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Letters to a Young Novelist Paperback – June 1, 2003


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (June 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312421729
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312421724
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.5 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #785,709 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Now based in London and teaching at Georgetown University in the U.S., Peruvian novelist and erstwhile politician Vargas Llosa's novels (In Praise of the Stepmother, etc.) and essays (Making Waves). Though the "Letters to a Young " concept has recently been franchised by another publisher (applying it to everything from golf to rabble-rousing), Rilke's slender and sage Letters to a Young Poet remains the standard after 100 years. Vargas Llosa's 12 Letters to a generalized interlocutor drift in and out of Rilke's league, rich with insight into Western literature and with commentary on the urge that overtakes its practitioners "The literary vocation is not a hobby, a sport, or a pleasant leisure-time activity. It is an all-encompassing, all-excluding occupation, an urgent priority, a freely chosen servitude that turns its victims (its lucky victims) into slaves." Yet Vargas Llosa is also somewhat wryly withholding, as if to thicken the plot: "Writing novels is the equivalent of what professional strippers do when they take off their clothes and exhibit their naked bodies on stage. The novelist performs the same acts in reverse." His examples of good and great novelists, whom he discusses while making larger philosophical points about concepts like style, time or representation, are pretty hard to take issue with: Woolf and James; Dos Passos and Hemingway; Flaubert (Madame Bovary is a particular favorite), de Beauvoir and Robbe-Grillet; Borges and Cervantes. Neither a survey course in what to read nor a practical guide to writing, the book finally is a meditation on writing and its proper relationship to life. "Good novels, great ones, never actually seem to tell us anything; rather, they make us live it, and share in it, by virtue of their persuasive powers." Particularly given the excellent translation here by PW contributing editor Wimmer, the same could be said for letters like these.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Imitating Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet, the famed Peruvian novelist passes out advice in the form of 11 letters.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

MARIO VARGAS LLOSA was born in Arequipa, Peru, in 1936. In 1958 he earned a scholarship to study in Madrid, and later he lived in Paris. His first story collection, The Cubs and Other Stories, was published in 1959. Vargas Llosa's reputation grew with the publication in 1963 of The Time of the Hero, a controversial novel about the politics of his country. The Peruvian military burned a thousand copies of the book. He continued to live abroad until 1980, returning to Lima just before the restoration of democratic rule.

A man of politics as well as literature, Vargas Llosa served as president of PEN International from 1977 to 1979, and headed the government commission to investigate the massacre of eight journalists in the Peruvian Andes in 1983.

Vargas Llosa has produced critical studies of García Márquez, Flaubert, Sartre, and Camus, and has written extensively on the roots of contemporary fiction. For his own work, he has received virtually every important international literary award. Vargas Llosa's works include The Green House (1968) and Conversation in the Cathedral (1975), about which Suzanne Jill Levine for The New York Times Book Review said: "With an ambition worthy of such masters of the 19th-century novel as Balzac, Dickens and Galdós, but with a technical skill that brings him closer to the heirs of Flaubert and Henry James . . . Mario Vargas Llosa has [created] one of the largest narrative efforts in contemporary Latin American letters." In 1982, Farrar, Straus and Giroux published Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter to broad critical acclaim. In 1984, FSG published the bestselling The War of the End of the World, winner of the Ritz Paris Hemingway Award. The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta was published in 1986. The Perpetual Orgy, Vargas Llosa's study of Flaubert and Madame Bovary, appeared in the winter of 1986, and a mystery, Who Killed Palomino Molero?, the year after. The Storyteller, a novel, was published to great acclaim in 1989. In 1990, FSG published In Praise of the Stepmother, also a bestseller. Of that novel, Dan Cryer wrote: "Mario Vargas Llosa is a writer of promethean authority, making outstanding fiction in whatever direction he turns" (Newsday).

In 1990, Vargas Llosa ran for the presidency of his native Peru. In 1994, FSG published his memoir, A Fish in the Water, in which he recorded his campaign experience. In 1994, Vargas Llosa was awarded the Cervantes Prize, the Spanish-speaking world's most distinguished literary honor, and, in 1995, the Jerusalem Prize, which is awarded to writers whose work expresses the idea of the freedom of the individual in society. In 1996, Death in the Andes, Vargas Llosa's next novel, was published to wide acclaim. Making Waves, a collection of his literary and political essays, was published in 1997; The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto, a novel, was published in 1998; The Feast of the Goat, which sold more than 400,000 copies in Spanish-language, was published in English in 2001; The Language of Passion, his most recent collection of nonfiction essays on politics and culture, was published by FSG in June 2003. The Way to Paradise, a novel, was published in November 2003; The Bad Girl, a novel, was published in the U.S. by FSG in October, 2007. His most recent novel, El Sueño del Celta, will be published in 2011 or 2012. Two works of nonfiction are planned for the near future as well.

Customer Reviews

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This compact and beautifully written book is the absolute best book on writing I have ever read.
Dr. Rollie Lal
There are equally startling and persuasive directives regarding spatial and temporal matters in fiction.
"50cent-haircut"
That is, at every level, ther may be changes or leaps, which can give the story a polyphonic character.
Guillermo Maynez

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By "50cent-haircut" on August 17, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This book is written as a series of letters to an anonymous, aspiring novelist. Obviously it is fashioned after Rilke's "Letters to a Young Poet", and although somewhat cheeky, the style and tone of these pseudo-letters fit Mario Vargas Llosa's objectives in writing.
Unlike some of the mainstream writing tutorials that are around, this volume, although slight in page length, has genuine and truly original insights that will help your writing tremendously. For example, whereas most writing instructors teaach you to stick to one point-of-view, Vargas Llosa says one of the most unbending rules in fiction is that no novel sticks to one kind of point-of-view, that it subtly changes. There are equally startling and persuasive directives regarding spatial and temporal matters in fiction.
The book is fun to read as well; only a novelist of Vargas Llosa's caliber can dismiss many of the so-called 'classics' and not seem vindictive and/or crazy. To fully understand this book (although not totally necessary), a reader should have at least a passing knowledge of the writers and their works that Vargas Llosa invokes as examples. i.e. Proust, Flaubert, Robbes-Grillet, etc.
If you are an aspiring writer, chances are good that this wry book will be an indispensable guide. Highly recommended.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By bentmax on July 28, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Letters" is an adroitly written instruction book for beginning writers. Incorporating an imaginary correspondent, Mario Vargas Llosa writes a series of letters to a young protege sharing his years of literary experience and outlining the principles that make a novel. It is an interesting vehicle for an instruction book and it works. Most books of how to write are overloaded with superfluous detail and have the annoying tendency to be academic in the approach to writing. This book is breezy, conversational, loaded with brilliant insight and fun to read. Sighting loads of examples from classic and not so classic novels he brings to life essential topics of style, voice, time, point of view and other narrative tools that the masters of the novel have incorporated for hundreds of years.
Many of the novelists Vargas Llosa sites for his many examples are unknown to me and he has roused my interest in reading their books. Alas, many of them are not translated into English (at least not that I can find on Amazon). But that does not diminish the satisfaction derived from reading this diminutive book. His best advice to any writer is to be a great reader. An example he has clearly followed himself.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Elmore Hammes on August 21, 2007
Format: Paperback
The introduction leads one to believe this is geared toward a fourteen or fifteen year old potential writer. God knows it would have flown over my head at any time before my mid-twenties - both the intellectual discussions presented and the literary references made.

It still shown a bright blazing light at my near complete ignorance of Spanish and Latin American novelists. But taken in the sense of "young" meaning "beginning" novelist, it was a good read with a lot of interesting viewpoints on the makeup of a novel.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 29, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Reading Mario Vargas Llosa's works of literature is one of the best experiences a reader can have. In "Letters to a Young Novelist" Vargas Llosa shares the name of authors that have shaped his life as a writer, along with his personal insight on narrative techniques, and an unconditional love for the written word. Each chapter presents valuable information for anyone interested in the art of writing or for anyone who enjoys reading a well-written book.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Sarah on December 3, 2010
Format: Paperback
In this short but entertaining and enlightening little book, Mario Vargas Llosa discusses the art of writing fiction. As the title states, it is divided up into 11 letters ostensibly written to an admiring young novelist.

This is not so much a "how-to" writing guide, with step-by-step instructions on improving one's craft and abilities. Though it addresses many of the same subjects (Style, Narration, Time, etc.) it still, to some degree, feels like it touches on something deeper, within the writer himself. It's hard for me to say exactly what that is at this point, several months after I finished reading the book, but suffice it to say, at the time I had a distinct feeling that I was not only reading about how to improve my writing, but myself as one who desires to write. In this regard, I found the book extremely encouraging. The style is warm, open, and friendly. No sense of arrogance, no put-downs, no bitter cynicism or sarcasm. Go live and love life and bring that to your writing. And more importantly: write, write, write and do not stop.

I enjoyed reading this book, not only because it was full of helpful advice, but because it made me feel like writing is something that I can do and have as much right to do as anyone else, including seasoned and published authors. It's easy to fall prey to the notion that we aren't as worthy of writing because we aren't as talented, practiced, capable or whatever as the greats but it isn't true. Anyone can write and we should all strive to improve ourselves and our writing. This book mentions several ways to do just that but there are many more. The best and only way to figure them out is to sit down and start punching out word after word after word.

If I knew an aspiring writer who needed some advice and encouragement, I would give him this book. Definitely recommended.
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