Sunday, April 22, 2007

A Renaissance Writer

Occasional visitors to this blog will note that it's been updated only infrequentlyover the last month or two. One of the reasons is that I've been diversifying my activity. I've recently written several pieces for a site called Journal Peru . My contributions are here, here, here, and here. All but one of these pieces have never appeared on my blog.

Meanwhile, plans are afoot for a new website of my own, with its own domain name, and space for photos and articles as well as a blog. Details coming soon.

I'm also working my way through Mario Vargas Llosa's ConversaciĆ³n en la Catedral, a dauntingly complex yet controlled piece of literary virtuosity.

This is the third novel of Vargas Llosa's that I've read, and I've concluded that he is of at least equal literary stature to Gabriel Garcia Marquez - whom he famously, and with a still-unknown motive, punched in a movie theatre in 1976. Garcia Marquez developed a prose style of mythic proportions that spawned a thousand imitators, and captured something of the essence of the Latin American experience .

But Vargas Llosa's writing is more prolific and stylistically varied, and has greater intellectual curiosity and insight. As a public intellectual and a (nobly failed) politician, he's the kind of Renaissance Man that in the Anglo-Saxon world we don't really expect artists to be.

It's pleasing, therefore, to see him profiled in today's Guardian, which reviews a new collection of essays and musings called Touchstones.

It's interesting to hear him recite his approval for the fragile movement towards a Latin American social democracy, as exemplified by Lula in Brazil, Bachelet in Chile, and - somewhat improbably - perhaps now also Alan Garcia in Peru.

It's also touching to hear that, though a citizen of the world with homes in London, Paris, and Madrid, Vargas Llosa "seems most animated when talking about Peru". He says:

"I feel very attached to my country, family, friends, certain images, and also the language. You know the kind of Spanish that I write is the Peruvian branch of Spanish and to hear this kind of Spanish is for me something very warm."

It's true; one of the great pleasures of reading Vargas Llosa - and fellow outstanding novelist Alfredo Bryce Echenique - is the rich, hearty Peruvian-ness of the language.

His birthplace? Like the man who could be described as his polar opposite - Shining Path leader Abimael Guzman - Vargas Llosa originally hails from the White City of Arequipa.


Cecilia said...

I'm glad you've concluded that Vargas Llosa is "of at least equal literary stature to Gabriel Garcia Marquez." I've read about the same number of novels of both and personally, I've always felt Garcia Marquez was quite overrated. I also think Vargas Llosa has an incredible range as a novelist. It's hard to believe the same person wrote 'Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter' - laugh out loud funny in parts - and 'Death in the Andes' - just about the spookiest book ever written. (And yes, I should have referred to them as "La Tia Julia y el Escribidor" and "Lituma en los Andes" but I am perfectly comfortable being a philistine and reading things in translation.)

Simon Bidwell said...

'...(And yes, I should have referred to them as "La Tia Julia y el Escribidor" and "Lituma en los Andes" but I am perfectly comfortable being a philistine and reading things in translation.)...'

Ha ha :) No, there's nothing wrong with reading them in translation or using the English titles. I just personally enjoy the distinctively Peruvian flavour in the original language.

"Conversation in the Cathedral" is different again from either of the two novels you've read. Very tightly woven narrative. Plot bombshell dropped on about pg 425 of 650, which puts much of what has gone before in a different context. MVL says that if he had to preserve just one of his books from asome hypothetical obliteration, it would be this one.