Essays on Latin American politics reflect 5 tumultuous decades.
Nobel Prize winner Vargas Llosa (Notes on the Death of Culture: Essays on Spectacle and Society, 2015, etc.), born in Peru in 1936 and who ran for president of his home country in 1990, reflects on the politics and culture of Latin America in essays written over more than 50 years. Translated by Kushner and selected and introduced by Carlos Granés, a Colombian-born social anthropologist and scholar of Vargas Llosa, the essays reveal the trajectory of the author’s views from a leftist supporter of Fidel Castro to a conservative critic of various “collectivist ideologies” that he sees as having blighted Latin America. Granés groups the essays into five sections that are thematically related but not presented chronologically. In an informative foreword, he contextualizes the author’s work as responses to political events that occurred from the Cuban revolution of the 1950s, which Vargas Llosa considered “a model within socialism,” to the current upheaval in “impoverished, damaged Venezuela, devastated by demagoguery and corruption” under the presidency of Nicolás Maduro. Castro’s regime lost Vargas Llosa’s respect in 1971 when the Cuban ruler imprisoned the poet Heberto Padilla for “counterrevolutionary criticism” expressed in his poems. In response to Padilla’s public humiliation—he was forced to engage in self-criticism—Vargas Llosa, along with dozens of other writers, sent a strident rebuke to Castro, communicating “shame and anger” over his repression of freedom and abuse of human dignity. Many essays argue for intellectual openness: “the way in which a country strengthens and develops its culture,” the author wrote in 1981, “is by opening its doors and windows, widely, to all intellectual, scientific, and artistic currents, stimulating the free circulation of ideas.” Headnotes would have been a welcome addition to the collection; although Granés dates each piece, there is no indication of where they appeared or for what occasion. An exception is a warm memoir of literary friendships delivered at the first “Canon of the Boom” Congress in Madrid in 2012.
Insightful essays express guarded hope for Latin America’s future.