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Mario Vargas Llosa: A Nobel Prize primer

Mario Vargas Llosa (Susana Vera/Reuters)

Every year the Nobel Prize for literature rolls around and I, the consummate book snob, am red-faced with shame. Who is this person winning the most prestigious award in the literary world?

Herta Mueller? Nice to meet you. Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio? Le who?

So, it is with great relief, and some small triumph, that I can thankfully say: I know Mario Vargas Llosa, thanks to a high school South-American-lit loving teacher.

If you don't, don't worry: I've been there before. Here's a quick primer on the man to fill in the gaps until you can run to the nearest book store and catch up on his oeuvre.

(Read his biography here.)

"Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter"
One of Vargas Llosa's earlier works, this book bursts full of youth and life. It's all about a young Mario falling in love with his aunt, juggling a friendship with an insane soap opera scriptwriter and trying his best to keep his head above all the chaos and embark on a writing career. It's a vibrant, hilarious portrait of an artist as a young man.

"The Storyteller"
This book takes us into the Peruvian jungles, where the Machiguengas tribe battles to retain its peaceful heritage against ruthless rubber barons. His books often employ stories within the story, and here this is beautifully achieved by telling the story of the tribe's fight for survival interspersed with the tribes' myths told by the Hablador -- or storyteller. It celebrates the act of telling stories and is an ecological call to arms.

"The Feast of the Goat"
Vargas Llosa tackles two giants of South American history in this book: Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Gen. Rafael Trujillo. The book follows the final days of Trujillo, the Dominican Republic's tyrannical leader in the 1960s. But it also follows Garcia Marquez's "The Autumn of the Patriarch." Few authors would want to go up against the reigning father of South American literature, but Vargas Llosa did and did it with aplomb.

There's more to the story with Garcia Marquez, mind you. The two writers were once the closest of friends, but they stopped speaking after Vargas Llosa punched Garcia Marquez in the face. No, it was not out of a literary feud. People speculate it was more a matter of the heart. Purportedly Vargas Llosa left his wife for a Swedish beauty and Garcia Marquez comforted the betrayed wife far too well for Vargas Llosa's liking. Sounds like something from a novel.

Happy reading ...

By Melissa Bell  | October 7, 2010; 8:41 AM ET
Categories:  The Daily Catch  
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I am from Peru, and living in this country for 20 years and I am very proud for Mario Vargas Llosa wining this award, He is an excellent writer. Viva el Peru Carajo.....

Posted by: georgefitz2714 | October 7, 2010 9:26 AM | Report abuse

Whatever possessed this deserving giant of literature and public affairs to use so much "Spanglish" in "La Fiesta del Chivo?"

Posted by: phvr38 | October 7, 2010 11:07 AM | Report abuse

Patricia Llosa is his 1st cousin?!?

Posted by: mloaks | October 7, 2010 11:14 AM | Report abuse

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