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The history of Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa and France is an eternal chain of affections. An attachment that surrenders in admiration. Without French culture, the novelist would never have been the writer he is today, because he not only outlined his character as reader and writer but also trained him in intellectual fencing, that which imposes rationality and lucidity on the darkness of thought. For this reason, before so much affection, the “second mother country” for Vargas Llosa finally called him. This designation of the French Academy as one of its members is, for him, almost like a second Nobel Prize.
But what Peruvian writer since the days of independence has not been seduced, attracted, finally delivered to a culture like the French? Very few, no doubt. France since the 19th century has been synonymous with artistic sensitivity, intelligence, rationality, emotion and freedom. Freedom, a word, a concept very close to the author of “The war at the end of the world” (1981).
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Toward 1950, the American novelist Ernest Hemingway He wrote a letter to a friend in which he said: “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, Paris will accompany you, wherever you go, for the rest of your life, because Paris is a party that follows us.” Vargas Llosa believed that, that’s why he sought to follow France or that she would seek him out, and thus continue with her until today that she has just joined her culture through the greatest door that exists.
The beginning of this romance with France was told by Vargas Llosa himself in “The fish in the water” (1993), his famous autobiographical essay book. It was his friend, the writer Luis Loayza who advised him in September or October 1957 that the French Magazine organized a story contest, and that the prize was “a fortnight trip to Paris”.
Vargas Llosa sent the story ‘The Challenge’, which he later included in his book “Los Jefes” (1958). Then he forgot the matter so as not to be disappointed if he lost; but one day the same friend Luis Loayza, like a goblin sponsoring his dreams, he came to the attic of Pan-American Radio where the young aspiring writer made press releases, to give him the good news: “You’re going to France!” He said, with the enthusiasm of a brother.
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“He was going to set foot in the city of his dreams, in the mythical country where the writers he most admired were born“, wrote Vargas Llosa in “The fish …”. And he said to himself: “I’m going to meet Sartre, I’m going to shake hands with Sartre”, And then repeated it to Julia Urquidi, his wife, and his uncles. That had been his dream, always.
Jean paul sartre, the old and brilliant French intellectual, the one responsible for his eagerness with the “writer’s commitment” in which he believed until the end of the 60s, was his totem in those years. Later he would lose strength in his political imaginary when he saw him fix gestures and policies of the Soviet dictator Stalin. Then he would turn his eyes to other types of writers; between them to Albert camus, to whom he dedicated comprehensive and complimentary essays and articles.
Vargas Llosa thus began a long relationship of comings and goings, of attachments and misunderstandings, but of more encounters with the old, beloved and very rich French culture. For this reason, it can be said that the Peruvian novelist did not go to France to die, as our universal poet did heartbreakingly, Cesar Vallejo (“I will die in Paris and I will not run”), he, that beardless young man born in Arequipa, went to live, write, think and dream great stories in the Parisian Latin Quarter.
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Perhaps what most caught the attention of this young and future Nobel laureate was that the great French literary tradition gave him millions of examples of how to write. I did it since Montaigne, Moliere or Pascal until Flaubert, Stendhal or Proust, and in an intense and creative way at the same time, where the elegance and precision of the word, of the sentence, the beauty of the paragraph prevailed above all.
In Paris, in France, Vargas Llosa must have finished writing his novel “The city and the dogs” (1963). Thus, in that land of the Gauls, he discovered his “latin american identity“; listened to and learned all he could about literature, history, philosophy, and politics, and admired the thinker Maurice Merleau-Ponty and the historian Marcel bataillon. He listened to them of course that in the Collège de France, an institution founded in 1530, and where many times later he himself would converse with other writers and young students.
France had already shown signs – for several decades – of a deep admiration, respect and affection for the literary and intellectual work of Mario Vargas Llosa. However, in 2016, a gesture occurred that the Nobel will undoubtedly never forget: that year he became the first living writer, not French, to publish in the select collection of classics. “La Pléiade”. He could see his name printed in that literary parnassus as he saw his teachers decades ago.
In his speech of appreciation, after receiving the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature, Vargas Llosa told everyone that “Peru is me”. He was not without reason, as he would not be without if today or tomorrow he said “France is me too ”.
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Mario Vargas Llosa won this Thursday 25, in a vote of the academics, the 18th seat, which belonged to the philosopher Michel Serres, died in 2019. After the “protector”, that is, the President of the Republic, Emmanuel macron, receives it and approves its incorporation, the Peruvian writer will read his eulogy to Serres, as is tradition to do every time a new academic assumes the position of another.
To the members of the French Academy they are known as “The immortals”. Mario Vargas Llosa will be one of them. The dream of France is not over yet for our Nobel Prize in Literature.
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Mario Vargas Llosa, the new “immortal” and his love of French culture