Mario Vargas Llosa moves adoring audience with reading, wisdom
BY DANIEL A. GRECH
Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa transported a rapt and adoring audience of more than 1,000 people at the Miami Book Fair International on Friday night to the altered political and social reality of Santo Domingo of 1961, the setting of his most recent novel.
Vargas Llosa read the first chapter of The Feast of The Goat, the newly published English translation of his 2000 novel La Fiesta del Chivo, a fictional treatment of life in the Dominican Republic in the final year of the cruel 31-year dictatorship of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, a hated figure known pejoratively among Dominicans as The Goat.
Moments before his 40-minute reading, Vargas Llosa spoke on the power of literature to offer meaning to real events.
``Fiction is as important as reality,'' Vargas Llosa said behind the stage of the Chapman Conference Room at the Wolfson Campus of Miami-Dade Community College. "Imagination, fantasy help a lot of people understand life. Without imagination, without fiction, life would be somber, sordid, monotonous.''
The novel's florid prose -- the decorative language and voluptuous
rhythms of much contemporary South American fiction -- survived the English
awkward translation and Vargas Llosa's thick accent.
``I feel very embarrassed listening to my English,'' Vargas Llosa said later, to the laughter of a clearly forgiving audience.
A book stand outside the auditorium where Vargas Llosa gave his
speech reported that it had sold more than 300 copies of his books Friday
evening, and dozens of
readers lined up following the reading for Vargas Llosa to sign their copies.
Vargas Llosa, who now spends his time bouncing around Peru, Spain, England and France, is a noted literary critic and author of several novels including In Praise of the Stepmother, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter and The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto.
In 1990, Vargas Llosa lost a bid to become president of Peru, and he has since called running for president a terrible mistake that he does not regret.
``He is a failed politician, thank goodness,'' said avid Vargas Llosa reader Ileana Adam, 61, of Coconut Grove and Mexico City. ``Because now he can write books.''
Carol Kare, 70, traveled from San Francisco to attend the book fair while staying with cousins Madge and Bernard Parker.
``This is a gala event,'' Kare said. ``I love the blend of ages and ethnicities, the whole mix of the city. The excitement is incredible.''
Vargas Llosa's reading rounded out a week of high-profile author readings. The 18th annual fair opened Sunday with Trinidadian-born British author V.S. Naipaul, winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize in literature.
The Miami book fair continues today and Sunday at the MDCC's Wolfson Campus, 300 NE Second Ave., with dozens of readings and an expansive outdoor book sale.
The Vargas Llosa reading, originally scheduled for a smaller auditorium, was moved after the college received dozens of phone calls from people expressing interest in attending, said Eduardo Padrón, college president.
Even so, more than 300 people were forced to watch the event on video in adjacent auditoriums.
This was Vargas Llosa's third appearance at the Miami book fair.
``He's so charming, so gracious, so generous with his time and with his audience,'' said Mitchell Kaplan, one of the Fair's founders and chairman of its board of directors.
During a question-and-answer session after his reading, Vargas Llosa said his novel can serve as a cautionary tale for contemporary Latin America, which is at risk of falling under a new generation of caudillos, or dictators.
``I hope the book will be a warning in Latin America not to repeat the experience of Trujillo,'' he said. ``A novel about a brutal dictator should open eyes about the illusion that a dictator, a strong man, a caudillo, can solve social and economic problems.''
But Vargas Llosa warned that he did not write the novel to achieve a certain political or social effect, reserving his political teachings for his lectures and essays.
When asked what advice he had for young writers in the competitive literary world, Vargas Llosa said writers shouldn't look over their shoulders.
``A writer shouldn't be afraid of another's success,'' he said. ``When a book is successful, it creates addicts of literature.''
His comment received a thunderous applause.
As Kaplan ended the session, he looked to a seated Vargas Llosa and said, to great applause: ``More than 1,000 book addicts thank you for this evening.''
Lourdes Cué contributed to this report.