August 3, 1997

The Truth of Lies

Mario Vargas Llosa insists on keeping literature and history in separate compartments Read the First Chapter  More on Mario Vargas Llosa from The New York Times Archives

iterature is a form of permanent insurrection,'' said Mario Vargas Llosa, the Peruvian writer, in a 1967 essay called ''Literature Is Fire.'' ''Its mission is to arouse, to disturb, to alarm, to keep men in a constant state of dissatisfaction with themselves.'' He was at that time a phenomenon: a 31-year-old writer who, with only two novels to his name, had become a major figure in the socalled boom in Latin American literature.

MAKING WAVES By Mario Vargas Llosa. Edited and translated by John King. 338 pp. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $27.50.

Three decades later, Vargas Llosa is a writer whose inventiveness and ambition have yielded 11 novels, including ''Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter'' (1982) and ''The War of the End of the World'' (1984), as well as an assortment of short stories, plays, critical studies and essays. Until now, the essays have been largely unavailable in English, but a substantial collection embracing three decades of work has just been published. ''Making Waves,'' edited and translated by John King, is a diverse and representative volume that allows us, for the first time, to trace this enigmatic, often brilliant writer's controversial, occasionally baffling intellectual journey. The controversial part has to do with Vargas Llosa's politics, which in the 1980's veered to the right. From the outside, it looked as if he had gone from Marx to Mrs. Thatcher in the twinkling of an eye, from a firebrand socialist to the free marketeer who ran for the presidency of Peru in 1990 but lost, much to everyone's surprise, to a relatively unknown challenger, Alberto K. Fujimori. This ideological turn did not, of course, endear Vargas Llosa to his former comrades in letters. Was his call for writers ''to arouse, to disturb, to alarm'' mere blandishment?

to find a balance between social justice and individual freedom. with methods repugnant to human dignity. with all his mistakes and political naivete. respectable.'' . there was always a basic generosity and moral honesty in his attitudes and ideas that made him. one begins to understand. searching for models and arguments everywhere from Sartre and Camus to Isaiah Berlin. one of which is reprinted here. he applauded Fidel Castro. As he grappled with the complex political realities of South America.'' Like other Latin American writers in the late 50's and the 60's. censorship and arbitrary acts are also mortal enemies of progress and human dignity. and here Isaiah Berlin proved an astute guide. which has withered or overthrown the barbarous practices and institutions that were the source of infinite suffering for man. he moved inexorably from a naive utopianism to a version of liberalism that involves a commitment to the free market and a passionate attachment to individual liberty. heterodox and deformed application of social theories.'' noting that ''the road to truth is not always smooth and straight. In ''The Mandarin'' (1980). and has established more civilized relations and styles of life. This classic liberalism includes a belief in pluralism. in part. at the same time. Vargas Llosa reconsidered his youthful attachment to Sartre: ''One could say that he was full of contradictions. because one can follow the twists and turns of the writer's mind as he tries.'' written shortly after the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. this might also be taken as a description of the essayist himself. I have come to see clearly something that I had intuited in a confused way.'' ''Making Waves'' is fascinating. Vargas Llosa wrote in 1980: ''Reading Isaiah Berlin. That real progress. The young Mario Vargas Llosa stated clearly that ''dogma. that his passion often caused him to be unjust and yet. again and again. to accuse themselves of imaginary betrayals and sign letters in which even the syntax seems to be that of the police.'' In a strange way. In a major reformulation of his principles.'' A similar resistance to the brutal aspect of state socialism can be found in ''Socialism and the Tanks. is the negation of everything that made me embrace. Vargas Llosa wrote: ''The sending of Soviet tanks into Prague to suppress a movement of socialist democratization is as much to be condemned as the dispatching of American marines to Santo Domingo to stamp out by violence a popular uprising against a military dictatorship and an unjust social system. from the first day.If one reads ''Literature Is Fire'' more closely. This was made clear in several open letters. but by 1971 he had come to reject the Cuban model. the cause of the Cuban revolution: its decision to fight for justice without losing respect for individuals. has always been achieved through a partial. It concerns the imprisonment of the poet Heberto Padilla and the subsequent coercion of certain prominent Cuban intellectuals to back Fidel: ''To force comrades.

'' He finds stunning parallels between Faulkner's Mississippi and the world of the Latin American novel. ''Faulkner's world was really not his alone. There is an entertaining piece on Hemingway as memoirist. Vargas Llosa offers a detailed road map of his imaginative world in ''Making Waves. In ''open'' societies -. greed.'' He insists on keeping literature and history in separate compartments.'' he suggests. for example.'' While this is nicely phrased.'' and to his years of self-imposed exile in Paris -. where ''open'' and ''closed'' seem inadequate in the face of such wellmanaged fantasies as the New World Order. ''A Fish in the Water'' (1994).as historical truth? Vargas Llosa is perhaps at his best on particular writers. ''Only literature has the techniques and powers to distill this delicate elixir of life: the truth hidden in the heart of human lies. a ''closed society'' is one where governments can force writers to heel to an interpretation of the facts that legitimizes a given regime. But one is able to comprehend that plunge more fully having tracked his gradual movement toward liberal pragmatism.'' and readers of his fiction can only be grateful. deal with the endless ''fictions'' thrown up -. adding the dimension that fuels the life deep within us -. including ''violence.'' he says in ''The Truth of Lies. taking us back to his childhood in Peru and Bolivia in ''The Country of a Thousand Faces. How does one. exhilarating world of everyday politics in the late 80's has been fully described in his memoir. Karl Popper's terminology sounds oddly outdated in the postcold-war era.'' For him. when writers are allowed to produce an alternative vision.The descent of Mario Vargas Llosa into the crude. . On the other hand. heat. an untamable nature which seems to reflect instincts that people do not try to keep in check. a shrewd critique of Joyce's ''Dubliners.that impalpable and fleeting but precious life that we only live through lies.a subject that recurs in many of these pieces.'' Some of the finest moments in the book are in those essays where the novelist speaks in the first person. seeing this as ''a prerogative of open societies. ''literature extends human life. ''It was ours.'' to his days as a graduate student in Madrid in ''When Madrid Was a Village.'' a workmanlike reconsideration of Dos Passos' ''Manhattan Transfer'' and two sharp essays on Faulkner. A fair number of the essays in this collection deal with the complex negotiations that occur between fact and fiction. himself included.

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