The Storyteller

An Interview with Mario Vargas Llosa

OR: Are you worried about the fate of the Western canon?

Vargas Llosa: I think it is important for us to preserve and to learn about this tradition. Tradition is an essential ingredient of culture. Education should respect this. I am absolutely against the idea that education should exclusively prepare professionals for modern times. Without this foundation of traditional culture, contemporary culture would be fragile.

OR: Are you optimistic?

Vargas Llosa: I am a realist. I don't think it has any real significance, being an optimist or a pessimist. We liberals don't believe that history is already written. History depends entirely on what we do. If there are new challenges: well, we have to face them, to be critical of them. And I think we should be encouraged by the idea that the worst enemy of the democratic tradition has disappeared — Communism.

I think all the problems that we face are nothing, really, when compared with the ideas of collectivism and statism that Communism represented. The idea of bringing paradise into history was very difficult to fight. But now this idea is completely defeated. So we should face the new challenges with more enthusiasm because of that. Communism was much worse than everything that now represents a threat to the democratic culture.

OR: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Vargas Llosa: I think it was because of what it represented for me to learn how to read. I’ll always remember: I was five years old and the world opened in such an extraordinary way through reading. Reading enriched my life, giving me the opportunity to go on extraordinary adventures. I think it was probably the origin of my vocation, this pleasure that I had reading the first book I ever read. I discovered that reading was a way of enriching life. I started very, very early, without thinking of being only a writer in the future.

That was very difficult at that time in Latin America, particularly if you were Peruvian. It was unthinkable that your life would be totally consecrated to writing. But little by little I was pushed in this direction. One day, many years later, I was in Madrid. I had received a grant to do a Ph.D. in Madrid. And then I decided that I would try to be only a writer, that literature would be my major preoccupation, and that I should try to organize my life around it. This decision was important for me. Even if I had to find all kinds of work besides literature. But this idea that literature should be the center of my life was very, very important.