What makes great writers great? I’ve often wondered that. I’ve stumbled across dusty stories once-translated and lost to time in the ancient bookstalls of Armenia that are breathtaking; then I try and re-read Hemingway every other year, realizing that life is not fair. Why should Gurgen Mahari be deprived of 16 years of writing time in the Siberian gulag only to return, and have his masterpiece burned before his eyes on the streets of his beloved Yerevan, and die of a broken heart unknown while Hemingway drinks himself to a Nobel prize and an early grave? Who knows, life is not fair.
None of that has anything to do with Mario Vargas Llosa, Latin America’s greatest living writer. Vargas Llosa is of course up there with Gabriel Garcia Marquez; Jorge Luis Borges; Ruben Dario; and Pablo Neruda. His name will live on after he leaves us; as it should be.
I just finished his autobiography of the first half of his life. From childhood to his run for the Presidency of Peru. How he became a writer, and how writing and politics held a contest for his soul and writing won, thank God. He is thankful too, Vargas Llosa was always a reluctant politician. Men of letters don’t suffer the madding crowds too well, and this makes the process of retail politics necessary to win at best unpleasant. This comes out in Vargas Llosa’s book “A Fish In The Water”. He doesn’t really hide his contempt for Peruvians who chose Alberto Fujimori over him.
His book reminds me of the line from the Russell Crowe move “The Gladiator”, when Senator Gaius says “I don’t pretend to be of the people, but I do try to be for the people.”
Vargas Llosa is one of the most prominent defenders of Classical Liberalism in Latin America. Hayek and Mises and Rothbard. The principles of liberty, utopian (aren’t all writers utopian?) but a utopianism of liberty. The discovery of freedom against communism. Would that all novelists completed their journey, like Vargas Llosa did. So many get stuck in communism, in socialism – a labyrinth out of which there appears no escape, especially for those who lack the courage. But at the end of it all, after all the planning has been tried and has failed – “Death in the Bread Lines” could perhaps be Vargas Llosa’s next novel – we must return to liberty. Because it is the last principle which has never been tried.
Incidentally, back to my initial point, it’s difficult to understand why some people “make it” and others don’t. However, sometimes it’s opportunity. Apropos of that, I recently gave my first two novels (the San Porfirio series) to the great novelist when he was on a trip to the United States. Maybe he reads them. Maybe he likes them. Maybe he calls his publisher and says “This is the next voice of freedom”. One can only hope and sometimes dream.