Mario Vargas Llosa

Banquet speech

Mario Vargas Llosa’s speech at the Nobel Banquet in the Stockholm City Hall, 10 December 2010.


I am a storyteller, so before I propose a toast I will tell you a story.

Once upon a time, there was a boy who learned to read at the age of five. This changed his life. Owing to the adventure tales he read, he discovered a way to escape from the poor house, the poor country and the poor reality in which he lived, and to journey to wonderful, mesmerizing places peopled with the most beautiful beings and the most surprising things, where every day and every night brought a more intense, more thrilling more unusual form of bliss.

He so enjoyed reading stories that one day this boy, who was now a young man, took to making them up himself and writing them. He had a hard time doing it, but it brought him pleasure and he delighted in writing tales as much as he delighted in reading them.

The character in my story, however, was very aware that the real world was one thing and the fancy world of dreams and literature quite another, and that the latter only came to light when he read and wrote stories. The rest of the time, it vanished.

Until one day, in the wee hours of the morning, the protagonist of my story received a mysterious call in which a gentleman with a name that defied all pronunciation announced to him that he had won a prize and that in order to receive it he would have to travel to a place called Stockholm, the capital of a land called Sweden (or something of the sort).

To his total bewilderment, my character then started to experience in real life one of those stories that until then he had only found in the unreal and ideal realm of literature. He suddenly felt like the pauper must have felt when he was confused with the prince in Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper. He is still there, quite startled, not knowing whether he is dreaming or fully awake, whether what is happening is for real or a lie, whether what is occurring is life or literature, because the border that separates the two seems to have totally vanished.

Dear friends, now I can propose the toast I had promised. Let us toast to Sweden, that strange kingdom that seems to have performed, for a privileged few, the miracle of turning life into literature and literature into life.

Cheers (skål) and thank you very much!

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 2010

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