Thursday, October 7, 2010

Mario Vargas Llosa: Nobel Laureate, Sucker Puncher

The awarding of this year's Nobel Prize to Mario Vargas Llosa surely marks the first time the prize has been given to a writer who has literally blackened the eye of another laureate. The above photograph of Gabriel Garcia Marquez was taken by his friend Rodrigo Moya in 1976 shortly after a public altercation in which Vargas Llosa "sucker punched" Garcia Marquez, blackening his left eye and cutting his nose. The details of the fight, now part of El Boom legend, remain controversial, but the photographer's account, not published until 2007, describes it as much more personal than political. Garcia Marquez has always been an outspoken leftist while Vargas Llosa is a well-known rightist, but we should probably resist the temptation to draw any conclusions from the fact that Llosa punched Gabo in his left eye. (Which means Llosa swings with his right, appropriately.)
Turning from gossip to literature, I will take this opportunity to recommend Vargas Llosa's 1981 novel The War of the End of the World, the book that will probably be considered the great masterpiece of his maturity. Anyone who wishes to understand why this Nobel is richly deserved need look no further. For a completely different side of Llosa, I recommend In Praise of the Stepmother, a decadent erotic novel written during the same decade. And amidst all of today's Llosa praise, we shouldn't forget the deflating remark of that angry young Chilean Roberto Bolano: "Gabriel Garcia Marquez: a man thrilled to have known so many presidents and archbishops; Mario Vargas Llosa: same thing, but more polished."

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