STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Peruvian writer and one-time presidential candidate Mario Vargas Llosa, a chronicler of human struggles against authoritarian power in Latin America, won the 2010 Nobel prize for literature on Thursday.
An outstanding member of the a generation of writers that led a resurgence in Latin American literature in the 1960s, Vargas Llosa was a champion of the left in his youth and later evolved into an outspoken conservative, a shift that infuriated much of Latin America’s leftist intelligentsia.
“I hope they gave it to me more for my literary work and not my political opinions,” the 74-year-old author said at a news conference in New York.
“I think Latin American literature deals with power and politics and this was inevitable. We in Latin America have not solved basic problems such as freedom,” Vargas Llosa said.
“Literature is an expression of life and you can’t eradicate politics from life,” he added.
The Swedish Academy awarding the 10 million crown ($1.5 million) prize said Vargas Llosa had been chosen “for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt and defeat.”
The author of more than 30 novels, plays and essays, Vargas Llosa made his international breakthrough in the 1960s with “The Time of the Hero”, a novel about cadets at a military academy. Many of his works are built on his experiences of life in Peru in the late 1940s and the 1950s.
Long tipped as a potential winner, Vargas Llosa is the Latin America’s first Nobel winner for literature since Mexico’s Octavio Paz took the prize in 1990.
He joins winners from the region that include Pablo Neruda of Chile and Colombia’s Gabriel Garcia Marquez — who Vargas Llosa famously punched in 1976.
The public punch is at the center of one of the literary world’s best-known feuds. The two friends ceased speaking to each other afterward and for decades the reason for the fight has been a mystery.
A photographer who captured Garcia Marquez — and his black eye — wrote about the incident in 2007 and suggested it concerned Vargas Llosa’s wife.
In the 1970s, Vargas Llosa, a one-time supporter of the Cuban revolution, denounced Fidel Castro’s communism, maddening many of his leftist literary colleagues like Garcia Marquez.
The writer said he never had any desire to become a politician when he ran for president in 1990 as Peru battled high inflation and the Maoist Shining Path insurgency. He lost to Alberto Fujimori, who has since been convicted of harboring paramilitaries.
Frustrated after his unsuccessful election run, Vargas Llosa went to live in Spain but remains influential in Latin America as an acclaimed writer and columnist.
Vargas Llosa has become a staunch supporter of free markets and has harshly criticized a new wave of populist left-wing leaders led by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Peru’s conservative president, Alan Garcia, said the Nobel award was long overdue.
“This was an enormous act of justice ... We have waited for this since our youth,” Garcia said, whom the writer criticized last month for not punishing human rights crimes committed years ago by Peru’s military.
The Nobel committee reached Vargas Llosa before dawn in the United States.
“He’s actually having a two-month stint there in Princeton teaching, so I was sort of embarrassed for phoning him so early. But he had been up since 5 o’clock preparing a lecture for Princeton,” said Peter Englund, permanent secretary of the Nobel committee, praising the writer’s story-telling prowess.
“He has a number of masterpieces in narration because essentially he’s a narrator, he’s a storyteller. My goodness, what a storyteller!”
In “The Feast of the Goat”, a 49-year-old woman returns to the Dominican Republic, haunted by memories of her childhood when the nation was led by brutal dictator Rafael Trujillo.
It tells of her efforts to overcome a traumatic past:
“Were you right to come back? You’ll be sorry, Urania... returning to the island you swore you’d never set foot on again...,” he writes.
“To prove to yourself you can walk along the streets of this city that is no longer yours, travel through this foreign country and not have it provoke sadness, nostalgia, hatred, bitterness, rage in you.”
This was the fourth of this year’s Nobel prizes, following awards for medicine on Monday, physics on Tuesday and chemistry on Wednesday.
Additional reporting by Bernd Debusmann Jr in New York, Mia Shanley in Stockholm, Mike Collett-White and David Cutler in London; Editing by Anthony Boadle