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Dispatch from Stockholm

December 8, 2010 | by

Mario Vargas Llosa photographed earlier this year, after the Nobel Prize announcement. For most people, Vilela writes, winning the Nobel is like being canonized.

When Mario Vargas Llosa got the call, his first thought was that it was an emergency of some kind. It was around five in the morning in New York, the same hour as in Lima, where most of his family lives—which is why he was alarmed. He’d risen a few moments earlier and, at that hour when the city sleeps, was sitting down to read. It was part of his routine while he was teaching at Princeton for a semester. His wife, Patricia, handed him the phone, and a voice said it was the Swedish Academy. Vargas Llosa first thought it might be a joke, like the one the heartless friends of the Italian writer Alberto Moravia had pulled on him: They awarded him the Nobel in jest, with a call just like this one. And Moravia celebrated, as if he’d actually won. Vargas Llosa hesitated. The voice assured him he had actually won the 2010 Nobel Prize for Literature, and then the call ended. Those were strange moments—a controlled euphoria, a surprising well of emotion, skepticism. The phone rang again, and the same voice announced that the news would be made official in fourteen minutes, that he should be prepared.

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