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The Feast of the Goat Hardcover – November 13, 2001
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Mario Vargas Llosa, a former candidate for the presidency of Peru, is better placed than most novelists to write about the machinations of Latin American politics. In The Feast of the Goat he offers a vivid re-creation of the Dominican Republic during the final days of General Rafael Trujillo's insidious and evil regime. Told from several viewpoints, the book has three distinctive, alternating strands. There is Urania Cabral, the daughter of Trujillo's disgraced secretary of state, who has returned to Santo Domingo after more than 30 years. Now a successful New York lawyer, Urania has never forgiven her aging and paralyzed father, Agustín, for literally sacrificing her to the carnal despot in the hope of regaining his political post. Flipping back to May of 1961, there is a group of assassins, all equally scarred by Trujillo, waiting to gun the Generalissimo down. Finally there is an astonishing portrait of Trujillo--the Goat--and his grotesque coterie. Llosa depicts Trujillo as a villain of Shakespearean proportions. He is a preening, macho dandy who equates his own virility with the nation's health. An admirer of Hitler "not for his ideas but for the way he wore a uniform" (fittingly he equips his secret police force with a fleet of black Volkswagen Beetles), Trujillo even has his own Himler in Colonel Abbes Garcia, a vicious torturer with a predilection for the occult.
As the novel edges toward Trujillo's inevitable murder, Urania's story gets a bit lost in the action; the remaining narratives however, are rarely short of mesmerizing. Trujillo's death unleashes a new order, but not the one expected by the conspirators. Enslaved by the soul of the dead chief, neither they nor the Trujillo family--who embark on a hideous spree of bloody reprisals--are able to fill the void. Llosa has them all skillfully outmaneuvered by the puppet-president Joaquín Belaguer, a former poet who is the very antithesis of the machismo Goat. Savage, touching, and bleakly funny, this compelling book gives an all too human face to one of Latin America's most destructive tyrants. --Travis Elborough, Amazon.co.uk
From Publishers Weekly
"This wasn't an enemy he could defeat like the hundreds, the thousands he had confronted and conquered over the years, buying them, intimidating them, killing them." So thinks Rafael Trujillo, "the Goat," dictator of the Dominican Republic, on the morning of May 30, 1961 a day that will end in his assassination. The "enemy" is old age at 70, Trujillo, who has always prided himself on his grooming and discipline, is shaken by bouts of incontinence and impotence. Vargas Llosa divides his narrative between three different story lines. The first concerns Urania Cabral, the daughter of one of Trujillo's closest associates, Agustín Cabral. She is 14 at the time of the Trujillo assassination and, as we gradually discover, was betrayed by her father to Trujillo. Since then, she has lived in the U.S. At 49, she impulsively returns on a visit and slowly reveals the root of her alienation. Urania's character is a little too pat, however. Vargas Llosa's triumph is Trujillo's story. We follow the sly, vile despot, with his petty rages, his lust, his dealings with his avaricious family, through his last day, with mingled feelings of repulsion and awe. Like Stalin, Trujillo ruled by turning his rage without warning against his subordinates. Finally, Vargas Llosa crosscuts Urania's story and Trujillo's with that of Trujillo's assassins; first, as they wait to ambush him, and then as they are tracked down, captured and tortured to death, with almost medieval ferocity, by Trujillo's son, Ramfis. Gathering power as it rolls along, this massive, swift-moving fictional take on a grim period in Dominican history shows that Vargas Llosa is still one of the world's premier political novelists. (Nov.)Forecast: Vargas Llosa is on solid ground with The Day of the Goat, mining a rich vein. The former Peruvian presidential candidate's author tour should attract crowds, and a striking jacket will seduce browsers.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
What the book does to the sensitive reader is to mesmerise her/him into the hearts and minds of those under Trujillo's thumb, those close to him, his closest associates. In short, one feels like a paralysed spider, stung by a wasp, waiting for one's blood to be sucked out. All those that come under Trujillo's influence in the book eventually end up like this. And the famously gruesome, spider/wasp episode, as described by Darwin, is not at all a mere conceit here. I don't think I've ever read more gruesomely, explicitly depicted torture scenes of brave men who are yet entranced in some way by the man responsible for their agonies.
Finally, Urania, who begins and ends the book, lends it its context, its lyrical credibility and her story and earlier interview with her ailing father give the book its haunting poignancy. Hers a truly eerie story, mixing past and present, one that will leave the reader, who will feel after reading it like Urania:
"Before she falls asleep, she thinks that the bed smells of old men, old sheets, very old dreams and nightmares."
The only reason that I'm giving the book four stars instead of five is that it doesn't quite measure up to Llosa's best works: The War of The End of The World and Conversation in the Cathedral. But this is a tall order indeed. If it were any other writer, I would be in rhapsodies about the discovery of a new literary talent. But Llosa's masterful genius as the most gifted and prolific Spanish (the language) novelist of our time is already well and deservedly established.
Who is the hotelier? Kim Jong Il? Silvio Berlusconi? No, but a cross of the two: Rafael Trujillo! A pocket size Stalin with his own personal Berija, a sadistic chief of security who likes his namesake Johnny Camionante, Johnny Walker. The man for the dirty deeds keeps track of all Dominicans, emigrants and exiles not excluded. He shows prodigious creativity in the disposal of critics, whether at home or abroad.
Trujillo could have outdone Uncle Joe had his country been bigger. What can a gifted devil achieve in a small place like the Dominican Republic! He will even be forgotten among the larger monsters of the century.
They called him the Jefe, but also the Goat. His superhuman leadership is just up the lane of Kim, while his sexual appetite is more like Silvio's. (DSK didn't make it to power, hence he is not in contention here.)
This novel is one of Nobel winner Vargas Llosa's stronger ones. Its focus is on the killing of the goat, but it looks forward and backward with a broad vision.
Trujillo was dictator of the Dominican Republic for over 30 years until his assassination in 1961. He gave full meaning to state terror and personality cult. He cuckolded and humiliated,then discarded his friends like his enemies.
The book begins with 3 narrative threads, separated by 35 years. We follow the goat on his last day. We sit in waiting with his killers. And we walk through past and presence with a visitor 35 years later, an emigrant, a lawyer from NY, daughter of one of Trujillo's running mates and victims. This last thread, concerning the woman and her family, is entirely fictional.
After the assassination has succeeded, threads 1 and 2 merge into a 4th: the failure of the coup and the revenge of the monster's supporters. The novel becomes unbearably gruesome.
VL's narrative skills are substantial. In this maze of times and people we rarely lose sight of the plot, and we are rarely feeling manipulated. The downside of the historical genre is this: would we keep the same level of interest if the story were told as history instead of as a story? How much of it is literal truth anyway? Or is its truth of the poetical kind?
I see this dilemma as an essential weakness of the historical novel as a genre, in general.
On the other hand, if this was just a parable on tyranny, obedience, and survival skills, the book would lose its power. Being largely 'non-fiction' is the basis of its strength.