When Mario Vargas Llosa received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2010 He confessed that learning to read had been the most important event of his life. Salman Rushdie He understood from a very young age that there is hardly any justice in the world because he had the badge of choosing some first readings in which he always said, "the bad guys won." They both confessed to the journalist Leila Guerriero before the more than 1,000 people who packed the Teatro Colón de Arequipa, the city where the first was born 82 years ago, where the Hay Festival is celebrated these days.
There were two giants sitting there, pulling the thread of paper that made them writers. Two authors praised, consecrated, free and persecuted at some stage of their careers, who one day were children in search of escape, adolescents bewildered by the ejaculatory ink of Neruda's poems or the spell of Arabian Nights, young lost and complexed by the genius of Rimbaud – "it is not convenient to read it, complex," said Mario-, depressed beings in some sad stage who found refuge in the determination of Voltaire or Flaubert's punctilious beauty.
Of all of them they have known how to feed themselves and even get drunk. Not only with what they were worth to improve their prose, also with the virtue of dialectics. So much so, that in the age of the image and the conferences memas based on power point, they turn out to be a duet and separately so brilliant that it is enough for them to tell a story to tie thousands of people to the armchair of a theater for hours. Even hoarse, as presented Vargas Llosa.
This is how it has been in Arequipa these days. Where the Peruvian public, coming from other parts of Latin America, waited for them in immense queues before their acts, received them standing up, cheered them up or laughed while Rushdie recounted how in the library of his school in Bombay, where he was born 71 Years ago, I knew where to find risqué scenes in certain books: "When you borrowed them, curiously, they always opened through the same pages and you realized that many had read those parts before."
Or the shock that Vargas Llosa felt when reading Twenty love poems, by Neruda: "A book that my mother kept under lock and key, I was forbidden access to it, and I, of course, read." Among the verses he discovered these: "My body of a wild laborer undermines you and makes the son jump from the depths of the earth". Mario did not understand: "Why is it undermining ?, I was wondering." It was a little later than the time when he felt his first passion for a woman: "Reading did not teach me love. She was a circus trapeze artist whom I went to see in Bolivia and with whom she dreamed of walking hand in hand, even giving her a kiss ". But never do with it what one day his friends told him that it takes to procreate: "It seemed to me then a disgusting act that I eventually understood that there were interesting things …", said the author of Praise of the stepmother or Don Rigoberto's notebooks, two works marked by suggestive erotic influences.
As a child, Rushdie was fascinated by science fiction: "I felt a bit extraterrestrial." Mario, on the other hand, was subjugated by Verne, Salgari and, a little later, The Miserables, by Víctor Hugo: "It was a book that has accompanied me all my life and from which I have learned fundamental things in different stages". As with others. Because the good books, according to both, mutate, grow, speak to us of different shades according to the times in which we go to them.
Also to comfort us. When Rushdie suffered the pursuit of the fatwa and his death sentence for blasphemy, decreed in 1988 by Ayatollah Khomeini after publishing the Satanic Verses, went to Voltaire or Dostoyevsky in front of a firing squad. "If they could overcome it, I would, too, tell me." His example helped him to stay hidden for 10 years and survive.
Not to mention the also fascinating and paradoxical prozac effect that produced Madame Bovary in Vargas Llosa. "It changed my life. I read it for the first time at a time when I was very depressed. I had realized that I was not a genius. " Against that trauma in whom he sought to be, he took hold of a big man like Flaubert. "Especially from the suicide scene." General laughter … And more than convenient explanation to the song: "His obsession with detail, the care of form, the search for the right word, which he said, consoled me and made me realize that working could become me the writer he wanted to be. "
Saving works and also books that have filled their patience and have abandoned: "Finnegans Wake, by Joyce, in my case, "said Arequipa. "It goes beyond what is possible. It challenges the reader's rationality. " Of course, in addition, bad products: "Fifty Shades of Grey, I started it out of curiosity but I could not get past a few pages, "said Rushdie. Vargas Llosa was very demanding: "I can watch a bad movie and even have fun with it until the end. But not a book that you find poor, mediocre, just elaborated to pass the time ".
Or authors who, although in their day they were their reference, later rejected: "Sartre, in my case," commented the Spanish-Peruvian. Nothing to do with Borges: "Of the authors that have been in some way contemporary to me, although older, it is surely the one that will last in 100 years". A trial that Rushdie shared. With another Olympus list for him: Saul Bellow or Philip Roth. They are the very few who have known in life those whom, according to both, time will save from its devastating and merciless sieve.
On each visit to Arequipa, Mario Vargas Llosa brings with him a shipment of books that he deposits in the library that bears his name. But this year, apart from leaving them to fatten the fund, has gone further. He wants that in 2022, the city where he was born in 1936 will be the headquarters of the International Language Congress, always organized by the Royal Spanish Academy and the Cervantes Institute together with the governments and institutions of the countries where he resides. This is what Vargas Llosa asked for this Sunday in public – a day before the kings of Spain begin their visit to Peru – and he promised to fight for it from now on. The next one is celebrated in Córdoba (Argentina) in March 2019. It will be the eighth after having had offices in Zacatecas, Valladolid, Cartagena de Indias, Rosario, Valparaiso, Panama and Puerto Rico.