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The Peruvian writer Maria Vargas Llosa today won the 2010 Nobel prize for literature, crowning a career in which he helped spark the global boom in South American literature, launched a failed presidential bid and maintained a 30-year feud with the man he now joins as a Nobel laureate, Gabriel García Márquez.
Cited by the Swedish Academy for "his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual's resistance, revolt and defeat", the 10m SEK (£1m) award is the culmination of a literary life that began in 1963 with the publication of his novel The Time of the Hero, and includes further books such as Conversation in the Cathedral (1969), Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter (1977) and The Feast of the Goat (2000).
"I am very surprised, I did not expect this," Vargas Llosa told Spanish National Radio, saying that he thought it was a joke when he received the call. "It had been years since my name was even mentioned," he added. "It has certainly been a total surprise, a very pleasant surprise, but a surprise nonetheless.""First and foremost, he's a great man of letters," he continued. "He has a formidable style, but as with most Latin American writers, at the bottom of all his work, as well as power, and the abuse of power, is the question of cultural identity - what it means to be a European in this Amerindian continent."
The Leoncio Prado military academy where he went to school inspired The Time of the Hero, the novel that made his name. A vibrant, violent evocation of Peruvian society under military rule, it tells the story of a murder which is covered up to protect the school's reputation. The book was ceremonially burned in the grounds of the academy, and its author barred from the grounds.
His third novel, Conversation in the Cathedral (1969), traces the role of a minister in the murder of a notorious figure in the Peruvian underworld. The author and critic Jay Parini, a friend of Vargas Llosa's for some years, called the novel "a consummate portrait of Peru under the malign dictatorship of Manuel Odría. One got to know Peruvian society from such a variety of angles, and the novel is so vivid on the page, fresh and real." He is, Parini suggested, "surely one of the least controversial of writers to get the prize. His industry and intelligence are models of their kind. He is a bright spirit, brave and ebullient, and his novels and stories will last."