Peruvian-born Nobel literature laureate Mario Vargas Llosa on Thursday officially joined the storied Academie Francaise (French Academy), saying in his inauguration speech it is ironic that he began to feel like a "Peruvian and Latin American writer" while living in France.
The 86-year-old author of numerous acclaimed novels recalled that when he first arrived in that European country in 1959 he found that the French, who were then "fascinated by the Cuban Revolution" before it turned into a "tyranny," had discovered and read authors like "(Jorge Luis) Borges, (Julio) Cortazar, (Arturo) Uslar Pietri, (Juan Carlos) Onetti, Octavio Paz, and later, Gabriel Garcia Marquez" before he had.
"Thanks to France, I discovered the other side of Latin America, the problems common to all of its countries, the horrible legacy of the military coups and underdevelopment, the guerrilla movements and the shared dreams of liberation," he said in a speech in French at the headquarters of the Institut de France learned society in Paris.
Vargas Llosa, who also holds Spanish citizenship, was dressed in the custom French Academician's coat embellished with green and gold olive leaves, and was holding the traditional academy sword.
"And so, it was in France - what a paradox! - where I started to feel like a Peruvian and Latin American writer," he told the members of that premier council for matters pertaining to the French language —an institution officially established in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu.
The guests at the ceremony included Spanish former King Juan Carlos and his daughter Cristina, as well as the Nobel literature laureate's grown-up children and his ex-wife, Patricia Llosa.
Also occupying a place of honor were the remaining members of the Academie Francaise, including Lebanese-born French author Amin Maalouf and French political historian Helene Carrere d'Encausse, who also serves as the institution's perpetual secretary.
The recipient of the 2010 Nobel Prize in literature thanked the academy for the opportunity to occupy seat number 18 and, in keeping with tradition, dedicated part of his speech to praising his predecessor, late philosopher Michel Serres (1930-2019).
The author of acclaimed novels including "La Ciudad y Los Perros" (The Time of the Hero) ,"La Casa Verde" (The Green House), and "Conversacion en la Catedral" (Conversation in the Cathedral) also noted the influence of Gustave Flaubert and French literature in general on his literary career.
"The same afternoon of my arrival in Paris, in 1959 as I said, I bought a copy of 'Madame Bovary' at La Joie de Lire (The Joy of Reading), a bookstore I found to be charming," Vargas Llosa recalled.
"Literature needs freedom to exist," he said, concluding his speech by asserting that the literature of the future will be "what we want it to be."
"Could it disappear? It's possible, no doubt, but a world without dreamers would be impoverished and gloomy."
Speaking on behalf of the Academie Francaise was writer, editor, and diplomat Daniel Rondeau, who said it was a "great pleasure" to welcome Vargas Llosa to that esteemed institution.
The Peruvian-born novelist's election to the academy in November 2021 was controversial, with some French intellectuals noting that he had never written a book in French and describing his political stances as sympathetic to the far right.
Vargas Llosa also is well over 75, the official age limit for those presenting their candidacy for one of the academy's 40 seats.
The mission of the academy members, who are known as "Les immortels" (The immortals) and meet every Tuesday afternoon in private, includes helping to safeguard the French language and updating the French dictionary.