6 Remarkable Books by Mario Vargas Llosa
Mario Vargas Llosa is a Peruvian-born naturalized-Spanish journalist, essayist, college professor, marquis, former politician, and author. He is one of the most remarkable writers of his generation and of the Latin American boom literary movement.
He has won the Cervantes Prize—the most important Spanish language prize—the Biblioteca Breve Prize, the Planeta Prize, the Príncipe de Asturias en las Letras Prize, the Rómulo Gallegos Prize, and the Nobel Prize. From all Latin American Literature Nobel Laureates, he is the only one alive today.
Read ahead to find out Mario Vargas Llosa biography and to find a selection of his books with synopsis, writing styles, themes, reviews, and a major tip to improve your reading comprehension and conversation skills in Spanish.
Are you ready for the challenge?
Benefits of Reading Spanish Literature
By reading any or all of these books you will discover a powerful tool to learn Spanish. As you internalize the language at a whole different level by contextualizing forms of speech, idioms, expressions, literary elements, semantics, and syntactics your fluency will soar.
This enriching technique will not only create the habit of reading engaging books in Spanish for pleasure but it will also move you to ask, discuss, and do research on the subject. Soon enough you will be able to differentiate diverse writing styles, formal and colloquial tones of speech, and a relevant piece from a secondary one.
The important thing about selecting the material you read is that it is pertinent to your Spanish education and that it motivates you. It will grant you a critical view of the material and lead you to eventually speak like a native.
Biography and Writing Style
Mario Vargas Llosa was born in 1936 in Perú. He relocated to Bolivia for 9 years and returned when a relative became president—similar to Isabel Allende’s story. His father disliked Mario’s vocation and sent him to a military school.
He studied Literature and Law and became famous for The Time of the Hero—Mario Vargas Llosa’s opera prima and most acclaimed book, but also a milestone in the Hispanic novel as he is the first to introduce a modernist style in his writing.
The characteristics of modernism include non-linear narrations and inner monologues where the character lets you know his experiences, emotions, and perspectives.
After winning the Nobel Prize he became the leading personality of the Reporters Without Borders.
Books by Mario Vargas Llosa
Mario Vargas Llosa has played with multiple literary genres throughout his career such as comedies, historical novels, murder mysteries, politics, dictatorships, love and memoirs. As he is the writer that was born along with the Latin American boom movement, critics consider him an innovative novelist, composer, and a master in narrative and style.
Here are some of his most famous books:
1. The Time of the Hero (La ciudad y los perros)
The Time of the Hero by Mario Vargas Llosa is his most iconic novel. A group of junior high students of the Military School Leoncio Prado are eager to get out. The atmosphere is heavy and demeaning to some of the freshmen, since teachers are tough but older kids are worse—so they rebel and start defending themselves and doing antics like stealing the chemistry test answers. This naughty behavior and the conflict between classes starts to escalate until an accident that seems to be vengeance turns into tragedy.
In this non-linear narration, Mario Vargas Llosa explains in excruciating detail the conditions of life within a military academy with some autobiographical notes. He tells the story from different perspectives. The literary complexity of the novel is high due to this and the depth of the characters, the description of social structures, the numerous narrators and conflicts inside conflicts you can find throughout the book. Members of the real Military School Leonicio Prado were scandalized by this publication and called for a book burning of this title.
2. The War of the End of the World (La guerra del fin del mundo)
This is an apocalyptic narration of Mario Vargas Llosa that takes place in the northeast of Brazil. This zone is hit by pests and droughts, and the upcoming end of the century is also bringing the end of the world. Peasants have to face the military forces that are a symbol of the power and particular interests of the newly created Republic of Brazil.
The War of the End of the World has four parts because of the four campaigns of the army against this town in the so-called Canudos War. You can easily perceive the extraordinary ability of Mario Vargas Llosa both in terms of narrative skills and knowledge of the military apparatus.
The literary complexity of this novel is high due to the heavy historic background—the author’s analysis of state conflicts, and diversity of writing styles and narrators.
3. The Truth About Lies (La verdad de las mentiras)
- Purchase the book in Spanish
Mario Vargas Llosa gathers 25 essays about novels and stories from diverse authors. In it, he states that writers create these pieces so that readers can be part of stories they can’t access in real life. The element of fiction is necessary to alter reality and deliver a missing piece to make life frustrations whole.
Some of the books are Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Scott Fitzgeral’s Great Gatsby, Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Albert Camus’ The Foreigner, Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, among many more.
4. A Discreet Hero (El héroe discreto)
Mario Vargas Llosa wrote this drama with a very particular sense of humor. The two settings are the capital of Perú, Lima, and Piura, the city where he lived when he was young. Critics believe this is a retrospective in his literary career since he rescues characters from his previous novels.
In this book you can find two very different storylines. The first one is about Felícito Yanaqué, a small businessman of Piura, who is the owner of a transportation company. He is married to Gertrudis and together they had two kids. Suddenly, a series of extortion letters come to his door, but he follows his father’s only inheritance, an advice he gave him while on his deathbed: “never get trampled on by anyone.” So he resists paying the money and puts the situation in the hands of the authorities.
The second storyline is about Ismael Carrera, a wealthy insurance company owner from Lima who is plotting a secret vengeance against his loafers sons for celebrating his death in advance after Ismael’s heart attack.
Although this is in Mario Vargas Llosa’s words, his most optimistic book and does not contain historic conflicts, the way it is plotted and the way the author runs storylines and timelines altogether with no explanation or prelude to the switching, makes this a novel of high literary complexity. The lack of connection makes the narrative a bit confusing although it all sorts out at the end.
5. The Storyteller (El hablador)
Mario Vargas Llosa exposes his narration skills in the book The Storyteller. He juxtaposes the modern society world with the indigenous tribes from Perú. The members of those communities are deeply tied to the natural forces of the planet and can communicate with them and with all living creatures.
The first storyteller is the book’s narrator, the second one is a person who belongs to the machiguenga tribe from the Peruvian Amazon. Both of them switch back and forth to keep on telling the story. Some of it relies in native mythology, legends and ancestral ceremonies that take place in the depths of the jungle, where civilization has not corrupted humans yet.
In this novel, Mario Vargas Llosa uses vocabulary and syntax of both oral and written word. Also, he skips from one point of time and space to another with no ado. He tries to show a society from all perspectives at once and make a contrasting glimpse of reality come through the pages. For all those reasons this book has a high complexity.
6. A Fish in the Water (El pez en el agua)
This autobiographical piece has 20 chapters where Mario Vargas Llosa tells us about his early years and his literary and political career in Perú. Through his work, he tells us about his experience of ignoring his father was alive, about his university studies, his first jobs, his participation in opposition demonstrations to the then president, and his sports interests.
According to some book reviews, Mario Vargas Llosa shows a harsh attitude towards Peruvian intellectuals with whom he had a rivalry in terms of political postures. Since this is a more linear narrative where he tells one fact after another, the literary complexity of this book is moderate, unlike the rest of his pieces.
Advice for Learning Spanish!
Like we have reviewed, one of the most powerful methods to learn Spanish effectively is to read books that allow you to learn formal and colloquial forms of speech. Another way of improving your fluency and sounding like a native is to practice with a native Spanish speaker.
Here at HSA, we can tailor a Spanish package that meets all your needs and your literary interests. Get in touch with one of our friendly teachers from Guatemala and become part of our 24,000+ monthly enrolled students who have trusted us for over 10 years.
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