The Language of Passion Selected Commentary

Mario Vargas Llosa; Translated by Natasha Wimmer




Trade Paperback

304 Pages



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Since 1977, Mario Vargas Llosa has contributed a biweekly column to Spain's major newspaper, El País. Dubbed "Touchstone" and read in syndication by Spanish-speaking readers around the globe, the column is renowned—in some circles, notorious—for skewing the excesses of the Latin American left and championing classic liberalism and free-market democracy. In this collection of columns from the 1990s, Vargas Llosa weighs in on the burning question of the decade, including the travails of Latin American democracy, the role of religion in civic life, and the future of globalization.

But Vargas Llosa—whose last book of essays in English, Making Waves, received the 1997 National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism—is more than a commentator, and his influence is hardly limited to politics. In some of the liveliest critical writing of his career, he makes a pilgrimage to Bob Marley's shrine in Jamaica, celebrates the sexual abandon of Carnaval in Rio, and examines the legacies of Vermeer, Bertolt Brecht, Frida Kahlo, and Octavio Paz, among others.

Vargas Llosa is a model of the engaged writer: whatever his subject, he brings to bear the intelligence, wit, tolerance, and moral seriousness that are the hallmarks of his nonfiction.


Praise for The Language of Passion

"These capsule essays touch on all things human—and divine—mostly social, cultural, and political. And because Vargas Llosa is a highbrow literary name, it's comforting to verify that his interests also encompass, say, Rio's carnival . . . the figure of Bob Marley, or—even if only a passing reference—the magic of David Copperfield."—Orlando Alomá, The Miami Herald

"[Vargas Llosa] is a worldly writer in the best sense of the word: intelligent, urbane, well-traveled, well-informed, cosmopolitan, free-thinking, and free-speaking."—Los Angeles Times

"[The Language of Passion] features items from the biweekly newspaper columns Vargas Llosa wrote between 1992 and 2000 for Madrid's El País. The indefatigable journalist chose from those columns 46 pieces ranging though literature and other arts, politics, cultural affairs, lost friends, lost causes, religions, travel, social issues, and then-current events. Most pieces are between five and seven pages long. Their appeal is to general readers as varied as the book's contents. Vargas Llosa is passionate about what he discusses but does not allow emotion to cloud reason; in matters of world events, he is scrupulous in presenting the facts . . . A prize-winning novelist who has created indelible characters and a columnist who has observed reality and tersely reported on its vagaries with valuable insight, he is also a teacher to readers of his journalism. As the title of his column, Piedras de toque, posits, these pieces are touchstones to the heart and mind of Mario Vargas Llosa; his 'language of passion,' expertly captured in Natasha Wimmer's excellent translation, makes for informative reading."—Robert Lima, The Baltimore Sun

"Level-headed and principled."—Ben Lytal, The New York Sun

"That the pieces in Mario Vargas Llosa's The Language of Passion were published as bi-weekly columns in a Madrid newspaper gives one faith that real literature can appear anywhere, and reminds us that one's incidental, spontaneous, time-tied writings might even be better than anything mulled over, presented artistically, and intended for the ages. Vargas Llosa's Piedra de Toque essays are in the tradition of Seneca, Voltaire, or Orwell—scooting from literary, artistic, and social to political matters, all interconnected by an emphatic and personal voice that evangelizes the faith of reason . . . These essays, in the grand tradition of literary essays, are continuously alive with wit and thinking, seemingly causal and conversational, with fresh and delightful development from page to page . . . Vargas Llosa writes as clear and sparkling a Spanish as one could hope for, and Natasha Wimmer's excellent translation deftly conveys his tone and fluidity."—Bob Blaisdell, San Francisco Chronicle

"For readers who eagerly await each new fictional work of Vargas Llosa, these essays are a treat and a change of pace. For readers who have yet to experience the sheer brilliance of his writing, this serves as a great introduction. Highly recommended."—Library Journal

"In the United States, Vargas Llosa is best known for his novels, but in Spanish-speaking countries, he's also noted as a thoughtful, intense newspaper columnist. His essays on the machinations of countries like Argentina and his native Peru have shed light on their politics and provided some material for a previous collection, Making Waves. In this second culling from his newspaper life, Vargas Llosa provides plenty of political meat for a newshound, but also displays his wide range of interest . . . Sweeping, intelligent and lively, these essays should widen Vargas Llosa's appeal considerably, allowing new readers to share his passion. The translation is superb, allowing Vargas Llosa's wit and intellect to be delivered in English while retaining its Spanish flavor."—Publishers Weekly

"Reviews, travel journalism, and assorted feuilletons from the noted Peruvian novelist. ‘Novelist' just begins to cover the ground, for like many other Latin American writers of his generation—he was born in Lima in 1937 and began to write professionally in Spain in the n0 late ‘50s—Vargas Llosa cut his teeth writing for the daily papers and magazines. He continues to contribute to such periodicals; most of the pieces gathered in this exemplary volume, covering the ‘90s, first saw print in his occasional column in the Madrid daily El País. Less afraid of big ideas and big works than most American papers, the post-Franco Spanish press proves an ideal testing ground for Vargas Llosa's contrarian musings on such matters as Third World development, free markets, and modern literature. A longtime anticommunist liberal, for instance, Vargas Llosa disputed the notion that the developing world is poor because of some inherent defect in its peoples' wealth-making capabilities: the people are poor, to be sure, he writes, but only because the rich loot them ‘to enjoy an Arabian Nights-style opulence,' and to the tune of billions of dollars. Throughout, he comes down more on the side of Milton Friedman than Frederick Engels, but, much as he dislikes Fidel Castro, Vargas Llosa is no reactionary. One of the best pieces here is an unexpected homage to the Jamaican reggae star Bob Marley, under whose influence Vargas Llosa's son became a Rastafarian, and whom Vargas Llosa belatedly praised for his political universalism and tasteful tunes. Elsewhere, Vargas Llosa profiles the many great writers of the Barcelona of his youth—‘In those days,' he writes, ‘Barcelona was down-at-the-heels, cosmopolitan, and international; now it is extremely rich, provincial, and nationalist.'—and takes well-aimed potshots at superstar authors, current leaders, and world events, an array of targets that he takes evident pleasure in addressing. Vargas Llosa's many admirers will share that pleasure with this fine collection."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Mario Vargas Llosa; Translated by Natasha Wimmer

  • Mario Vargas Llosa is the winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature "for his cartography of the structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual's resistance, revolt, and defeat." Peru's foremost writer, he has been awarded the Cervantes Prize, the Spanish-speaking world's most distinguished literary honor, and the Jerusalem Prize. His many works include The Feast of the Goat, The Bad Girl, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, The War of the End of the World, and The Storyteller. He lives in London.

  • Mario Vargas Llosa Morgana Vargas Llosa