The Peruvian boy who lived in Paris when Paris was a party, the young man who followed the debates of Sartre and Camus, the novelist trained by reading Victor Hugo and Flaubert, the reader who dreamed of emulating the heroism of Malraux, would build with the time a work that would deserve what no author who did not write in French, for centuries: admission to the French Academy. France, capital of Western culture, honors the universality of Mario Vargas Llosa, a writer who, from the Peruvian and Latin American particularity, has illuminated permanent issues of the human condition.
A constellation of novels, short stories, dramas, comedies, essays, his work is literature. Like so many others, I have lived reading it for more than half a century. I was moved by the moral fiber of his first novels, written under the passionate breath, very French, of social indignation. I celebrated the playful and sensual vein of his love novels, that blessed resource of escaping from reality to imagine lives tied to desire. Imagine them and tell them, with Flaubertian resources and limpid prose. rocked me The War of the End of the Worldambitious and epic as The Miserablesreferring to a premodern rebellion that seemed remote at the time but, over time, would prove to be premonitory.
I followed him in his ideological battles in the eighties, when after witnessing the horrors of Sendero Luminoso, he wrote Mayta’s story, incarnation of the guerrilla in love with his moral purity who is suddenly assaulted by the truth of his own errors, unrealities, dogmatism and crimes. In A Fish in the Water I attended the confession about the first dictator that Vargas Llosa confronted, his own father, whose abuses would reveal to him the ultimate entrails of the continent’s misfortunes, the affiliation of power. The natural derivation had to be The party of the goattop novel inspired by the opposite affiliation, that of freedom. Unlike other famous novelists of our language whose works reveal an almost erotic attraction to power, the creation of Vargas Llosa dissected power like a surgeon cancer, not to wallow in its murderous malignancy but to show it, exhibit it and remove it. Power or freedom: has it not been the central dilemma of all civilized society? And literature, isn’t it the universal antidote against the poison of power?
The novel, it will be remembered, takes place in the remote backlands Brazilians, but its drama is universal: the battle between reason and faith. Vargas Llosa’s heart (and that of readers like me) was with the damned of our land, the followers of Conselheiro, the redeemer of Canudos, who was surrounded by a suffering, poor people that few authors have recreated with such mercy. Faced with this vast phenomenon of faith stood the cold and geometric Reason, which a republican government seeks to impose by blood and fire. The “myopic journalist” who stars in the novel understands that such an opposition, between the so-called millenarian of the tribe and the rational and modern precepts, can only lead to a total, final conflagration. “In Peru, we have a living Canudos in the Andes,” Vargas Llosa declared at the time. But what to do?
Then came —it seems to me— its moment of definition, which illuminates our current circumstance. As attractive as the enchanted world of messianism may be, with its fervent communities and charismatic leaders, if we believe in the possibility of a peaceful, civilized, free, fraternal, dignified and even prosperous common life, we are morally obliged to disenchant him through reason. Faith concerns man’s relationship with God, not the cops. At the end of that novel, and when confronting the project that Marxism (millenarianism disguised as rationality) had for Peru and Latin America, Vargas Llosa came to the conviction that there was no better option for the kingdom of this world than the modest republican utopia. , democratic and, above all, liberal. How to bring it closer to the members of the tribe, without imposing it? How to ensure that they do not surrender to new political messianisms? It remains the theme of our time.
But today is a holiday. Today the French Academy recognizes the universality of Mario Vargas Llosa and recognizes itself in it. Power is not the protagonist of this story. It is literature, life in freedom.