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the Complete Review
the complete review - literature / philosophy



Mario Vargas Llosa

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To purchase Wellsprings

Title: Wellsprings
Author: Mario Vargas Llosa
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: (2008)
Length: 200 pages
Original in: (Spanish)
Availability: Wellsprings - US
Wellsprings - UK
Wellsprings - Canada
  • Includes the three Richard Ellmann Lectures in Modern Literature Vargas Llosa delivered in 2006
  • Though first published in English, at least some of the essays were written in Spanish, and translated by Kristin Keenan de Cueto and John King.

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Our Assessment:

B+ : interesting, thoughtful

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
TLS . 7/11/2008 Adam Feinstein

  From the Reviews:

  • "These seven stimulating essays by one of Latin America's greatest living writers begin with Mario Vargas Llosa's fascinating -- if idiosyncratic -- interpretation of Miguel de Cervantes's Don Quixote. (...) He frequently -- and tellingly -- reminds us that fiction must have the power to enchant us." - Adam Feinstein, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       There's no separate introduction to the pieces collected in Wellsprings, but the title certainly suggests what Vargas Llosa offers here. These seven lectures and essays largely focus on writers and thinkers who have influenced his own thought and writing -- as he has, in part, already acknowledged and discussed in other works of non-fiction (sometimes with exactly the same words ...).
       The book begins with his 2006 Richard Ellmann Lectures in Modern Literature on 'Three Masters': Cervantes (and specifically Don Quixote), Borges, and Ortega y Gasset. These relatively short overviews are very good introductions to all three. His reading of Don Quixote, and especially also his explanation of its place as part of Spanish literature, is particularly interesting, while his emphasis on Don Quixote as "a free individual" addresses one of his primary concerns throughout the volume (and, indeed, his own writing).
       About Borges he writes:

I am quite aware of how ephemeral literary assessments can be, but in Borges' case we can quite justifiably state that he is the most important thing to happen to imaginative writing in the Spanish language in modern times, and one of the most memorable artists of our age.
       Again, he manages to succinctly convey a great deal about the author, noting, for example, that:
What is revolutionary about Borges' prose is that it contains almost as many ideas as words, for his precision and concision are absolute.
       Vargas Llosa takes Ortega y Gasset to be an underappreciated and far less well-known thinker, and in the lecture about him tries to build a case for why he should be read now. It's a more difficult case to make, but again Vargas Llosa's enthusiasm (and arguments) at least suggest there's something to that.
       'The Challenge of Nationalism' and 'Fiction and Reality in Latin America' deal even more obviously with politics. The first focusses specifically on nationalism in Spain, as Vargas Llosa seems particularly annoyed by the secessionist talk of Basques, Catalans, and others. It is the weakest essay in the bunch, and far from convincing. While addressing some of the problems of nationalism, his case against the splintering off of regions, in Spain and elsewhere, sounds almost desperate. To argue that the Slovaks erred badly in splitting off from Czechoslovakia, because it led to: "an increasingly mediocre society governed by a corrupt, authoritarian pseudo-democracy headed by the nationalist Vladimir Meciar" may be accurate in the short term, but it seems entirely premature to condemn the independent Slovakian experiment (and, in fact, conditions seem to have removed markedly over the past few years). And while he's right that "the explosion of nationalism that destroyed Yugoslavia" came at an enormous cost, surely he must recognise that any sort of continuing Yugoslav federation -- just like any continuing Soviet federation -- was simply untenable.
       The last two essays again focus on individual thinkers, Isaiah Berlin and Karl Popper, and again serve as good overviews, suggesting their contemporary relevance. While he begins his Popper-essay with an extreme formulation -- "Truth, for Karl Popper, is not discovered: it is invented" -- Vargas Llosa explains himself (and Popper) well enough to make clear why he sees this emphasis on falsifiability and a refusal to believe in absolutes so valuable. He nicely sums it up:
     Popper's theory of knowledge is the best philosophical justification for the ethical value that most characterizes democratic culture: tolerance. if there are no absolute and eternal truths, if the only way for knowledge to progress is by making and correcting mistakes, we should all recognize that our own truths may not be right and that what looks to us like our adversaries' errors may in fact be correct.
       And he makes other interesting and revealing observations, including:
     Popper's concept of written history resembles, exactly, what I have always believed the novel to be: an arbitrary organization of human reality that protects humankind against the anguish produced by our intuition of the world, of life, as a vast disorder.
       Vargas Llosa presents his arguments and beliefs very well, especially when writing about broader and abstract concepts -- ideals like freedom and democracy. He's least successful when he considers specific contemporary political situations, but there's only a bit of that here, and elsewhere he is far more convincing. His enthusiasm is also particularly winning, whether he's writing about certain works of literature, a teacher, or an idea or ideal, and this passion helps make for an engaging little collection.

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Wellsprings: Reviews: Mario Vargas Llosa: Other works by Mario Vargas Llosa under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa was born in 1936 and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2010. He has written many works of fiction and non-fiction, and has run for the Presidency of Peru.

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