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Cartas a un joven novelista

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  2,316 ratings  ·  384 reviews
In this work, Mario Vargas Llosa addresses magnificent reflections on the art of narrating to all who dream of becoming writers. Written as a collection of letters, the Nobel Laureate responds to questions such as how to transform this calling into tangible literary works, where to begin the journey, how the plot of a novel is created, where does a novelist find inspiratio ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published March 9th 2011 by Alfaguara (first published 1997)
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3.86  · 
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 ·  2,316 ratings  ·  384 reviews

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Mar 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Essential to the novelist. And, why "young"? After reading this you will know why-- mainly, you are much too green to comprehend what truly goes on in the crafting of a Novel, the interaction between many many different factors. A balance of these many facets makes for a great novel, though the end product might be a complete and utter disaster. Who knows? Magic, Mario Vargas Llosa says, cannot be prefabricated. A work like this, readable, understandable, witty, is hard to come by, yet here it i ...more
Michael Finocchiaro
Full of pertinent advice and great literary pointers, this book by Mario Vargas Llosa is a compact guide for aspiring writers of any age.
Luís C.
When Mario Vargas Llosa leans through these imaginary letters on the act of writing, it is the whole of his work that one finds there.

Each of its letters has its most surprising theme, the vocation as a source, the time of fiction, the style which must bring cohesion, coherence and necessity, the structure of the narrative in "Narrator and space" or the power of persuasion that passes through an efficiency of form; then comes the Catoblepas, a mythological beast whose head so large and heavy til
Raul Bimenyimana
Apr 19, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fantastic. This was more an exploration of the novel and its structure rather than a "how to" guide.
Sidharth Vardhan

“We need hardly seek out examples of the way themes from life thrust themselves on writers, because all testimonies tend to concur: a story, a character, a situation, a mystery haunted me, obsessed me, importuned me from the very depths of my self until I was obliged to write it to be free of it.”

Llosa writes these letters to a fictional wanna-be novelist who, from what little I gather is fifteen year old but who has read (or at least so Llosa thinks) every great book on Earth.

It is quite goo
Jan 04, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A pleasant enough read, nothing earth-shattering here. Four stars feels like a bit of a stretch given my mild disappointment, but I suppose it's not the book's fault that the discussion is largely basic; it's meant to be. And there are tidbits here and there that did feel fresh, including the passages on "communicating vessels." I also enjoyed being pointed to works by Spanish-language writers that I'm not familiar with. I liked this:

"Why, of all the infinite occurrences in a writer's life, do
Jun 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“Fiction is not life as it is lived but a different life, conjured out of the materials supplied by life; without fiction, real life would be a paler and drearier affair.”

This looks like a whimsical collection of informal correspondence, but is really a dense and complex study of novel-writing technique. It challenged me, and it gave names to methods I had seen (and probably subconsciously attempted), like “levels of reality” and “shifts” and “communicating vessels.” Best of all, it gave me idea
Wise thoughts about reading and writing books by one of the twentieth-century's great novelists. I enjoyed the advice from Llosa as he is a good reader and the lessons he has learned are informative. They suggest books and authors that I may want to pursue while enhancing my enjoyment of authors I have already encountered. This book belongs on your shelf of "books about books" and keys to great writing from writers throughout both the ages and the world. The influences that made him a great nove ...more
“This is the great triumph of technical skill in novel writing: the achievement of invisibility, the ability to endow a story with color, drama, subtlety, beauty, and suggestive power so effectively that no reader even notices the story exists; under the spell of its craftsmanship, he feels that he is not reading but rather living a fiction that, for a while at least and as far as he is concerned, supplants life.”
Mar 25, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays
When ever I come to names such as “Llosa”, “Borges”, “Cortazar”, “Fuentes”... I wish I knew Spanish language, as I’m sure works by these authors would have a different aroma and melody in their own tongues. Llosa is, for me, one of the greatest story tellers, whose works give me deliciousness in Persian as well, (if it’s translated by Abdollah Kowsari, for example). Mario Bargas Llosa uses a highly sophisticated techniques with a very delicate language in multiple viewpoint, as if I’m listening ...more
Aleksandr Voinov
A great little book that sets out to teach and reference some basics - I say "basics", but these are actually fairly complex devices, so definitely not James N Frey or any of the "lowest common denominator" books out there.

I'd suggest it for advanced writers who are at the stage where they can challenge everything they have learnt in "Creative Writing 101" and that strive towards writing more literary than the same old, same old. Of course, it's also beautifully written, and delightfully empty
Andreea Obreja
I don't appreciate the fact that he spoiled some other books (like the Metamorphosis - Kafka, or some of Faulkner's and Hemingway's writings) for me...
Jennifer Vanderbes
I can't believe this book has been available (in translation) for about a decade and I'd never heard of it. Totally brilliant.
Aug 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting take on advice from an author who writes with beautiful prose. Inspiring to say the least.
Jun 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Exquisite, elegant and close to heart. A frank read, a real appetizer for all aspiring writers. Lovely Llosa !
Roozbeh Estifaee
Jan 28, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mario Vargas Llosa is a big novelist, specially known for the professionally complex sketches of his novels and their brilliant build up. He has also written some broadly acclaimed articles and books on literature, talking about novels created by other novelists, the most famous of which is The Perpetual Orgy on Flaubert's Madame Bovary. "Letters to a Young Novelist" is among this second group of his works, as it tries to explain how a good novel is written to some extent.
The book consists of a
Kristen Haynie
This book wasn't at all what I expected.

It is literally a sequence of letters written to unknown from unknown (possibly the author, but who knows?). The first letter is nice because it is an interesting analytical piece about why writers write. It was basically a psychological explanation of the human need to create stories.

The second letter was also interesting, because it was the first of many to break down different writing techniques. The author of the letters points out sly ways in which w
Apr 28, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature, peru
The young novelist to whom Letters to a Young Novelist is addressed is, I believe, Mario Vargas Llosa himself. No one can be so patient and deliberate with a real person, especially presumably a stranger. At some point, the patient persona that narrates these "letters" -- essays, really -- would interrupt with abuse that he was being misconstrued.

In response to a fictional letter from the would-be novelist, Vargas Llosa discusses the structure of the novel, in terms of style, the narrator and na
Aug 17, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing
For anyone wanting to look deeper into great works of literature to see what makes them tick -- as a writer or a reader -- this is a valuable resource. Maybe not as fun to read as Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life or Stephan King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft but still a rewarding exploration of the inner workings of novels that Mario Vargas Llosa finds successful. He won the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature and I've always been curious about him. Up to now ...more
Pedro Gomes
Oct 23, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: optimistic writers looking for new perspectives on writing
I don't wanna say that the book fell flat to me. It starts to a great first few chapters, but gets lost after its beginning, which is almost a love letter to creativity and pursuit. It takes examples out of Llosa's personal library and then dissecates them, just because. It certainly gave me a lot of reading to do, but I was glad it ended when it was starting to feel like a chore. In the end, Llosa doesn't seem aware that he indulged on his own complaint.

"To isolate theme, style, order, points o
May 20, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing
Really it's 3 1/2. I felt like if I had read all of the novels referenced in the text I would have a deeper understanding of what Llosa is talking about. But For the most part, a majority of it is already known to me either from reading a lot of books, or my own writing. If I had read this many years ago I would have been more impressed. But still, the book touches on topics that many books on writing, and I'm talking about ones for beginners here, entirely miss. I won't tell you what they are s ...more
Adi Alsaid
Dec 03, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's not a didactic collection of essays on how one should write, nor even a literary criticism on what exactly makes great novels great. It's just an exploration of all the things novel can be and have been. His P.S wraps it up fairly nicely: "My dear friend: what I am trying to say is that you should forget everything you've read in my letters about the structure of the novel, and just sit down and write."
Interesting book, especially as it contains a lot of references to other classics. The statement of notions which a writer should consider or just be aware of is exhaustive. In general the book is useful although, by all means, you don't need to have those things named when you commence writing your novel - which is basically what the author states. Nevertheless, it may help you move with your work as it gives broader perspective and inspires thinking about it.
Aug 23, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A must-read for anyone interested in writing, whether it be short stories or novels or prose of any kind. Llosa excellently breaks up the book into witty, instructional and inspirational letters.

I'm sure I will read this more than once. Very enlightening.
James Klagge
Not that I am trying to write a novel...but it is interesting to see how a novelist thinks about a novel and its possibilities.
Feb 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Further proof that Mario Vargas Llosa is brilliant. As many others have said, a collection like this doesn’t come from a greenhorn. It’s the culmination of a lifetime of writing and reading from someone intimately familiar with both arts. I wish more people knew about him and his writing. He belongs to an older school of literature that embraces and encourages our natural inclination to escape into stories. He views not just the reading of novels but the creating of them as evidence of dissatisf ...more
Joseph M.
May 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: español, non-fiction
Fiction is not life as it is lived but a different life, conjured out of the materials supplied by life; without fiction, real life would be a paler and drearier affair.
(p. 108)

In this book of letters, obviously a nod to Rilke's Letter's to A Young Poet, Vargas Llosa describes in details the basic machinery and functions of the novel. This is my first novel by this author, and I'll admit it is a bit of a weird choice. But I did get some glimpses into his philosophy of fiction that I certainly fi
Nick Rogers
Jan 04, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It was interesting, with very good insights into writing styles and authors that inspire him. There is less about how to technically write exactly, but the book wasn't written for that purpose, but more to inspire. I am inspired to an extent, but I would love to see how he puts a novel together, brick by brick.
Sometimes Vargas Llosa can be accused of snobbery, especially about cultures that he sees beneath him (but who isn't at fault of that?) and there is a little bit here, although he is humbl
Garrett Zecker
Jan 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Garrett by: mike gary
A beautiful little volume that I got as a Christmas gift from my friend Mike as I began my MFA in fiction, Letters to a Young Novelist has a surprisingly variable and dynamic form. The format is simple – Llosa writes letters to an unnamed, disembodied student just entering the craft of novel writing. In the letters, he provides advice on a variety of craft elements and explains how to do it while referencing where some of the masters have already accomplished it in their most pure forms.

What I
C.J. Maughan
This book started off so well by discussing what drives writers to write, how to learn the rules so you can throw them out the window respectfully, etc. But that was only the first five or six pages, after that it then nosedived right into a literary analysis course.


The author seemed to want to impress its reader by spouting off lots of foreign book titles and microscoping the plots of each and everyone of them. Interesting in its own right I suppose if that’s what you’re into, but I was
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Mario Vargas Llosa, born in Peru in 1936, is the author of some of the most significant writing to come out of South America in the past fifty years. His novels include The Green House, about a brothel in a Peruvian town that brings together the innocent and the corrupt; The Feast of the Goat, a vivid re-creation of the Dominican Republic during the final days of General Rafael Trujillo’s insidiou ...more
“Why would anyone who is deeply satisfied with reality, with real life as it is lived, dedicate himself to something as insubstantial and fanciful as the creation of fictional realities? Naturally, those who rebel against lie as it is, using their ability to invent different lives and different people, may do so for any number of reasons, honorable or dishonorable, generous or selfish, complex or banal. The nature of this basic questioning of reality, which to my mind lies at the heart of every literary calling, doesn't matter at all. What matters is that the rejection be strong enough to fuel the enthusiasm for a task as quixotic as tilting at windmills – the slight-of-hand replacement of the concrete, objective world of life as it is lived with the subtle and ephemeral world of fiction.” 23 likes
“My impression is that life—a big word, I know—inflicts themes on a writer through certain experiences that impress themselves on his consciousness or subconscious and later compel him to shake himself free by turning them into stories.” 4 likes
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