As Peru’s most celebrated writer and a onetime contender for the country’s presidency, you have written a surprisingly sentimental novel, “The Bad Girl” — a love story narrated by a bookish Peruvian who moves to Paris and devotes 40 years to pursuing a woman he first met in high school. Ricardo is a translator, which is a reflection of his temperament. He’s an intermediary. He has not much personality, and in his life there is only one adventure: the bad girl. Without her, his life is very mediocre, curtailed, without much horizon.
Yes, he lacks ambition. Well, his ambition is the bad girl!
Do you admire him? I admire most the bad girl.
Why is that? She is cold and opportunistic, a gold digger who winds up marrying businessmen in France, England and Japan without feeling an ounce of affection for any of them. I think she is more complicated than that. Look where she comes from.
She comes from a social background in which life is a kind of jungle, a place in which if you want to survive, you become an animal. She has been trained to be a kind of fighting animal, and she fights.
Do you know any bad girls? Yes. Several. Absolutely. In Peru, there are many, but also in France and in Spain. There are a lot of bad girls in America too.
No. That’s just wrong. We don’t have bad girls here. You have been secluded in Manhattan all your life, but go to California, and you will see bad girls.
Let’s talk about your brief and futile stint in politics. You ran for the presidency of Peru in 1990 and lost to Alberto Fujimori, who just last month was thrown into jail in Lima after being extradited from Chile. I am very happy, of course. It’s an example for the future. He was a horrible dictator. He killed so many people; he stole so much money; he committed the most atrocious human-rights abuses.
You ran against him on a free-market platform styled after the conservatism of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. I am in favor of economic freedom, but I am not a conservative.
Did you ever meet President Reagan? Once. I said to him, Mr. President, I admire many things that you do, but I cannot accept that for you the most important American writer is Louis L’Amour. How is this possible?
In addition to fiction, you have written a substantial body of drama and literary criticism, including an appreciation of Gabriel García Márquez, from whom you later became estranged. I don’t talk about that. I don’t talk about García Márquez, that’s all.
Compared with his magic realism, your style is more rooted in sprawling, panoramic narratives of the 19th-century novel. My God! I hope this is true. The apogee of the novel was in the 19th century, with Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Melville and Dickens.
Like a character in a Victorian novel, you’re married to your first cousin. I fell in love with her. The fact that she was my cousin was not taken into consideration.
Your first wife was the sister-in-law of your uncle and supposedly the inspiration for your comic novel “Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter.” What does all this family romance signify? We would need a psychoanalyst to find out, but I am not in favor of psychoanalysis. So the mystery will prevail.
What do you have against psychoanalysis? It’s too close to fiction, and I don’t need more fiction in my life. I love stories, and my life is principally concentrated on stories, but not with a pretense of scientific precision.
Might you ever write your autobiography? Only if I reach 100 years old will I write a very complete autobiography. Not before.
* Questions for Mario Vargas Llosa. Interview by DEBORAH SOLOMON (New York Times; Oct. 2007)