Lima, Paris and Madrid:

the cities of Mario Vargas Llosa

At age 80, the Nobel Prize-winning author Mario Vargas Llosa has a remarkable memory, effortlessly calling to mind feelings and impressions from his first visits to the cities that transformed his career. “Once I did a calculation to see how many houses I had lived in. I only counted places where I’d spent at least three months, and it came to more than 40.” Next, the places of the past, present and future of the writer


“I went to Lima to live with my father, who I barely knew. It was a lonely time, and my relationship with my father was very difficult: he was an extreme authoritarian. But it was a very important period for my development as a writer. I was so lonely that I sought solace in reading. My mother’s family lived in Miraflores (a neighborhood that appears frequently in the author’s works), and I spent weekends there. Ever since my childhood, that neighborhood has been a mythical place for me, a place where I was happy.'



'Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to go to Paris. The city described in books was dazzling. I dreamed of living there, and I thought that if I didn’t, I’d never become a writer. In a way, that’s what happened. When I lived in the city from 1959 to 1967, I published my first books. When I went to live there, Paris was famous for being an international cultural hub. Artists from all over lived in the city, and they produced the most influential works in the world there. Paris in  the 1960s was very close to the legend that had been created about the city.'

'In France, I also discovered that I was a Latin American writer. I met authors like Julio Cortázar, Jorge Edwards, Alejo Carpentier, Carlos Fuentes, and Guimarães Rosa. I think the boom of Latin American literature was sparked in Paris. One of the authors who opened the eyes of Europe to the literature of our continent was the Argentinian Jorge Luis Borges, who dazzled the French with his culture and elegance. It was a time when it was possible to feel Latin American, which didn’t happen in Peru because there was very little communication among our countries.'



“I came to this city as a young man, straight from Lima thanks to a doctoral scholarship. In those days, I witnessed a revolution in the local way of life known as Movida Madrileña. Spanish society became very free, open, and tolerant. It was an interesting experience that was reflected in my writing at the time.

'Madrid is charming because it’s a welcoming city where everyone feels at home. The cultural scene is so intense that it’s just impossible to keep up. At the same time, the city has preserved certain traditions, like good food and strong family life. Even today, you can still find cafés that host peñas (a sort of circle of friends), where people get together to talk. You can read and work in the cafés. They’re a veritable institution in Madrid.”


Mario Vargas Llosa

The author was born in Arequipa, Peru, and lived in Cochabamba, Bolivia, as a child. In 2010, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. In Madrid, Spain, where he lives part of the year, he was granted the title of marquis. Despite many years well lived and well traveled, Vargas Llosa has no plans to settle down. “I spend a few months doing research for my books, and there’s still so much that I want to see.” His major works include Conversation in the Cathedral, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter and The Bad Girl.

Text Natália Zonta
Illustration André Bergamin
Photo Tomas Arthuzzi