The Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, in Italy to present his new book The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto, wanders through the streets of Rome and comes into the bookstore.
“It seems as if only women buy books. I have counted some 18 people in this bookshop, and only two of them are men.”
How would you define yourself?
I am a liberal and I do not want to be mistaken as being on the Right. Liberalism is the defense of liberty.
And in the USA, which side would you vote for?
As far as the economy is concerned, I would say that I would be a Republican, and from the social and institutional point of view I am more a Democrat. For sure, Liberalism is in favour of private enterprise and against State controlled industry, this is its tradition.
What do you think about a Europe that is going towards the Left?
I do not think that’s true. Blair’s victory in England has nothing to do with Jospin’s victory in France. In England the breakthrough of the laboristi towards liberalism is secure. While in France the Left is more statist, more populist.
Italy is “crafty”. Italy has found a subtle and civilised way to privatise its industries. Italian politics seem to be more decorative than anything else, even theatrical, and the essential issues have become separated from political life.
Is Italy a modern country?
Yes, of course. It’s more France that has a terrible identity crisis because they do not agree that they should become modern.
I think it’s in crisis. The European Union will, probably, become held back.
And South America?
It’s going better, with the exception of Cuba and Peru. There is more civilisation and more democracy. I always cite Bolivia as an example: it was the most chaotic country, with a tradition of dictatorships and of being ungovernable. Now it is a model of democracy and has a liberal economy.
It has a space that cannot be replaced by television, but the competition is enormous. TV is superficial and creates passive attitudes. It rules out the imagination.
Do you use a computer?
Yes, but I write my first drafts in longhand.
Do you write every day?
Every day; literature from Monday to Saturday, journalism on Sundays. Journalism is a way of keeping one foot in life and being grounded in reality. A writer must not become completely isolated in a world that is purely mental.
What point is Latin American literature now at?
There aren’t any major figures like Borges, Cortázar or Márquez, but handon thethereothe r are lots of writers and poets.
Why do so many women write these days?
These are the women who read, who go to the theatre, who attend conferences, who occupy themselves with the culture. This is a worldwide phenomenon.
Does the modern male appear to you to be weak?
No, but he takes care of practical things and thinks that culture is a luxury.
Today there is a big turning back to spirituality throughout the world.
Yes, it’s true: globalisation has created insecurity. The disappearance of borders and the crisis of ideologies makes people look for support and therefore you can see how this is favourable to the resurgence of religion.
What do you think is the reality of today’s world?
That despite the enormous problems, humanity has never had a better existence than today. We have never had better tools to fight poverty, violence and disease, and create a civilisation under the sign of freedom and the rule of law. I do not feel like being pessimistic and Karl Popper said this a few weeks before he died.
Why do you live in London?
London is a great city to work in, and for writing; anonymity is guaranteed, the English are the most discrete people in the world and then the weather is always bad and therefore you need to stay at home.
So you are a masochist?
No, but in London there aren’t all the irresistible temptations of Rome, Milan, Turin, Madrid, Paris.
Do you work all day?
All morning at home, and in the afternoon in the Library of the British Museum.
Do you get homesick?
Yes, but nostalgia is good material for writers.
What are you reading?
All and many more. For example, a dialogue between Jean–François Revel and his son, and Tabucchi.
And what are you writing?
I started on an old project, it’s a novel set in the Dominican Republic under Trujillo.
Who is your favourite writer?
For the moderns Faulkner and Borges; and then Flaubert, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Montaigne and Dante.
6th August 1997