Reviews, travel journalism, and assorted feuilletons from the noted Peruvian novelist (The Feast of the Goat, 2001, etc.).
“Novelist” just begins to cover the ground, for like many other Latin American writers of his generation—he was born in Lima in 1937 and began to write professionally in Spain in the late ’50s—Vargas Llosa cut his teeth writing for daily papers and magazines. He continues to contribute to such periodicals; most of the pieces gathered in this exemplary volume, covering the ’90s, first saw print in his occasional column in the Madrid daily El País. Less afraid of big ideas and big words than most American papers, the post-Franco Spanish press proves an ideal testing ground for Vargas Llosa’s contrarian musings on such matters as Third World development, free markets, and modern literature. A longtime anticommunist liberal, for instance, Vargas Llosa disputes the notion that the developing world is poor because of some inherent defect in its peoples’ wealth-making capabilities: the people are poor, to be sure, he writes, but only because the rich loot them “to enjoy an Arabian Nights–style opulence,” and to the tune of billions of dollars. Throughout, he comes down more on the side of Milton Friedman than Frederick Engels, but, much as he dislikes Fidel Castro, Vargas Llosa is no reactionary. One of the best pieces here is an unexpected homage to the Jamaican reggae star Bob Marley, under whose influence Vargas Llosa’s son became a Rastafarian, and whom Vargas Llosa belatedly praises for his political universalism and tasteful tunes. Elsewhere, Vargas Llosa profiles the many great writers of the Barcelona of his youth—“In those days,” he writes, “Barcelona was down-at-the-heels, cosmopolitan, and international; now it is extremely rich, provincial, and nationalist”—and takes well-aimed potshots at superstar authors, current leaders, and world events, an array of targets that he takes evident pleasure in addressing.
Vargas Llosa’s many admirers will share that pleasure with this fine collection.