STOCKHOLM - Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa, one of the most acclaimed writers in the Spanish-speaking world, a man of letters who also braved the violence and political divisions of his homeland to run for president, won the 2010 Nobel Prize in literature on Thursday.
Vargas Llosa has written more than 30 novels, plays and essays, including “Conversation in the Cathedral” and “The Green House.” In 1995, he was awarded the Cervantes Prize, the Spanish-speaking world’s most distinguished literary honor.
The Swedish Academy said it honored the 74-year-old author for mapping the “structures of power and [for] his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt and defeat.” The academy’s permanent secretary, Peter Englund, called Vargas Llosa “a divinely gifted story-teller” whose writing touched the reader.
“His books are often very complex in composition, having different perspectives, different voices and different time places,” Englund said. “He is also doing it in a new way, he has helped evolve the art of the narration.” Vargas Llosa is the first South American winner of the prestigious 10 million kronor ($1.5 million) Nobel Prize in literature since it was awarded to Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez in 1982.
After the announcement, Garcia Marquez tweeted: “cuentas iguales,” — a a poetic way of saying “now we’re equals” in Spanish.
In the previous six years, the academy had rewarded five Europeans and one Turk with the literature Nobel, sparking criticism that it was too euro-centric. Last year’s award went to German writer Herta Mueller.
Englund said he reached him in New York.
“He was very, very happy,” Englund said. “And very moved.” Vargas Llosa emerged as a leader among the so-called “Boom” or “New Wave” of Latin American writers, bursting onto the literary scene in 1963 with his groundbreaking debut novel “The Time of the Hero” (La Ciudad de los Perros), which builds on his experiences at the Peruvian military academy Leoncio Prado.
The book won the Spanish Critics Award and the ire of Peru’s military. One thousand copies of the novel were later burned by military authorities, with some generals calling the book false and Vargas Llosa a communist.
The military academy “was like discovering hell,” Vargas Llosa said later.
At 15, he was a night-owl crime reporter. Still in his teens, he joined a communist cell and eloped with his 33-year-old Bolivian aunt, Julia Urquidi — the sister-in-law of his uncle. He later drew inspiration from their nine-year marriage to write the comic hit novel “Aunt Julia and the Script Writer” (La Tia Julia y el Escribidor).
After they divorced, Vargas Llosa in 1965 married his first cousin, Patricia Llosa, 10 years his junior, and together they had three children.
In the 1970s, he denounced Castro’s Cuba and slowly turned his political trajectory toward free market conservatism — sparking a fallout with many of his Latin American literary contemporaries.
In a famous incident in Mexico City in 1976, Vargas Llosa punched out his former friend, Garcia Marquez, whom he would later ridicule as “Castro’s courtesan.” It was never clear whether the fight was over politics or a personal dispute.
Vargas Llosa drew his inspiration mostly from Peruvian homeland, but preferred to live abroad in near self-imposed exile for years at a time.
In 1990, he ran for the presidency in Peru but lost the election to Alberto Fujimori. In 1994, he was the first Latin American writer to be elected to the Spanish Academy, where he took his seat in 1996.
Disheartened by the broad public approval for Fujimori’s iron-fisted rule, Vargas Llosa again left his homeland and took Spanish citizenship, living in Madrid and London. He maintained a penthouse apartment in Lima overlooking its Pacific coast, but tended to keep a low profile during visits home long after Fujimori fled to Japan in 2000, toppled by vast corruption in his government.
He earned some of the Western world’s most prestigious literary medals for his works, which were translated in 31 languages, including Chinese, Croatian, Hebrew and Arabic. The Nobel Prize in literature always eluded him, although he was a frequent contender.
The 2010 Nobel Prize announcements began Monday with the medicine award going to British professor Robert Edwards for fertility research that led to the first test tube baby.
Two Russian-born scientists won the physics prize and the chemistry award went to two Japanese and one American researcher who designed techniques to bind together carbon atoms.
The peace prize will be announced on Friday and economics on Monday, Oct. 11.
The awards were established by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel — the inventor of dynamite — and are always handed out on Dec. 10, the anniversary of his death in 1896.