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  • A Companion to Mario Vargas Llosa by Sabine Köllmann
  • Hedy Habra
Köllmann, Sabine. A Companion to Mario Vargas Llosa. Woodbridge: Tamesis, 2014. 325pp.

A Companion to Mario Vargas Llosa presents its readers with an overview of the Peruvian Nobel recipient’s œuvre, encompassing his essays, journalism, fiction, [End Page 391] and plays, and addresses the sometimes contradictory reception of his work over the past fifty years. The book aims at highlighting the continuity and coherence inherent in Vargas Llosa’s thought across several genres and within recurrent themes. Sabine Köllmann aptly succeeds in this ambitious task as she underscores the convergence of the Peruvian author’s ideas in his essayistic and fictional work, oftentimes written simultaneously, and constantly brings forward the intricate intertextuality between past and future works. The book consists of three parts: “A Lifetime of Reading and Writing,” “The Narrative Work,” and “Works for the Theatre;” preceded by a brief “Preface” and “Introduction,” followed by “Suggestions for Further Reading.”

Part I is divided in three sections: “Two Sides of a Vocation: Writer and Intellectual;” “Truth and Lies: Literary Theory and Criticism;” and “Journalism and Essays: from Art to Politics.” Köllmann focuses as a point of departure on Vargas Llosa’s 2010 Nobel Prize Lecture, which illustrates the author’s constant concern with both literature and politics, and reaffirms his ideas about the humanizing effect of literature and its essential role in stimulating a critical mind and fomenting the desire to change reality, freedom being the common denominator as he had declared in “La literatura es fuego,” his acceptance speech for the Rómulo Gallegos Prize upon the release of La casa verde (1966). A Companion retraces the many instances in which Vargas Llosa has reiterated such statements, demonstrating his remarkable coherence as a writer and intellectual. The book emphasizes Vargas Llosa’s lifelong interest in literary theory, exemplified by his numerous critical studies and essays on Johann Martorell, Gabriel García Márquez, Gustave Flaubert, Víctor Hugo, José María Arguedas, and Juan Carlos Onetti. In such books,Vargas Llosa not only analyzes each author’s techniques, but also explains his own creative process; he expounds his theory of the novela total, encompassing all levels of reality and his concept of the unconscious demonios that are exorcized and transcended into alternate fictional worlds. The ambiguities between truth and lies that Vargas Llosa has constantly evoked are discussed, along with his notion of the persuasive power of a good novel. Among other relevant works, Köllmann mentions the preface of La verdad de la mentiras (1990); the prefaces of the plays of the 1980s; Cartas a un joven novelista (1997); and the introduction to the more recent essay on Onetti’s fiction. A Companion shows how Vargas Llosa’s notions of literary theory have shaped his essays about art, and recalls his numerous interests, including film, theater, football, music, and movies. Special attention is given to Vargas Llosa’s journalistic writings and his numerous collections of essays that express his cultural and political views, among them: Contra Viento y Marea (1983, 1986, 1990); Desafíos a la libertad (1990–94); his memoirs following his failed presidential campaign, El pez en el agua (1993); El lenguaje de la pasión (2000); Sables y Utopías (2009); and La civilización del espectáculo (2012). Köllmann states that “Vargas Llosa’s liberal stance has always included the possibility of error and a revision of his opinions in the light of new information or new developments” (75). She affirms that Vargas Llosa’s ideas do not fit the right/left nor conservative/progressive dichotomy and that his body of work shows him consistently advocating freedom and tolerance as he warns against the dangers of nationalism and expresses his abhorrence of authoritarianism, dictatorships, political violence, and religious fanaticism. [End Page 392]

Such concerns are expressed in Vargas Llosa’s fiction, studied in Part II: The Narrative Work, comprising six sections: 4. Prelude: Los jefes (1959); 5. Experimenting with Form and Language: Narratives of the 1960s and 1970s; 6. Towards the Total Novel: La guerra del fin del mundo (1981); 7. Experimenting with Genres: Novels of...


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