Friday, June 01, 2007

Mario Vargas Llosa - Touchstones: Essays in Literature, Art and Politics

Ian Thomson reviews Mario Vargas Llosa's Touchstones: Essays in Literature, Art and Politics.
With this marvellous new collection of essays, Touchstones, Vargas Llosa takes his place alongside the Mexican Carlos Fuentes and the Colombian Gabriel García Márquez as a Latin with a civic conscience. The book gathers an impressive array of articles on Latin American politics, European writers and painters, as well as sections of a diary the author kept during a visit to Iraq shortly after Saddam Hussein's fall in 2003.

Not surprisingly, 'Iraq Diary' presents Hussein as a dictator in the megalomaniac lineage of Tamerlane (and about as cruel). Vargas Llosa declares himself reluctantly in favour of the invasion; only an author with experience of South American dictatorship, perhaps, could do as much.

Throughout these essays, Vargas Llosa is drawn to writers who enter wholeheartedly into public affairs; André Malraux, Gunter Grass and Thomas Mann are among his heroes. Busybody commentators in the Rushdie vein are not always to British tastes. Yet Vargas Llosa is not afraid to champion literature as indispensable to what he calls the 'culture of freedom' and the formation of free individuals.
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