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From literature to central banking

He had been the star of the Department of Literature at the Catholic University [of Lima], which had never seen a more admired student, nor a more lucid reader of poetry, nor a keener commentator on difficult texts. All indications were that he would graduate having written a brilliant thesis, that he would be a brilliant professor and an equally brilliant poet or critic. But one day, without explanation, he disappointed everyone, cast aside the thesis he was working on, walked away from literature and the Catholic University, and enrolled at the [far less prestigious] University of San Marcos as a student of economics…. Javier worked at the central bank….
— Mario Vargas Llosa, La tía Julia y el escribidor (Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter), middle of chapter 1, my translation

  • Gonzalo R. Moya V.

    Mr. Schuler, as a Peruvian, it is always flattering when people quote Mario Vargas Llosa (MVLL), our country's all-time best novelist (Cesar Vallejo and Julio Ramon Ribeyro being our all-time best poet and short-storyteller, respectively). Now, please allow me to give context to your quote: Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos (UNMSM) is the oldest university in all the American continent (since 1551, which is why it is referred as "The Dean of America") and currently offers 60 careers among 20 faculties (being the best public school of the nation to study most of these, except perhaps for the ones related to Engineering and Agriculture). Given that public schools here are highly subsidized and there are virtually no grants, scholarships or even student loans for the private ones (which are several times more expensive), every year tens of thousands of high-school graduates nationwide take its entrance exam as their first option. The only reason MVLL wrote with such contempt about UNMSM and Economics was to exagerate the bias of the narrator (to make him like a snob literate). Keep in mind that MVLL ran for president in 1990 and lost against Alberto Fujimori mainly because he explicitly commented during his campaign of the need of a shock therapy to end the hyper-inflation (by drastically reducing the amount of money as you obviously know), which turned out to be quite unpopular among voters. So he also know his share of Economics and certainly has respect for the career.

    • Kurt Schuler

      Yes, the narrator in the chapter is one of the characters, not an omniscient author. By the way, I had the pleasure of meeting Mario Vargas Llosa and talking to him briefly several years ago, before he won the Nobel Prize in Literature. At that meeting, I was reminded of but did not bring up his autobiographical story "My Son, the Rastafarian." Here is the last paragraph of the story:
      "He has become a student at the University of London and his political ideas show signs of having changed as much as his spiritual inclinations. I now hear him mention, with the same devotion previously reserved for Emperor Haile Selassie, Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises and Milton Friedman, and he spends his holidays working as an interviewer in the shanty towns of Lima for the Institute for Freedom and Democracy which promotes private enterprise and liberal economic theories in Peru. He’ll soon be 18. I observe him with curiosity and envy. And I wonder what surprises are in store for him (for us) in the next chapter."