City Journal Summer 2014

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Adam Kirsch
The Dream of the Peruvian « Back to Story

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Excellent article.
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Mario Vargas Llosa:
A baffling mixture of feminine perkiness with smug patriotic newsanchorliness. Possessed by women with high profiles in mainstream media, but usually abandoned for either perkiness or gravitas once the newswoman is experienced enough with both to decide between them. Currently the perkitas ringmaster on television is Daily Show correspondent Samantha Bee, who must be blessed by a rogue star, because she remains the only female fake news reporter on a hit comedy show two women created.
Great review. Well done.
Great article! I have read several of his novels and was traveling in Peru in 1989, during the peak of his presidential campaign amidst triple digit inflation and rolling blackouts and stalled trains attributed to the Shining Path's attacks on the grid and railroads. With the recent fall of the Berlin Wall I was hoping the cultural momentum would have given him a boost, but that was not to be...

Last I heard, he was honored with the Alexis de Tocqueville Award in 2011. I regard it as a much higher honor than the Nobel Prize (which has increasingly become a metaphor all things anathema to Tocqueville). Nonetheless, Tocqueville must have been spinning in his grave when the award bearing his name was also presented to the Jew-hater Desmond Tutu. Let's hope this was an anomaly rather than a trend mirroring the degradation of the Nobel Prize.

Clearly this writer is not intimidated by intellectual challenges. I would love to see him write a biography on Knut Hamsun, the Norwegian Nobel-laurate who ruined his reputation by supporting Adolf Hitler. Nobody has come up with a satisfying explanation as to why this towering literary figure who never bore a particular animus against Jews spent the last years of his life writing paeons to this monster. In the forward to a recent edition of Knut Hamsun's "Hunger", Isaac Bashevis Singer states that "The whole of modern literature stems from Hamsun". The fact that this Nobel laureate who made is name writing books around Jewish themes does not hesitate to acknowledge the timeless quality of Hamsun's writing certainly deserves further scrutiny.

John Kelly asks about the German concentration camps. Since Casement was hanged during World War I, the only German concentration camps he could have been familiar with would have been those in Southwest Africa, which were inspired by the British concentration camps in the Boer War.

I'd have to disagree with Pertinax on MVLl's books. MVLl is by far the most interesting Latin American writer I've read. I much prefer him to his former friend Garcia Marquez. I haven't read Ribeyro, though, and will have to do so and see if this modifies my opinion.
In general, I share Vargas Llosas's political views, but it's his books--especially his more recent ones--that do very little for me. Far, far more interesting is his countryman J. R. Ribeyro, whom MVLl criticizes cruelly, and unjustly, I think, in the memoir A Fish in the Water.

Vargas Llosa, after all, enjoyed a degree of international success that not a single other Peruvian writer came close to earning, not even those who, such as Ribeyro, wrote work of much greater intrinsic appeal; Vargas Llosa, then, could afford to take positions that were off-limits to others, who, to preserve their livelihoods, sometimes had to make public pronouncements--yes, of a populist bent--that were probably at odds with their inner convictions. Fine, let MVLL take pride in his ideological purity; but that's no reason to spit on those who must compromise simply because they did not have the luck--and luck it certainly it was--to enjoy the international success and consequent independence that you did. And let me make it clear again: Ribeyro's work is at least as deserving of this success as Vargas Llosa's.
Lovely read of Vargas Llosa's many books over decades of thinking, writing and commentary.
It would be interesting to know if Casement would have changed his ideas about Germany if he had seen the results of the concentration camps.