrant — that’s the sort of ideologue they like to go for. I once met some of the men on the award committee, and a weirder bunch you couldn’t hope to find. They are paid a fortune, and the money is tax-free by kind permission of the Swedish state, so of course they never think of retiring.
It isn’t compulsory for the committee members to have a beard but it helps them pose as profound academics and masters of world literature. In that mode, they praise Vargas Llosa for “his cartography of the structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt and defeat.” True to form, these chaps are chucking about meaningless language. Structures of power have a cartography, do they? And how exactly does the word trenchant fit images?
I first was aware of Vargas Llosa years ago when he attacked ex-S.S. man Grass for following the fashion of that moment and saying that Latin American countries would not solve their problems until they followed “the Cuban example.” What might be good for Germany in Grass’s view wasn’t any good for Vargas Llosa’s Peru and he was advising it instead to be subordinate to the Soviet Union. Vargas Llosa stood firm against the crazed Peruvian terrorists of the Shining Path and he’s been trenchant in the proper usage of that word in attacking the international soft Left. Out of a sense of civic responsibility, he ran for the presidency of Peru.
Grass was a natural for the Swedish prize committee, and it is a wonder that Vargas Llosa has eventually caught up. His novel, The War of the End of the World is long, slow to start, but it captures the South American experience like no other book. Its central figure, the Governor, is treated with understanding, even pity. I well remember the shock it gave me that here was a South American writer who must be a conservative, therefore practically unique.