5 Things to Know About Mario Vargas Llosa, Nobel Prize Winner in Literature

A recap of his career, from politics to fistfights

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On Thursday, the Nobel Committee announced that the Peruvian-Spanish novelist Mario Vargas Llosa had won this year's Nobel Prize in Literature. Vargas Llosa, 74, isn't quite a household name in America, but he's considered one of the giants of Latin American literature. Herewith, the Wire offers a nutshell guide to Vargas Llosa's career that may illuminate some aspects of both his fame and his infamy.

  • His Novels Document the Individual's Struggle  The Nobel Committee lauded Vargas Llosa "for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt, and defeat." They may be thinking of works like The Green House, Conversation in the Cathedral and The War of the End of the World, acclaimed novels that examine Latin American society at both the macro and micro levels.

  • He's a Former Castro Supporter  In the early years of his career, Vargas Llosa professed admiration for Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution, but eventually grew disenchanted, particularly after Castro imprisoned the poet Herberto Padilla in 1971. Vargas Llosa's politics have drifted rightward since then, as became evident when...

  • He Ran for President of Peru  Vargas Llosa has always been politically engaged--many of his novels are concerned explicitly with themes of society and power, and include veiled-but-scathing critiques of real-life public figures. His political beliefs were most clearly on display in 1990, when he ran for president of Peru as the center-right Frente Democrático candidate. He lost to Alberto Fujimori, and has since put politics on the back burner.

  • You Can Get From Him to Keanu Reeves In Two Steps  In 1977, Vargas Llosa published the comic novel Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, which served as the basis for the 1990 John Amiel comedy Tune in Tomorrow, starring Barbara Hershey and Keanu Reeves. (This means that Vargas Llosa could probably get a guest spot on the next Dogstar album, if he wants it.)

  • He Once Punched Gabriel García Márquez in the Face  In 1976, outside Mexico's Palacio de Bellas Artes, Vargas Llosa laid a haymaker on García Márquez, the author of Love in the Time of Cholera (and 1982 Nobel laureate for literature). Though the two men had once been friends, their relationship was completely severed after this incident, and they haven't spoken in decades. Neither writer has ever offered an explanation for the feud, though ample speculation exists that puts Vargas Llosa's wife, Patricia, at the center of it.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.