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.
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