«It is not very common that after winning the Nobel prize, an author returns to the forefront with the best of his literature, hence it is a double satisfaction to reward Mario Vargas Llosa as” Book of the Year “. This is how Fernando Rodríguez Lafuente, a member of the jury who chose as the best book of the editorial course for the last novel of the Spanish Peruvian writer and academic, said. ‘Hard times’ (Alfaguara) was thus raised by majority with the Francisco Umbral Prize, which with Vargas Llosa (Arequipa, 1936) for the first time incorporates a Nobel to his medal winners. It is granted by the homonymous foundation, which failed on Wednesday the ninth edition of the award, endowed with 12,000 euros and which books of any genre written in Spanish and published in the season prior to the ruling can choose.

«Vargas Llosa has been very happy and excited to receive this award, both for the members of the jury and for the name that bears the award» explained María España, widow of Paco Umbral, president of the Francisco Umbral Foundation that awards the award and responsible for communicating the good news to the winner, who was in Spain.

‘Hard times’ was awarded by a majority, not by unanimity, and “after several quite competitive votes and with some draws,” said Manuel Llorente, president of the jury that made the ruling public at an event held at the Ortega y Gasset Foundation -Gregorio Marañón (FOM). An institution that, according to Llorente, will now be the headquarters of the Vargas Llosa Chair.

For the jury that awarded ‘Hard Times’ is “a round novel” that connects with “The Goat Party”, so that its author “returns to one of the scenarios he knows best and best.” Rodriguez Lafuente insisted that Vargas Llosa has resumed with this book “his best narrative pulse” to get back “in the front line”, something that is “commendable” and “of special merit for the winner of a Nobel Prize for Literature . “It is in tune with ‘La Fiesta del Chivo’, has the same temperature and goes in the line of historical research and alternation between private life and public life,” said Manuel Llorente.

Hit against Árbenz

Published last October, ‘Hard Times’ recreates the military coup sponsored by the United States through the CIA and ended in 1954 with the democratic government of Jacobo Árbenz in Guatemala. Vargas Llosa was trapped by the story, as he explained when presenting the novel, when at a dinner in the Dominican Republic an acquaintance told him, almost four years ago, that he had “a story to tell me to write a novel.” A fact that always puts the writer on guard, who was finally captivated by the episode that he was told about the involvement of General Trujillo – the Dominican dictator protagonist of ‘The Feast of the Goat’ – in the fall of Árbenz, and how he supported the coup Carlos Castillo Armas’s military, for three years after getting involved in the latter’s murder.

«I speak in the novel of an odious, detestable and violent Latin America, which is that of the dictators. But fortunately today these military dictatorships no longer exist, although there are ideological dictatorships such as those of Venezuela, Cuba or Nicaragua, ”said Vargas Llosa of his novel when he presented it at the House of America.

Manuel Llorente, editor in chief of the Culture section of El Mundo, chaired the jury composed of Carlos Aganzo, poet, director of Institutional Relations of El Norte de Castilla and deputy director of the Vocento Foundation; César Antonio Molina, writer, and former Minister of Culture; Fernando R. Lafuente, Editorial Secretary of the Revista de Occidente; Fanny Rubio, writer and professor of Literature at UCM; Juan Cruz, deputy director of El País, and Santos Sanz Villanueva, critic and professor of Literature at UCM.

Vargas Llosa becomes with this ruling the first Nobel Prize and the second Cervantes Prize among the winners of Francisco Umbral, who in his previous editions fell on ‘South’, by Antonio Soler (2018); ‘Transition’, by Santos Juliá (2017); ‘Patria’, by Fernando Aramburu (2016); ‘Unlearning’, by José Manuel Caballero Bonald (2015); ‘Requiem habanero por Fidel’, by Juan José Armas Marcelo (2014); ‘On the shore’, by Rafael Chirbes (2013); ‘The head in flames’, by Luis Mateo Díez (2012) and in ‘Las cuatro corners’, by Manuel Longares (2011).

The Francisco Umbral Foundation was created in 2009 to promote the literary and journalistic work of Francisco Umbral and promote literary culture and journalism throughout the Spanish-speaking world.


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