Vargas Llosa on reading, fast becoming a lost art
Mario Vargas Llosa is considered the last of the Latin American literary vanguards, including Julio Cortazar and Ernesto Sabato, who changed the landscape of literature in the 1970s and ’80s.
Photo by Eden Estopace
Vargas Llosa on reading, fast becoming a lost art
ZOETROPE - Juaniyo Arcellana (The Philippine Star) - November 14, 2016 - 12:00am

Nobel literature laureate Mario Vargas Llosa capped an almost weeklong visit in the country by being conferred an honorary doctorate by De La Salle University last Tuesday, and in his acceptance speech stressed the importance of reading and literature in free societies.

The 80-year-old Peruvian, who won the prize in 2010, also said that literature is the natural enemy of dictatorships, and it was understandable that dictators should mistrust something that develops the human faculty to criticize.

“And I think good books develop in us a kind of malaise. A kind of dissatisfaction with the world as it is and also the hope that life will change, that societies will overcome all the limitations and create societies more fair,” he said. Readers are able to invent worlds through their imagination “and transform real objects through books,” the former radio news writer said.

He said books are the best defense against prejudice and bigotry, “that in spite of all differences the common denominator among men and women of different traditions is much more important because we are all humans.”

Good books and good stories, Vargas Llosa said, enable the reader to access certain values, including the spiritual.

“The reading of good literature is not only a pleasure, a great pleasure, a marvelous kind of entertainment but also fundamental training of citizens of free and democratic societies,” he said, adding it was no accident that regimes that have tried to control human life have been very suspicious of literature and its spontaneity.

“Dictators were not wrong because literature was natural enemy, something that was against environs as an instrument of control of society, against the kind of fear, insecurity that all dictators produce in citizens…”

Vargas Llosa said good books develop in the reader “a kind of natural criticism of the world as it is and the longing for better worlds, better societies, better institutions, values that would be able to create opportunities, open to all citizens, societies in which the inequalities will be diminishing.”

He thanked the La Sallian brothers in Manila, including DLSU president Raymundo Suplido who led the conferment, as he recalled having spent seven years of primary and secondary school in Bolivia and Peru, and that it was a certain Spanish Christian Brother Justiniano who taught him how to read at a La Salle school in Cochabamba.

“Learning how to read was the most important event of my life,” he said, “an essential of my childhood, this magical operation that was to transform the letters of a book into images and the images into living experience.”

He said his storytelling vocation began probably in those years he learned to read, at a time it was not easy to be a writer in Latin America “and you feel yourself quite eccentric, quite marginal.”

But despite all the difficulties, he persevered because it enriched his life. “It is very difficult to demonstrate that books change for the better the life of readers,” he said, and while there are no physical or material proofs of such enrichment, “everyone that has faith… (in) reading a book (would find) that his life has changed for the better.”

Vargas Llosa, considered the last of the Latin American vanguard which also included Julio Cortazar and Ernesto Sabato who changed the landscape of literature in the 1970s and ’80s, has written several novels including The War of the End of the World, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter and The Storyteller (El Hablador).

Other Nobel literature winners from the region are Pablo Neruda (Chile), Octavio Paz (Mexico), Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Colombia), Gabriela Mistral (Chile). A great Peruvian writer before Vargas Llosa’s generation was the poet Cesar Vallejo, a contemporary of Neruda’s.

It was the second time for Vargas Llosa to visit the country after the late ’70s during the height of martial law when as president of PEN International he expressed solidarity with Filipino writers. This latest visit was under the auspices of Instituto Cervantes, the writer being also a previous winner of the Premio Cervantes.  

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