In the United States, Vargas Llosa is best known for his novels (In Praise of the Stepmother; etc.), 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. From the first essay, about a romance writer who left her life savings to found a book award for-what else-romance writers, Vargas Llosa sparkles. He sometimes digresses into minor diatribes about culture and government, but he mostly strikes a balance between fierce passion for a subject and the journalistic objectivity that allows for proper analysis of it. Vargas Llosa writes, "I try to comment on some current event that rouses, angers, or disturbs me, subjecting it to the test of reason and in the process weighing my convictions, doubts, and confusions." He often succeeds in reaching this goal, applying his fascination with humanity to such diverse topics as Bob Marley's shrine, the legacy of Vermeer and daily life in a Palestinian village. Sweeping, intelligent and lively, these essays should widen Vargas Llosa's appeal considerably, allowing new readers to share his passion. The translation (by PW contributing editor Wimmer) is superb, allowing Vargas Llosa's wit and intellect to be delivered in English while retaining its Spanish flavor.
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For 25 years Vargas Llosa has written a widely syndicated column for Spain's premier newspaper, El Pais, commenting with authority and elan on current events, culture, literature, art, and music. Making Waves (1997) gathered a bounty of earlier essays, and now this new volume offers electrifying selections from the 1990s. Journalism, Vargas Llosa writes, is the flip side to his highly imaginative fiction, the necessary second half of his writing practice that allows him "to feel involved with the everyday life of the planet." In his essays, therefore, he is spontaneous, forthright, and controversial, yet always cosmopolitan and erudite. He assesses what exactly ails democracies, the gap between idealism and economics, and the messy interplay of politics and religion. He celebrates the quiet joys of libraries and the wild and cathartic pleasures of Rio's Carnaval, and pays tribute to Bob Marley, Octavio Paz, and Vermeer. Ultimately, Vargas Llosa exemplifies the role of the writer in today's media-saturated world with his immense range of knowledge and interests, moral intelligence, and artistry. Donna Seaman
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