Mario Vargas Llosa receives the Umbral Award for the best novel of 2019 for ‘Hard times’


Monday, November 16, 2020 –

The Peruvian Nobel Prize winner spoke of literature as “a germ of nonconformity, a testimony of insubordination and rebellion when a society is not free” in his acceptance speech.

Francisco Rosell, Antonio Fernndez-Galiano, Mario Vargas Llosa, Isabel Daz Ayuso, Espaa Surez, Jose Luis Alvarez and Manuel Llorente.

  • Vargas Llosa and Umbral.

    Parallels that intersect

  • Vargas Llosa, Umbral award.

    ‘Hard times’

A vibrant, addictive and necessary book. “This is how Manuel Llorente, president of the Francisco Umbral Award jury, referred to Tough times (Alfaguara), the novel for which the Spanish-Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa was honored this Monday at the headquarters of the Community of Madrid.

The jury noted at the time, back in January, when its decision was made known and the pandemic had not yet caused havoc, that Tough times suppose the “return to one of the scenarios in which [Vargas Llosa] is more comfortable and knows more “, which has allowed him to delve into” the line of historical research and alternation between private life and public life “that he already exhibited in Conversation in the Cathedral Y The party of the goat.

In fact, the novel can be understood as a continuation and expansion of those, since it rescues the same tone and some characters to portray the turbulent reality of Guatemala in the mid-1950s, when the CIA supported the coup against Jacobo Rbenz.

The award ceremony, delayed several times due to the coronavirus, was presented by Fernando R. Lafuente, Editorial Secretary of the Western Magazine, member of the jury and the person in charge of presenting the appearing parties, starting with Espaa Surez, widow of Francisco Umbral. Surez praised the trajectory of Vargas Llosa, “how much light it has brought to Latin American history” and described the award as “one more way to worship the Spanish language.”

Then Manuel Llorente took the podium to remember, among other things, the historic speech of Vargas Llosa’s admission to the Royal Spanish Academy, in which the author of The city and the Dogs He spoke of the reader and his hope that a novel “amuse and dizzy, excite and intrigue him, that makes him pass a cat for a hare and, for a few hours, I took him out of the mediocrity of the real world and transferred him to the exalting regions of illusion. ”

Vargas Llosa himself dedicated his words of acceptance of the award to the aspects in which “literature contributes to the improvement of societyIt is the source of progress, of change. A society that is deeply immersed in literature is more difficult to manipulate than one in which literature fulfills a minor or secondary function. “

In this sense, the Peruvian Nobel Prize winner also spoke of books as “germ of nonconformity, testimony of insubordination and rebellion when a society is not free. Freedom is always precarious, and at this time we have discovered it better than our ancestors. Reality we live in can suddenly change and transform and nothing prepares us so much to detect these changes, which are sometimes extraordinarily subtle, like literature. ”

There was also time for a relaxed discussion between Juan Cruz, deputy director of El Pas and member of the jury, and Vargas Llosa himself, in which the writer recalled his arrival in Madrid in 1958, that “Barojiana city that has been suppressed by modernity” and in which “nobody feels foreign”. In addition, he portrayed the unique character of Threshold itself when he recalled his first and only meeting, a lunch in which the journalist and writer from Madrid asked him, “How can you write about Corn Tellado?“, author for which Vargas Llosa felt” pure sociological interest, not literary “, clarify.

Finally, Isabel Daz Ayuso, president of the Community of Madrid, praised the ability of the winner to “rewrite history with the fidelity of a witness and lift fiction with the literary pulse of a teacher”, in an act that was also attended Antonio Fernndez-Galiano, president of the Editorial Unit, Francisco Rosell, director of EL MUNDO, in addition to public officials such as Ignacio Aguado, vice president of the Community, Marta Rivera de la Cruz, Minister of Culture, and Jos Luis Álvarez Ustarroz, mayor of Majadahonda .


Isabel Daz Ayuso took advantage of her speech to denounce what she considers “the latest aggression against democratic pluralism in the sensitive field of education and, in this case, language “, in reference to the educational reform of the LOMLOE, also known as the Cela law, which does not include in its text that Spanish is the vehicular language in teaching or official language of the State will appear. “A nation that marginalizes its language is doomed to disappearance, it is a absolute irresponsibility political and cultural “, warned the president of the Community of Madrid. To combat what he described as” nonsense “, Daz Ayuso announced” an ambitious project to make Madrid the capital of Spanish in the world and thus contribute to making our language increasingly universal. ”

It is a plan that covers fields such as education, the arts or tourism, and to which it has invited to participate “great intellectuals such as Vargas Llosa, one of the best writers in the Spanish language, who has always demonstrated his commitment to the democracy, justice and, above all, freedom. ” To which Vargas Llosa himself replied, “President, you have my full support“.

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