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'It Was A Big, Big Surprise,' New Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa Tells NPR

Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa smiles at a press conference at Instituto Cervantes, after he won the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature.
Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa smiles at a press conference at Instituto Cervantes, after he won the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature.

As we reported earlier, the Swedish Academy has awarded this year's Nobel Prize in Literature to Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, currently a visiting lecturer in creative writing in the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University, in recognition of "his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual's resistance, revolt, and defeat."

This afternoon, NPR spoke to the newly-named laureate. Earlier today, he received a phone call from Peter Englund, permanent secretary of the Nobel Committee for Literature.

"It was a big, big surprise," Vargas Llosa told NPR's Mary Louise Kelly. "For a moment, I thought this could be a joke."

Almost an hour later, Englund told the world -- in three languages:

"I thought that, when I came to New York, that I would have a very life here, for three months, or three and a half months," Vargas Llosa said. "And my impression is that it won't be so quiet as I wanted."

Kelly asked him if he planned to use the prize as a platform to make political statements. (In 1990, Vargas Llosa ran for Peru's presidency.)

Let me say first that, although it is true that I have been participated in the political debate since i was young, I think it is very dangerous to use literature as a vehicle to promote political ideals. I think it is very risky because literature can become propaganda, and literature and propaganda are totally incompatible. I think literature can use politics, but that politics shouldn't use literature, because if it does, it destroys literature.

So, when I want to make a political statement, I write an essay, I write an article, or I give a lecture.

I think that literature is something that embraces a much larger experience than politics. It's an expression of what is life, of what are all the dimensions of life. But politics is one among others.

Among the dozens he has authored, does Vargas Llosa have a favorite book?

Each book, for me, has been an adventure, a period of time dedicated to study, to document certain facts, to traveling and also to fantasize and to invent.

In general, a writer would like to think that the best book that he has written is the book that he is writing, and the next book will be even better. Maybe if this is not true, it is very useful to keep the illusion alive.

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David Gura
Based in New York, David Gura is a correspondent on NPR's business desk. His stories are broadcast on NPR's newsmagazines, All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and he regularly guest hosts 1A, a co-production of NPR and WAMU.
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