MOSCOW – Peruvian-born Nobel literature laureate Mario Vargas Llosa said after receiving an award in Moscow on Thursday that Russian literary giant Leo Tolstoy had been a major influence on his work
“This award is linked to a writer I admire enormously ... and who has had a great influence in my life as a writer,” Vargas Llosa said in his acceptance speech after receiving a Yasnaya Polyana Literary Award in the best foreign novel category for his 2015 work “El heroe discreto” (The Discreet Hero).
Yasnaya Polyana is the name of an estate/museum about 200 kilometers (120 miles) from Moscow where Tolstoy (1828-1910) was born and wrote his two best-known novels: “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina.”
The 81-year-old Vargas Llosa received the award during a ceremony at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre that was attended by one of Tolstoy’s great-great grandsons, Vladimir Tolstoy.
“I read ‘War and Peace’ in French at the start of the 1960s, and it made one of the biggest impressions on me as a reader. Since then, I believe I’ve read all of his works that were translated into Spanish, English and French,” said Vargas Llosa, who holds dual Peruvian-Spanish citizenship.
Besides regarding “War and Peace” as one of the greatest novels of all time, the recipient of the 2010 Nobel Prize in literature said he identified with Tolstoy’s “double life” as both a writer and thinker and a spiritual role model who was profoundly engaged in the social problems of his time.
“He showed how one could be an intellectual and a writer – someone dedicated to his work – and at the same time deeply committed,” Vargas Llosa said.
He noted that Tolstoy was not afraid to criticize the tsars for repressing the underprivileged and also took on the all-powerful Russian Orthodox Church, which excommunicated him.
Vargas Llosa also said during the ceremony that it was very exciting for a Latin American writer to know that his works can reach Russian readers.”
“A writer’s life is very solitary ... and knowing that one’s books are disseminated and are recognized is very invigorating,” he added.
Vladimir Tolstoy, who presented the award, returned the compliment Vargas Llosa had bestowed on his great-great grandfather, saying that the Peruvian-Spanish author, whom he met in person for the first time on Thursday, had been his “secret love” for decades.
“I remember the emotion we felt in the 1970s when the first translations of Latin American authors appeared in the Soviet Union in the 1970s. I feel a great affinity with their temperament, their colorful characters and that mixture of reality and fantasy,” he told EFE.
The Yasnaya Polyana Literary Award for best foreign novel recognizes works published after the year 2000 that have been translated into Russian.