Wellsprings

By MARIO VARGAS LLOSA

This vigorous, high-spirited, wide-ranging survey of personally admired authors hardly limits itself to the literary world. Befitting Mario Vargas Llosa’s long and distinguished career as both novelist and statesman, the pieces in this collection cover aspects of all three overlapping worlds postulated by Karl Popper, the philosopher whose works occupy Vargas Llosa’s mind in his concluding essay. Carried aloft by Vargas Llosa’s pellucid prose — his esteem for the fabled clarity of Ortega y Gasset is an internalized and externalized grail — the reader is treated to sharp and wise observations on “the world of natural and material objects; the subjective and private world of the individual mind; and the world of cultural creativity.” Vargas Llosa’s praise for Isaiah Berlin’s work might equally be applied to his own: “Each essay in this magisterial work reads like a chapter of a novel whose action takes place in a world of thought and in which the heroes and villains are ideas.” Whether examining the cosmopolitan erudition of Borges, the fantastical conceits of Cervantes, the fallacies and dangers of nationalism, or the half-mythic origins of his native Peru, the author provides immense delights in the form of spot-on metaphors, striking aphorisms, and valuable historical and sociological insights: “The most remarkable aspect of the civilization? it managed to eradicate hunger in that immense region.” Ultimately, these essays trumpet the supreme value of fiction: as a bulwark against the dissatisfaction, disillusionment, and disenchantment engendered by the exigencies of existence.