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  • Vargas Llosa: The Artist and the Public Intellectual
  • Sara Castro-Klaren
de Castro, Juan E. Mario Vargas Llosa: Public Intellectual in Neoliberal Latin America. Tucson: The U of Arizona P, 2011. 179 pp.
de Castro, Juan E., and Nicholas Birns, eds. Vargas Llosa and Latin American Politics. New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2010. 235 pp.
Kristal, Efraín, and John King, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Mario Vargas Llosa. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 2012. 233 pp.

The books under review range from the focused monograph on Vargas Llosa’s writings and activities as a public intellectual, to a companion that attempts, in a series of essays by various authors, to offer a thematic classification of the author’s entire narrative output. In their general quality and variety, these recent books are very useful and join productively the existing abundant and, to a large extent repetitious, criticism on the work of the Nobel Prize winner. The monograph authored by Juan E. de Castro, alongside the volume he edits with Nicholas Birns on Vargas Llosa’s politics, presents a sustained discussion on the question (puzzle, for some critics) of Vargas Llosa’s militant public advocacy of a neo-liberal and neo-conservative set of convictions about politics and the political meaning of history.

The essays in Vargas Llosa and Latin American Politics consider the author’s journalism and collections of essays on politics in the [End Page 173] context of his turn to the Right after the Padilla affair, his stay at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington in 1979 and his definitive turn in 1992 into a public neo-liberal intellectual in conjunction with his defeat in the electoral contest for the presidency of Peru. Critics such as Fabiola Escarzaga, Sergio Franco, Gene H. Bell-Villada and others delve into texts and chronicle speeches given on various occasions connected to the awarding of literary prizes to the author of Who Killed Palomino Molero? (1987) in order to determine not only the principle set of ideas informing Vargas Llosa’s neoliberalism but also the genesis of his turn to the Right. This inquiry, of course, presumes that Vargas Llosa, as many of these critics assume, was before “the turn” a socialist, a proposition that is not really demonstrated with textual and contextual evidence. In their examination of Vargas Llosa’s neoliberalism, most of these critics take care to draw a distance from the political tenets that they identify as core to the writer’s neo-liberalism. Some of these scholars strike a more implicit critical note such as can be found in the essay by Paul Allanston on The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta (86), or in Sergio Franco’s “Mercantilism of the Skin in A Fish in the Water”. However, one would be mistaken in thinking that the entire volume departs from or sustains political views critical of Vargas Llosa’s own neo-liberal pronouncements. The essays by Roland Forgues, Sabine Köllmann and Wilfredo H. Corral focus on more literary questions—the presence of French culture in the author’s cultural world, the free appreciation of Latin American writers in Vargas Llosa’s recent Diccionario del Amante de America Latina (2006). On the whole this is a welcome volume. It begins to lay down some of the key facts in the debate. It establishes a selection of texts and events relevant to a time line in the evolution of Vargas Llosa’s politics. The apparent divergence between the work of the great writer of fiction—all of it heavily political—and the publicly expressed political ideas and policy recommendations by the author, remains a puzzle, despite the many attempts to elucidate the breach. In reading these essays and their restrictive reliance on textual evidence, it seems clear that the unbreachable gap obtains as an effect of the practice of literary criticism that assumes an unbreachable autonomy and independence of the work of art from the life and actions of the author. It is this very cleavage that allows Vargas Llosa to claim an unfettered freedom for the artist, a freedom that needs not face up to the ideas espoused in other literary forms, genres and even venues. Future [End Page 174...


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