To Comfort The Afflicted
And Afflict The Comfortable

To Comfort The Afflicted And Afflict The Comfortable

Saturday, February 24, 2024





The announcement that the Nobel committee had bestowed its 2010 prize for literature on Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa came more as an “about time” reaction rather than surprise. Vargas Llosa, in addition to a litany of awards and prizes, was awarded the Neustadt International Prize by the University of Oklahoma-based World Literature Today in 1977.

It was during the Neustadt awards seminar that I occasioned to interview Vargas Llosa while on assignment for the Christian Science Monitor. At the time, only 41-years-old, the Peruvian had already carved his niche as central to the Latin American group of writers known as the “El Boom” generation.

His three novels to date, The Time of the Hero [La ciudad y los perros] 1963, The Green House [La casa verde ], 1965 and Conversation in the Cathedral [Conversación en la catedral] 1969 had taken Latin America and Europe by literary and political storm.

The El Boom writers revised the use of the language to communicate what has been described as “Magical Realism.” This technique was used not only to tell a story but to indict governments throughout Latin America for their political corruption and abuses against their own populations.

These writers worked against the backdrop of the Cuban revolution, the failed U.S. Bay of Pigs invasion, the 1973 Chilean coup d’etat in which the U.S. played no small role with President Richard Nixon’s Henry Kissinger as puppet master. There were also worker revolts and uprisings against mostly U.S. multinational corporations who had used local governments to put down union organizers and keep wages low.

Writers such as Vargas Llosa were able to show the people of Latin America that governments could be criticized and that as individuals they were not alone in what they saw, experienced and feared. In the early years they embraced the Cuban revolution as the new face of socialism.

It came as a bit of a surprise seated in the hotel room on the OU campus to hear one of Fidel Castro’s staunchest literary supporters denounce the revolution as “a great deception.” But he was ready to embrace U.S. style democracy and multinational corporate colonization.

Rather, he and his fellow writers had made a course correction; they would steer clear of Cuba and the U.S. to incubate their own democracies in their own national styles. Since that interview there have been noticeable successes, setbacks and failures. But they have been Latin American failures, the U.S. need not apply, and when it has success it often times is in the eye of the beholder and the view is very different looking South out a corporate window than looking level at the main street of your hometown.

Most notably the fight against communism has been replaced by the war against drugs. This time the Americas have had their voice, perhaps due in great part to El Boom. They are telling the U.S. to cure its drug habit, repair its laws and then perhaps Latin America can fix its own problems.

Not to say Vargas Llosa and his contemporaries were/are great seers, rather they were able to assess their own situations and the effect U.S. anti-communist ideology and corporate greed were having on their respective populations. They had the courage to speak out and continue to speak. Their literary style has become a mainstay of literature in universities around the globe.

Vargas Llosa is the 28th Neustadt writer to win a Nobel; it is well deserved.

On Oct. 7, the Christian Science Monitor chose to reprint the 1977 interview.

Richard R ichard L. Fricker lives in Tulsa, OK and is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer

Arnold Hamilton
Arnold Hamilton
Arnold Hamilton became editor of The Observer in September 2006. Previously, he served nearly two decades as the Dallas Morning News’ Oklahoma Bureau chief. He also covered government and politics for the San Jose Mercury News, the Dallas Times Herald, the Tulsa Tribune and the Oklahoma Journal.
Mark Krawczyk
Mark Krawczyk
March 9, 2023
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Brette Pruitt
Brette Pruitt
September 5, 2022
The Observer carries on the "give 'em hell" tradition of its founder, the late Frosty Troy. I read it from cover to cover. A progressive wouldn't be able to live in a red state without it.