Peruvian writer, novelist and politician Mario Vargas Llosa has won the 2010 Nobel prize for literature.
Cited by the Swedish Academy for “his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual's resistance, revolt and defeat”, the £1 million award crowns a literary career that was launched in 1963 with his novel The Time of the Hero, and includes further books such as Conversation in the Cathedral (1969), Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter (1977) and The Feast of the Goat (2000).
Born in 1936 in the provincial city of Arequipa, he began working as a crime reporter for the Lima newspaper La Crónica at the age of 15. He moved to Paris in 1959 and from there to London and Barcelona, working as a Spanish teacher, broadcaster and journalist and as a visiting professor in universities in Europe and America, before returning to Peru in 1975.
A succession of novels, short stories and plays cemented his literary reputation, but as his fame grew he became increasingly involved in politics, moving steadily away from the Marxism of his early years. As his profile increased he began hosting a talk show on Peruvian television, and backed the conservative government of Fernando Belaúnde Terry from 1980-1985, turning down an invitation in 1984 to become his prime minister.
In 1987 he led protests against a plan to nationalise the Peruvian financial system, drawing 120,000 people to a rally, and launching three-year presidential campaign. After three years of death threats and abusive phone calls he was defeated in the second round by Alberto Fujimori. He left the country within hours of a defeat he blamed on a “dirty war”, taking up Spanish citizenship in 1993. “I didn't lie,” he explained. “I said we needed radical reforms and social sacrifices and in the beginning it worked. But then came the dirty war, presenting my reforms as something that would destroy jobs. It was very effective, especially with the poorest of society. In Latin America we prefer promises to reality.”
The Feast of the Goat (2002), widely viewed as his most recent masterpiece, returns to dictatorship, offering a portrait of Rafael L Trujillo Molina, who ruled the Dominican Republic from 1930 until 1961. Vargas Llosa draws him as an incontinent hyper-villain.
He has described it as a “realist treatment of a human being who became a monster”, adding that he is distrustful of “the idea that you can build a paradise here in history. That idea of a perfect society lies behind monsters like the Taliban. When you want paradise you produce first extraordinary idealism. But at some time, you produce hell.”