Mario Vargas Llosa & Antonio García ÁngelLiterary relationship

Published in 2005clockTime to read: 4m55s
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Antonio García Ángel thought Mario Vargas Llosa was going to help him write a new novel. In fact, Llosa showed him a whole new way of working. “Work on your writing eight hours a day, like at a regular job,” Vargas Llosa commanded at a session early in the mentoring year. “That’s the secret of success.”

by Matthew Gurewitsch 2005
  • Mario Vargas Llosa
    The Mentor
  • Antonio García Ángel
    The Protégé

His master’s voice

In mid-2004, as the second cycle of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative was just moving into full swing, Mario Vargas Llosa was delivering a lecture series at Oxford entitled The Temptation of the Impossible: Victor Hugo’s ‘Les Misérables'. In the audience at one of the lectures was the young Colombian writer, Antonio García Ángel, 33, Vargas Llosa’s protégé in the Rolex programme.

Afterwards, the two bookworms shared a train compartment from Oxford up to London. Over the soft clatter of the rails, they took up their favourite topic – literature – in a more informal vein. The rapport between mentor and protégé is relaxed, companionable. Already, they have spent time together at the theatre and the movies, and they call each other by the familiar Spanish pronoun tu.

Under Vargas Llosa’s tutelage, five long years after completing his first novel, García Ángel has plunged into his second. “It’s a tragicomedy of middle-class life,” he says. His protagonist this time is a corporate executive juggling a marriage, a mistress and a company celebration. “You laugh,” García Ángel promises, “but it hurts, like when you have a broken rib.”

Words of wisdom

“Work on your writing eight hours a day, like at a regular job,” Vargas Llosa commanded at a session early in the mentoring year. “That’s the secret of success.” As he specified from the outset, Vargas Llosa expected to see a new chapter every Friday, which they would discuss the following Sunday, whether in person or (more often) by telephone. “A chapter a week!” García Ángel repeated to himself in a daze. “That’s a lot of stress!” But his wide eyes and the grin he cracked from ear to ear conveyed a wild thrill of anticipation.

“At first,” Vargas Llosa recalled months later in Paris, “Antonio was a bit lost. He was proceeding by impulse, by drive. I suggested at least a very loose structure for his story, thinking that would be useful. Now he has worked it out in detail. He knows how the story begins, how it ends, all its branches, all the principal characters. He wasn’t used to working this way. Now he has a plan.”

Has Vargas Llosa ever said that something is just wrong? “No, not wrong,” García Ángel answers. “He says something could be better.” And does he ever say that something is excellent? “Twice or three times. And then the next week is a good one for me. I keep looking back as I move forward.”

Endgame

At first, García Ángel recalls months after they began working together, Vargas Llosa would critique new material chiefly for what it left out. “For 60 pages, I was describing a building. Finally, Vargas Llosa said” ‘Fine, but you’re crazy! You have to start telling the story.’ Those descriptions of the building are still there, but they’re broken into pieces and used where they’re needed.”

As the end of their year was approaching, Vargas Llosa set a deadline for completing the manuscript. “Now,” García Ángel said, with two months and a projected third of the way to go, “I’m working Saturdays, too. But now I have 212 pages. When you have pages, life is different.”

Extracted from a chapter, written by Matthew Gurewitsch for Unique Voices, Common Visions, a record of the 2004/2005 cycle of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative.

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