One of the magnificent quotes from Nobel Prize Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa about writers and exile is, “Anyone who doesn’t feel good, where he is, should go!” This statement becomes even more powerful when you consider that the Peruvian writer’s life is entirely permeated by politics. One of his works is entitled ‘A Fish in the Water’. Here he describes how he felt about his state when his strong political commitment was taking up most of his time, so it took the “water” of literature away from him until he began to snap for air like a fish on dry land. Back then, for five long years he didn’t compose a single line of literature while he was involved in his electoral campaign for the Peruvian President’s office. Ultimately, this wasn’t successful and Llosa recognized that he could only be successful as a writer, that he could be of so much more use to his country and humanity regardless of where he lived or whether he voluntarily decided to take up residence in Spain and decided to adopt Spanish citizenship. For him literature is the air, which he needs to breathe, regardless of where this is written. Instead, what matters for him is the purity of this air that is his condition for creative work. What is the importance of a work, which doesn’t inhale the breath of freedom, and has emerged in the unfree shadow of a dictator or social taboos or serving a confessionalist-racist regime? Does this kind of work benefit anyone at all; does it contribute something to a country’s culture and to humanity? Mario Vargas Llosa knew that he would never have been able to write ‘The Time of the Hero’, ‘Conversation in the Cathedral’ and ‘The Green House’ if back then he had not lived in exile in Paris. Similarly, Gabriel Garcia Márquez, who received several threats after his return from a long period of exile, knew that ultimately he would again be forced to leave his country, Colombia, as he not only lacked the necessary peace for writing there, but he couldn’t even live in peace. So the motto was: go back into exile! Which he also did. Márquez went back to Mexico City where he then died. He was not the first who sought his country outside of it. Before him James Joyce sought his Dublin, which he hated to death, elsewhere. Fanatics naturally accused Joyce of betrayal, but Joyce, Márquez or later Llosa and others who went into exile did their country a service by doing so, since they could now really write what wasn’t possible from inside. Their aesthetic and creative value is measured by the text of their works, not their place of residence at the time of composing this or that work. What value is there if a creative mind remains in his so-called “home”, if he cannot write the text here that he has in mind? A creative artist who goes away to write freely and to be able to speak with an uplifted voice has much more influence than one who “courageously” has to assert his opinion underground or one who is alive, yet whose mouth and hands are tied. So it is completely irrelevant where the writer’s “geographical” exile is located.
By Najem Wali
Translated from German by Suzanne Kirkbright