The Storyteller

An Interview with Mario Vargas Llosa

OR: Where do your ideas come from?

Vargas Llosa: They come from my creation and invention. But in my case, where my imagination meets images preserved by memory. Memory is important. I don't think I have ever written a story which was totally invented. I think always I have used memories or images preserved by memories as points of departure for a story. That was the case with The War of the End of the World, which is a Brazilian story. I was so impressed reading about the Conselheiro, about this religious movement in the interior of Bahia. I was seduced by the information that I received, and I decided to write a novel. Always, I have had something happen to me that awakes a kind of curiosity. And this is the point of departure.

OR: Do you work on more than one project at once?

Vargas Llosa: No, only one. I cannot work on two things. I write for a newspaper. That I do twice a month. This is different because these are articles about politics, about social problems, about cultural problems. But I work always on just one book.

OR: How much of your process is writing and how much is editing?

Vargas Llosa: I rewrite a lot. In this, I follow the example of Flaubert.

OR: Do you enjoy that more?

Vargas Llosa: For me, the most difficult part of writing a book is the draft version. The first version. But when I start to correct it, I really enjoy it. I can work for hours and hours. I am deeply excited by rewriting, not writing. When I write a draft, I suffer a lot.

OR: A recent book points out that many writers prefer to work in the mornings. Do you?

Vargas Llosa: I work in the morning. Oh, yes.

OR: Why is that?

Vargas Llosa: Probably it is because I lived in France eight years and I worked at night. I worked at French Radio Television. And we worked until four in the morning. So the first thing that I did when I woke up every day was write. But even when I was at school, some students liked to study at night and some very early in the morning. The latter was my case.

The best hours are the first ones. In the afternoons, I work also, but I correct, I rewrite, I read, I investigate.

OR: What are you reading now?

Vargas Llosa: I've been reading a lot about Guatemala because I have just finished a novel set there during the years of Jacobo Arbenz and Carlos Castillo Armas. Because of the United Fruit Company there was this war, this invasion. It's interesting: the leader of the counterrevolution was assassinated three years after the coup. Nobody knows what exactly happened. There are theories, and there are new revelations. Apparently Trujillo was involved in the crime. He involved himself in the crime as vengeance, because he's totally grotesque — he didn't receive a decoration that he wanted from Castillo Armas. It seems totally unthinkable, but it happened.

Dictators react in this way. Trujillo had given money and weapons and (allegedly) personnel to Castillo Armas. He asked three things in return: to be decorated with the Quetzal Order, to be invited on a state visit by Castillo Armas when he was in government, and for Castillo Armas to send to the Dominican Republic a general — a Dominican general — because Trujillo wanted to kill him. Castillo Armas didn't do any of these three things. So apparently, Trujillo sent his killer to Guatemala to kill the general. If he actually did it is not known. But the possibility is there. There are documents.

OR: When does the book come out?

Vargas Llosa: The end of October or the beginning of November.

OR: Are you concerned that we are heading into an era of censorship?

Vargas Llosa: There is this feminist movement, which in essence is very respectable. I think you've got to be blind not to be supportive of people who are fighting against prejudice and discrimination against women. Without any doubt. But there are, within the feminist movement, currents which are completely fanatical. And they want total war between women and men. They are trying to censor literature from the past. I have seen this happening with Nabokov. With this discriminatory attitude, there would be no literature. You could in theory end up suppressing all literature in history, because literature is an expression of the real world — the world in which there is discrimination against and limitation of women. And if you are going to censor this, you will destroy what you are trying to do to better democratic values.

So I think we must be very, very critical of this deformation of feminism, and fight it as an enemy of democratic values. Unfortunately, feminism has reached in certain countries a pitch of intolerance, of extremism, which we must fight in the name of freedom, in the name of democracy, of culture. And this is happening unfortunately in Spain and Latin America. For the first time, I think, this problem is global. It's in third-world countries, it's in first-world countries. And I think we must not be manipulated by extremism. Political or feminist or religious or ideological.

OR: What is it that we need to do to counter these forms of extremism?

Vargas Llosa: It's very difficult because I think there is present in human beings, even if they are very cultivated, a nostalgia; an idea that once, in the past, there was a homogeneous society. This is a fantasy. It never existed. This idea becomes very pressing, very urgent, when you don't trust what is going on around you.

Look at what is happening in Europe. The construction of the European Union is fantastic progress. But it is terrifying for people who are not sure of what will come. I think nostalgia is the nourisher of populism, of nationalism. And it has different faces. Brexit in Britain. So-called patriotism in Italy, in France. I think we must be prepared to face these challenges, which can even result in the destruction of democratic institutions.