Dispatch from Stockholm: The Ceremony


Arts & Culture

Photograph courtesy of Scanpix Sweden.

Mario Vargas Llosa enters his hotel after receiving the Nobel Prize. He’s left behind the post-prize official banquet, the pomp and ceremony of a dinner with the Swedish royal family and their 1,300 guests from all over the world. He’s tired but has the glow of an epic hero surveying his many accomplishments. A few friends and family are waiting at the Grand Hôtel, those who weren’t among the fourteen guests each Nobel Prize winner is entitled to invite to the dinner. Vargas Llosa walks through the hall, toward these familiar faces, and asks with real sincerity, “It came out nicely, didn’t it?”

As he receives handshakes, applause, hugs, congratulations, praise, photos, and a burst of answers to his question, he takes a handkerchief from his pocket and blows his nose—he’s finally come home.

He’s won a Nobel, but he’s the same—that appears to be the consensus among those who surround him. Vargas Llosa is hoarse, tired, and would like to change out of his tuxedo. So he spends no more than three minutes in the lobby, before saying good-bye to each of those who were waiting for him, as if it were all very ordinary. The winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature goes off to sleep to a round of applause. His friends and family stay awhile longer, to celebrate in his name.

Days before, the night of the speech, it had all been as emotional as it was surprising. It was the first time in history that a prizewinner had had to choke back tears. He was nervous that day—in fact, only a few times in his life had he been that nervous. He wrote his twelve-page speech back in New York, a kind of emotional and ideological autobiography, as well as a tribute to the legendary figures of his own personal history. Delivering that speech was the sort of moment every writer dreams of in silence.

“He’d asked me not to read it. And even though I was the one who e-mailed it to the Academy” (Vargas Llosa only knows how to use the computer to write), “I fulfilled his request,” said his wife, Patricia.

Which is why her eyes filled with tears when her husband read the lines paying tribute to their forty-five-year marriage. Lines that began: “Peru is Patricia.” Their children and grandchildren wept, as did friends and journalists, and even Swedish academics, which had never happened before. The novelist himself had to use all his strength to keep reading.

“Yes, I got very emotional. It was a very intense moment,” Vargas Llosa confessed.

But the entire time in Stockholm was filled with these sorts of moments. Mid-week, when an exhibit about his life and work was inaugurated at the Cervantes Institute, some children from a local Spanish-Swedish school wrote him a letter. It was recorded so he could hear the audio during the ceremony. One could hear Swedish children greeting the famous writer in well-pronounced Spanish, and then posing him questions such as “How many languages do you speak?” or “Was it very difficult to win the Nobel Prize?” After this second query, Vargas Llosa burst out laughing and kept a warm smile on his face as the rest of the letter was read, like a proud grandfather watching over a school play. And in fact, in the audience that day was one of Vargas Llosa’s youngest granddaughters, a small, beautiful girl, who was, by that time, fed up with her grandfather’s fame. While the Nobel Prize winner gratefully acknowledged the praise from the panelists, his granddaughter whispered to her mother, “Mamá, make granddad shut up, he’s talking too much…” It was low, but you could hear her. Vargas Llosa’s daughter Morgana, mother of the impatient girl, smiled and carried her child out in her arms. Vargas Llosa, the prizewinner, the too-talkative grandfather, didn’t find out what had happened until later.

Translated from Spanish by Daniel Alarcón.

See also: “Dispatch from Stockholm: Bad Fiction.”

See also: “Dispatch from Stockholm.”

See also: “Mario Vargas Llosa: A Portrait in Miniature.”