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The Language of Passion [Hardcover]

Mario Vargas Llosa , Natasha Wimmer
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 26 2003
Ten years of world-class journalism from one of Latin America’s most influential and controversial men of letters

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 skewering 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 questions of the last decade, including the travails of Latin American democracy, the role of religion in civic life, and the future of globalization. But Vargas Llosa’s 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 Carnival in Rio, and examines the legacy 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 hallmark of his nonfiction. The Language of Passion is the work of a cosmopolite in the true sense of the word.

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From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

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
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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5.0 out of 5 stars A Political Man of the World Aug. 20 2003
Format:Hardcover
Most columnists, at least most American columnists, tend to specialize. They write on politics or art or culture or economics. But Vargas Llosa, Peruvian novelist ("Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter") and essayist ("Making Waves"), refuses to be pinned down. In the "Touchstone" column he writes for Spain's major newspaper, Vargas Llosa laments the demise of the British Reading Room with the same conviction and assurance with which he lambastes the leadership of the Chiapas rebels in Mexico or celebrates the erotic abandon of Rio's four-day Carnaval.
Vargas Llosa has been writing his column since 1977 and this second collection includes columns from 1992 to 2000. The title, which comes from a tribute to fellow writer and "intellectual agitator" Octavio Paz, is a fitting one. Not that Vargas Llosa could ever be accused of hot headedness. Though he does tend to describe destructive elements on the extreme right or left as "idiots" or "absolute idiots," his impassioned opinions are informed by 60 years of global travel, observation, reading and thought.
His politics can be described fairly simply - he believes in secular democracy and the free market. Socially he is moderately liberal. But those simple terms embrace a host of cogent arguments and ironic observations from around the world.
Vargas Llosa relishes irony and contrast. There is amusement in his vivid description of the bejeweled rich who paid big money to sit enraptured at a lavish production of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's masterpiece of anti-capitalism, "The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. A bitter irony is found in the appropriation of the liberal argument for multiculturalism in defense of the abhorrent practice of female "circumcision" among immigrants to Western countries.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Heart of the Neoliberal June 12 2003
Format:Hardcover
Mario Vargas Llosa's new book of essays is a selection of his newspapar columns from the early 1980s to 2000. The range of subject matter is quite broad, from Carnaval in Rio ("The Permanent Erection") to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ("A Walk Through Hebron") to economic aid for the Third World ("Aid for the First World"). Vargas Llosa uses several of these essays to stand up for the values and beliefs that he holds, which seem to boil down to three clear ideas: democracy, academic clarity and the free market. In "Seven Years, Seven Days," Vargas Llosa criticizes the anti-democratic policies of the Fujimori presidency in Perú, while praising Fujimori for adopting certain neoliberal policies. He makes his opposition to Hugo Chavez apparent in "The Suicide of a Nation." In "The Life and Trials of Elián," the author laments the fate of Elián González, as well as the victory that Castro ("one of the most repugnant dictators ever produced by the authoritarian fauna of Latin America" p. 264) scored in the whole debacle.
Vargas Llosa believes equally strongly in the free market, and takes George Soros to task for doubting it in "The Devil's Advocate." And he makes his plea for academic clarity and sets himself in opposition to obscurantist postmodern philosophy in "Postmodernism and Frivolity."
Some of Vargas Llosa's opinions, nevertheless, seem limited to the times in which they were written. As the most recent of the essays were published in 2000, what does the author think about the Argentine meltdown? Does the unequal playing field of the free market deserve any blame, or can corruption and mis-management explain it all? What about the recent riots in Bolivia, where water privatization has aggravated resource-distribution conflicts?
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Political Man of the World Aug. 20 2003
By Lynn Harnett - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Most columnists, at least most American columnists, tend to specialize. They write on politics or art or culture or economics. But Vargas Llosa, Peruvian novelist ("Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter") and essayist ("Making Waves"), refuses to be pinned down. In the "Touchstone" column he writes for Spain's major newspaper, Vargas Llosa laments the demise of the British Reading Room with the same conviction and assurance with which he lambastes the leadership of the Chiapas rebels in Mexico or celebrates the erotic abandon of Rio's four-day Carnaval.
Vargas Llosa has been writing his column since 1977 and this second collection includes columns from 1992 to 2000. The title, which comes from a tribute to fellow writer and "intellectual agitator" Octavio Paz, is a fitting one. Not that Vargas Llosa could ever be accused of hot headedness. Though he does tend to describe destructive elements on the extreme right or left as "idiots" or "absolute idiots," his impassioned opinions are informed by 60 years of global travel, observation, reading and thought.
His politics can be described fairly simply - he believes in secular democracy and the free market. Socially he is moderately liberal. But those simple terms embrace a host of cogent arguments and ironic observations from around the world.
Vargas Llosa relishes irony and contrast. There is amusement in his vivid description of the bejeweled rich who paid big money to sit enraptured at a lavish production of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's masterpiece of anti-capitalism, "The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. A bitter irony is found in the appropriation of the liberal argument for multiculturalism in defense of the abhorrent practice of female "circumcision" among immigrants to Western countries. More baffling is the contrast found in a thoughtful intellectual known for penetrating literary criticism and subtle reflections on the various world religions, whose 1939-45 "Journal," is filled with an obsessive anti-Semitism that "lingers like a noxious miasma in the reader's memory, like the stink of cheap brothels, the smell of sharp tobacco, dirty feet, and rue-water that cannot be washed away or masked with dousings of cologne."
He pokes fun at those who proclaim the death of literature and the demise of culture, like the French functionaries who believe "that languages must be shut up in concentration camps and guarded by flics and mouchards disguised as lexicographers". He rails against those who would preserve their culture with hate mongering or use their religion to deny others their human rights (particularly women).
But the most moving and inspiring pieces are his brief portraits of the people he admires, like methodical Vermeer's passionate perfection, Monet's obsessive search at the end of his career to paint the elusive qualities of reality, Frida Kahlo's "Painting to Survive."
One of the best is his evocation of Nelson Mandela from a visit to his prison at Robben Island. Another, completely different, is his discussion of V.S. Naipaul and Paul Theroux upon the publication of Theroux's compulsively readable savaging of his former friend, "Sir Vidia's Shadow," which Vargas Llosa concludes with a perfect personal anecdote.
Vargas Llosa writes about anything he pleases anywhere in the world - the Catholic Church, Islam, Palestine, Latin America, books, art, music, history. He writes about a romance writer who lived life entirely in her imagination and an Andean maiden mummy who "testifies - depending on how you look at it - to the ceremonial riches and the mysterious beliefs of a lost civilization, or to the infinitely cruel ways in which human stupidity once exorcised its fears, and often still does."
Though necessarily brief, each piece is well shaped and elegantly argued. Whether celebrating or fulminating, Vargas Llosa is intellectually rigorous and passionately engaged, a man of the world in the best sense. This is a collection that will be of interest to anyone with reasoned opinions, whatever their political slant.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Heart of the Neoliberal June 12 2003
By B. Allen - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Mario Vargas Llosa's new book of essays is a selection of his newspapar columns from the early 1980s to 2000. The range of subject matter is quite broad, from Carnaval in Rio ("The Permanent Erection") to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ("A Walk Through Hebron") to economic aid for the Third World ("Aid for the First World"). Vargas Llosa uses several of these essays to stand up for the values and beliefs that he holds, which seem to boil down to three clear ideas: democracy, academic clarity and the free market. In "Seven Years, Seven Days," Vargas Llosa criticizes the anti-democratic policies of the Fujimori presidency in Perú, while praising Fujimori for adopting certain neoliberal policies. He makes his opposition to Hugo Chavez apparent in "The Suicide of a Nation." In "The Life and Trials of Elián," the author laments the fate of Elián González, as well as the victory that Castro ("one of the most repugnant dictators ever produced by the authoritarian fauna of Latin America" p. 264) scored in the whole debacle.
Vargas Llosa believes equally strongly in the free market, and takes George Soros to task for doubting it in "The Devil's Advocate." And he makes his plea for academic clarity and sets himself in opposition to obscurantist postmodern philosophy in "Postmodernism and Frivolity."
Some of Vargas Llosa's opinions, nevertheless, seem limited to the times in which they were written. As the most recent of the essays were published in 2000, what does the author think about the Argentine meltdown? Does the unequal playing field of the free market deserve any blame, or can corruption and mis-management explain it all? What about the recent riots in Bolivia, where water privatization has aggravated resource-distribution conflicts? (Vargas Llosa is very complimentary of Bolivia's political class and policies, at least in comparison to Italy's, in "Italy is not Bolivia.")
Whether you agree with Vargas Llosa's opinions or not, these essays are well-written and truly provide food for thought. I highly recommend this book.
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