Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa at the French Academy

The Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa was elected to the French Academy on Thursday November 25 in chair 18, previously occupied by Michel Serres, who died in 2019. He was greeted by 18 votes out of the 22 cast. Two ballots were marked with a cross, signifying a refusal. The news was announced by his son on Twitter, and by his peers on the website of theFrench Academy.

At 85 years old, Mario Vargas Llosa has the particularity of exceeding by ten years the officially accepted limit for taking the green habit, set at 75 years. He is not the author of a work in French either, since the Peruvian writer, naturalized Spanish in 1993, and who divides his time between South America and Spain, writes in Spanish. Before him, in the course of history, nineteen other foreign academicians were elected under the Cupola, French nationality not being a prerequisite to sit there. But several had obtained it all the same before their election, like the Romanian Eugène Ionesco or the Argentinian of Russian origin Joseph Kessel. The American Julien Green, the first foreigner to be elected there, declined the favor offered him by President Georges Pompidou by offering him naturalization.

The Parisian years

Mario Vargas Llosa has a dear personal relationship with France and especially Paris, where he lived from 1959 to 1966. “My seven years in Paris were the most decisive of my life. It was there that I became a writer, that I discovered love, a passion of which the surrealists spoke so much, where I was happier, or less unhappy, than anywhere else ”, he will then declare. He evoked this stay in his novel Twists and turns of the naughty girl, as well as his meeting with Jean-Paul Sartre, which will influence him. In Paris, he made a living as a Spanish teacher at the Berlitz school, then as a journalist at Agence France-Presse and French Radio-Television.

This trip was part of a cosmopolitan desire from the end of the 1960s, the writer traveling through Europe – London, Barcelona… He was then already the author of a recognized work, marked from his first novel, The City and the Dogs, published in 1963, through his relationship with his father, an authoritarian figure who takes a dim view of his literary fiber. His books at the outset testify to a formal experimentation, merge styles and borrow from modern techniques as much as from ample stories close to the novels of the 19th century.e century. They offer an observation of power, its destruction, themes of transgression and freedom.

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When he returned to Lima in 1974, Vargas Llosa began a more academic career: at the Peruvian Academy first, in 1975, then acquired an international stature by giving lectures all over the world. His political career evolved from communism and support for the Peruvian guerrillas and the Cuban revolution in his youth to a conversion to a more conservative commitment, marked by the reading of Soljenitsyne, Raymond Aron, Adam Smith or Karl Popper. He founded the liberal right-wing Libertad party in Peru and stood for the presidential election in 1990. He is beaten in the second round. Attributing his defeat to his notorious cosmopolitanism, he applied for Spanish nationality – obtained in 1993 – and was elected to the Spanish Academy the following year.

Mario Vargas Llosa is the author of around fifty novels, collections of short stories and plays and around thirty essays. He was awarded the Nobel for Literature in 2010 “For his cartography of power structures and his sharp images of individual resistance, revolt and failure”.

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