Interview with Mario Vargas Llosa

“I am honored and recompensed for something that has been a recompense in itself …”

Transcript of the telephone interview with Mario Vargas Llosa following the announcement of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature, 7 October 2010. The interviewer is Adam Smith, Editor-in-Chief of

[Mario Vargas Llosa] Hello?

[Adam Smith] Oh, hello, is that Mario Vargas Llosa?

[MVL] Yes, speaking?

[AS] Oh, hello, my name is Adam Smith. I’m calling from the Nobel Prize website in Stockholm. My congratulations on the news of the award.

[MVL] Well, so, is it true then? Ha ha!

[AS] Ha, ha! It most certainly …

[MVL] Because, I received a call from the Secretary General of the Academy, and I was wonder if it was true or joke of a friend!

[AS] Well, I can confirm that it has just been announced to the public in Stockholm.

[MVL] Ah, it has already been announced. Well, I’m deeply moved and grateful! It’s been a great surprise! Well, I don’t know what to say … I feel overwhelmed, really!

[AS] That’s a nice thing to say! You’ve been tipped for some years, so … what does it mean to be awarded the Prize, do you know?

[MVL] Well, I know but I still don’t believe it, you know? I need to read it in the papers.

[AS] Of course, yes. Once it’s in literature, then it’s real. We have a …

[MVL] I feel very moved and it’s a fantastic encouragement. And, frankly, I didn’t expect it, you know! I never knew that it was true that my name was among the possible candidates and … But, anyway, it’s a fantastic event and I feel very surprised, you know! Very surprised. 

Writing has been such a fantastic pleasure for me all my life, that I cannot believe that I am honored and recompensed for something that has been a recompense in itself, you know? Anyway, please …

 [AS] My sincere congratulations …

[MVL] Anyway, please convey my gratitude to all the members of the Academy.

[AS] Of course, may I … keep you on the phone for just a couple of minutes because we like to record a very brief telephone interview?

[MVL] Yes, of course.

[AS] Thank you.  Ok, so I gather you’re in Princeton at the moment, teaching?

[MVL] I am in New York, but teaching in Princeton. I spend Monday and Tuesdays teaching, but I am living in New York until December.

[AS] Ok. And, you live in many different places. You’re Peruvian …

[MVL] I live in, well, in Lima [phone line drops out], and Madrid. But mostly between Lima and Madrid.

[AS] And, I was going to ask: does it change the way you write, where you’re living? Because it, in some …

[MVL] Oh, I don’t think so. I don’t think so. I … no … I, well, I write about different places of course but, ah, I’m not … Sometimes I move because I am writing about a certain place. But, I don’t think the environment change very much the idea that I have of a story … But, maybe, maybe, yes… but not in a very conscious way? Maybe unconsciously, yes, I am impregnated by the place in which I am. I, I don’t [phone line drops out] know.

[AS] What about language? Because, of the …

[MVL] The language, I am convinced that the fact of living in a foreign, let’s say, language, enriches very much the relationship that I have with Spanish. I think that I have understood better my own language in this constant confrontation – of the Spanish with the English, with the French, with the German. Ah, I think you become much more conscious of the nuances that each language has to express the same idea, same feelings. I think in this [phone line drops out] my relationship with my own language has been much, much more rich because I have lived in countries where the Spanish language was not a national language, you see.

[AS] And, you write in a very large number of forms – and unusually large number of forms – why is that so?

[MVL] Well, I write novels, and ah … But, I think I am a writer of fiction, you know, because I write plays also, or short stories. But, ah, I don’t believe that the different literary genres change the vision, the beliefs … the feelings that I try to express in my stories.

But, I think certain stories expressed or represented in a play, than in a novel, or in a short story that in another [phone line drops out] . In other stories, of course, I think that the novel is the ideal way to tell them, no?  

[AS] Yes. And, may I ask about your interest in politics? You say that you entered politics from a sense of obligation. Was this personal obligation or the obligation of the writer?

[MVL] Well, you know, when I … I, I think writers are citizens too, you know, and have the moral obligation to participate in the civic debate, in the debate about the solutions to the problems that the societies face. That doesn’t mean that I think that writers should become professional politicians. No, I never thought, I never wanted to become a professional politician. I did it once because the situation in Peru was deeply, deeply serious. We had hyperinflation, we have terrorism, there was war, civil war, in the country. And, in this environment, my impression was that the very fragile democracy that we had [phone line drops out] was on the point of collapse! So, it was in this circumstances. But, I did it as something very exceptional and knowing perfectly well that this would be a transitory experience, no, which it was.

But, on the other hand, I am …  I, I think that writers, as the rest of citizens, should participate in the civic problems. Otherwise, you couldn’t … you couldn’t protest! You couldn’t [phone line drops out] participate.  If you believe in democracy, democracy is participation, and I don’t think why writers, or artists, or intellectuals should exonerate themselves of this moral obligation to participate.

[AS] Ok, a last question. The announcement will expose you to a whole new readership, who have never read you before. Would you recommend that they start with one book in particular?

[MVL] Oh, well, ha ha! I don’t know! I suppose … ah … I don’t really know. But, maybe … No!  I cannot say. No, I cannot say.

[AS] Ok. That’s good: leave them to their free choice, yes.

 [MVL] Very well, sir.

[AS] Well, it’s been a pleasure to talk to you.

[MVL] Thank you very much.

[AS] Congratulations.  Thank you very much, good bye.

 [MVL] Good bye!

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