Mario Vargas Llosa, the Peruvian novelist and winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize for Literature, is considered a political novelist because his politics aren’t the politics of most novelists. In the pantheon of modern Spanish-language fiction you’ll find a surplus of writers informed by radical thought—think Jose Saramago, Roberto Bolaño, Eduardo Galeano, Carlos Fuentes, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But Vargas Llosa is an outlier, an apostate from radicalism turned habitué of the classical liberal world, a former supporter of the Cuban Revolution transformed into an evangelist for free markets and free trade. And in a literary milieu charged by ideology, this means something.
It is difficult to separate Vargas Llosa’s politics from his fiction writing—the attentive reader will divine much about his worldview from his novels. But one needn’t read tea leaves because he is an unapologetically political figure. In 1990, Vargas Llosa embarked on a brief, ambitious, and ill-fated political career, running for president of Peru, an election he lost to the corrupt and thuggish Alberto Fujimori. These day he engages the political world with tub-thumping opinion columns in the Spanish daily El Pais.
Back in May, I sat down with Vargas Llosa at Oslo’s Grand Hotel after he delivered a coruscating speech to the Oslo Freedom Forum on “literature, freedom, and power.” He speaks in heavily-accented English, but fluidly and lyrically, with both force and deliberation. He is thoughtful on topical political matters (“The idea of Europe is a great idea; it deserves to succeed...a counterpoint to the monsters; the United States and now China”) but expansive and polemical when discussing the intersection of politics and literature.