Mario Vargas Llosa: Author Highlight

Jorge Mario Pedro Vargas Llosa was born on March 28, 1936, and is more commonly known as Mario Vargas Llosa.  He is a Peruvian writer, politician, journalist, essayist and college professor.

Mario Vargas Llosa received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2010 “for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt, and defeat”.

Novels written by Mario Vargas Llosa

In 2010, The Guardian UK highlighted 5 of their top picks for novels written by the (then) newly crowned Nobel Laureate.

The Time of the Hero (1963)

Vargas Llosa’s first novel, published in Spanish as La Ciudad y Los Perros (The City and the Dogs), is set in a military academy in Peru, the Leoncio Prado Academy, which the author himself attended. When published, it caused such a stir that the academy’s authorities burned 1,000 copies of the book in protest. The novel explores army codes and strict military hierachy, telling of a group of young cadets struggling to survive in a bullying and violent environment, a situation eventually leading to the murder of one of their number. The book was later filmed by Peruvian director Francisco Lombardi.

Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter (1977)

This comic novel set in 1950s Lima tells of a student and aspiring writer – Marito – who falls in love with his uncle’s sister-in-law, 13 years his senior. Marito also befriends a manic Bolivian scriptwriter, who’s producing soap operas daily for a local radio station. The plot is loosely based on the story of Vargas Llosa’s own first marriage, at the age of 19, to the then 32-year-old Julia Urquidi, who was indeed his aunt by marriage. Urquidi later gave a rather different account of her relationship with Vargas Llosa in a memoir, Lo que Varguitas no dijo (What Little Vargas Didn’t Say).

The War of the End of the World (1981)

Hailed as a tragic masterpiece, the novel was inspired by true events in Bahia, Brazil, in the late 19th century. At a time of economic decline following the breakdown of the Empire of Brazil, the poor are drawn to a charismatic preacher, Antonio Conselheiro, who is predicting the end of the world. Condemned by the church, Conselheiro takes his rag-tag band of followers to build a town at Canudos, set to be a new utopia. But Canudos exists in defiance of the national government, and violent conflict ensues when armies are sent to bring the prophet to order.

The Feast of the Goat (2000)

A savage portrait of political tyranny through the story of dictator Rafael Trujillo, “the Goat”, whose bloody rule of the Dominican Republic lasted from 1930 until his assassination in 1961. The novel follows the ageing Generalissimo through his last day on earth as his assassins circle, showing him as a grotesque character whose failing body is no bar to his preening machismo. A contrasting narrative strand explores the human impact of Trujillo’s evil regime through the story of a woman betrayed in childhood by her father to the dictator’s sexual depravity. The damage done by dictatorship is seen to continue after his death, as the effects of the old regime persist. The novel was praised for its vividness but criticised by some as heavy-handed.

The Bad Girl (2006)

Vargas Llosa’s most recent novel features Ricardo Slim Somorcio, who, as a teenager in Peru in the 1950s, first meets a poor immigrant girl, Lily, and falls in love. But Lily suddenly disappears. Throughout the subsequent four decades, during which Ricardo works as a translator in various locations in South America and Europe, he keeps re-encountering “the bad girl”, who has her eyes set firmly on the pursuit of money and power. Ricardo remains obsessed with her. At each meeting though Lily appears in a radically different disguise, chameleon-like, professing not to know him.

Two of Vargas Llosa’s more recent novels are The Neighbourhood (2018) and The Discreet Hero (2015)

Brief Background

Mario Vargas Llosa was born to a middle-class family on March 28, 1936, in the southern Peruvian provincial city of Arequipa.  He was the only child of Ernesto Vargas Maldonado and Dora Llosa Ureta (the daughter of an old criollo family).  Vargas Llosa lived with his maternal family in Arequipa until a year after his parents’ divorce.   When his maternal grandfather was named honorary consul for Peru in Bolivia, the family moved to Cochabamba, Bolivia, where he spent the early years of his childhood.

In 1946, at the age of ten, he moved to Lima and met his father for the first time.  His parents re-established their relationship and lived in a Lima suburb, during his teenage years.   At 14, his father sent him to the Military Academy in Lima. At the age of 16, before his graduation, Vargas Llosa began working as an amateur journalist for local newspapers and withdrew from the military academy and finished his studies.

In 1953, Vargas Llosa enrolled in Lima’s National University of San Marcos, to study law and literature. He began his literary career in earnest in 1957 with the publication of his first short stories, “The Leaders” (“Los jefes”) and “The Grandfather” (“El abuelo”), while working for two Peruvian newspapers.

Political Dalliances

Vargas Llosa, like many Latin American intellectuals who studied Marxism and identified with the ideals of communism, was initially a supporter of the Cuban revolutionary government of Fidel Castro.  Eventually, however, disillusioned with the Cuban path and imprisonment of fellow intellectual, Heberto Padilla, Vargas Llosa retracted his support for Fidel Castro.  He has since identified himself with liberalism rather than extreme left-wing or right-wing political ideologies.

In 1987, he helped form and became a leader of the Movimiento Libertad. In 1988 the party entered a coalition with the parties of Peru’s two principal conservative politicians, at the time, to form the tripartite center-right coalition known as Frente Democrático (FREDEMO).  As leader of the party he was expected to win the 1990 elections easily.  However, he suffered a surprise defeat by, then, little known, Alberto Fujimori.

As a Spanish citizen as well, Vargas Llosa is opposed to Catalan independence from Spain. He publicly attended an anti-independence rally in October 2017.


Mario Vargas Llosa lives primarily in Spain but spends part of each year in Peru; and is also a frequent resident of the UK.  He holds numerous degrees and awards from academic, non-governmental and governmental institutions.  He continues to write both fiction and non-fiction.


  1. Diana Tyler (Eccentric Muse) May 22, 2018 at 12:33 pm

    Thanks for this spotlight. He has interesting books and I think I’ve heard about ‘The War of the End of the World’.

    1. Kim May 22, 2018 at 10:49 pm

      He does. I don’t think I’ve read any at all but I’m sure I can find a couple I like. 😉

      1. Diana Tyler (Eccentric Muse) May 23, 2018 at 7:08 pm

        I don’t want to add anything else to my TBR, but I’ll keep him in mind.

      2. Kim May 23, 2018 at 9:38 pm

        Tell me about it. I cringe every time I look at the pile of books I’ve been amassing. Lol

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *