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the Complete Review
the complete review - non-fiction / literary criticism


A Writer's Reality

Mario Vargas Llosa

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To purchase A Writer's Reality

Title: A Writer's Reality
Author: Mario Vargas Llosa
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 1991
Length: 166 pages
Availability: A Writer's Reality - US
A Writer's Reality - UK
A Writer's Reality - Canada
Die Wirklichkeit des Schriftstellers - Deutschland
  • Based on lectures delivered (in English) at Syracuse University in 1988
  • Edited and with an Introduction by Myron I. Lichtblau
  • With a Chronology

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Our Assessment:

B+ : informative and entertaining, useful behind-the-scenes look at his (earlier) work

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Commentary . 7/1991 Mark Falcoff
The NY Times Book Rev. A 10/3/1991 Nicholas Shrady

  From the Reviews:
  • "In these lectures, Vargas Llosa reveals himself also as a cultural commentator of no mean importance, and coming from a country on the margins of Western civilization, he unashamedly confirms the centrality and value of that civilization. (...) In all, A Writer’s Reality is one of the most important, readable, and entertaining books to appear in years." - Mark Falcoff, Commentary

  • "Mr. Vargas Llosa is less concerned with politics in A Writer's Reality than he is with method, and with the technical and personal anguish of writing a novel. (...) A Writer's Reality does much to decipher Mr. Vargas Llosa's individual craft as well as explore the cultural ground from which so much outstanding literature has sprung." - Nicholas Shrady, The New York Times Book Review

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:

       A Writer's Reality is based on a series of lectures Mario Vargas Llosa gave in English in 1988. Six of the eight each focus on one of Vargas Llosa's works, the author describing what went into their writing as well as some autobiographical background. As such, the volume is a useful introduction to author and his work (into the mid-1980s -- much has come since then), a truly literary memoir that will be of particular interest to those familiar with these books.
       The first two lectures are more general introductory pieces. The first is 'An Invitation to Borges's Fiction', Vargas Llosa giving his own take on Borges' significance in Latin American writing. He admits -- in his opening sentence -- to having had a passion for Jean-Paul Sartre in his student days, but he outgrew that. Borges, however, continues to impress him. Indeed:

I am quite aware of how ephemeral literary assessments may prove, but in Borges's case I do not consider it rash to acclaim him as the most important thing to happen to imaginative writing in the Spanish language in modern times and as one of the most memorable artists of our age.
       He notes that even though he writes a very different kind of fiction from Borges, the old master was still a great influence.
       Vargas Llosa here also usefully reminds English-language readers of the difference in languages, noting:
Spanish is a wordy language, bountiful and flamboyant, with a formidable emotional range. But for these same reasons, it is conceptually inexact.
       "Borges's prose is an anomaly", he notes -- and his style was a personal one, almost impossible to successfully imitate. And Vargas Llosa offers an interesting theory of why Borges never wrote a novel:
That is why Borges despised the novel as a genre; because it is impossible to dissociate the novel from living experience, by which I mean human imperfection. In a novel you cannot be only perfect; you must also be imperfect. The imperfectness that is essential in a novel was for Borges inartistic and, therefore, unacceptable.
       Before focussing on his own works, Vargas Llosa also offers a lecture on 'Novels Disguised as History: The Chronicles of the Birth of Peru', a good transition-piece that lays the foundation for some of Vargas Llosa's own history-based fiction. Moving on then to the lectures on his own novels, Vargas Llosa usefully situates the writing of these books in his own life, describing surrounding circumstances and influences. Some of this is familiar from his other autobiographical works and essays, but this book-by-book presentation is particularly welcome -- and Vargas Llosa also tries to frame each in terms of larger authorial issues. These aren't necessarily 'lessons for writers', but in describing one writer's choices and reasons do offer some useful guidance.
       From his distrust of humour in literature (until he wrote Captain Pantoja and the Special Service) to the background to The War of the End of the World, there are many fascinating details in A Writer's Reality. Of particular interest is also Vargas Llosa's discussions of the difficulties in Latin America generally (and Peru specifically) regarding the indigenous populations (and his own experiences with the subject-matter). While less concerned with politics here than in some of his later non-fiction (he ran for the Peruvian presidency in 1990), it is also of considerable interest and concern to him.
       Occasionaly, the origin of these pieces as lectures becomes obvious with an aside not quite as neatly integrated as it would be into an essay, etc., but for the most part the pieces are clear and well-presented. While of most interest to readers already familiar with the works under discussion, Vargas Llosa writes generally enough that they are also of considerable interest to readers completely new to his work. A worthwhile collection, and highly recommended to those who have read his early novels.

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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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