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Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Feast of the Goat (2000) by Mario Vargas Llosa


Book Review
The Feast of the Goat (2000)
 by Mario Vargas Llosa

  Mario Vargas Llosa's Nobel Prize in Literature win in 2010 was a big one.   Llosa's international profile before the Nobel win was obviously confirmed by the win, but the win secured his reputation as first among the many Latin American writers of the so-called "Latin American Boom."  It places him as the direct successor to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nobel Prize in Literature winner in 1982.  Llosa's career is not identified with a single literary movement in the way that Gabriel Garcia Marquez is synonymous with Magical Realism.  Before the Nobel win, that probably hampered the degree to which English language audiences were willing to embrace him.

  The Feast of the Goat is based on the life and times of Dominican Republic "caudillo" Rafael Trujillo.  In English, he'd be known as a dictator, assassinated in 1961, but not before he spent 30 years directing the government of the Dominican Republic with an iron, fiercely anti-communist fist.  Trained by American Marines in the Dominican Republic to establish a national army, he rose to power in early 1930, ending a period of endemic low-level civil war.   His signature move in his early career was the parsley massacre of 1937, where Trujilo's national army murdered an indeterminate number of Haitian "illegal immigrants"- variously estimated at between five and twenty thousand.

 Support for Trujillo was always strong in the United States.  During the height of the Cold War he was like a counter-balance for Castro, and the Dominican Republic had the largest economy in the area.  By the late 1950's and early 1960's, the Cold War was cooling off, and Trujillo was being castigated by the Catholic Church for his admittedly grotesque human rights abuses.

 Llosa approaches this story from three different angles: The return of the daughter of a disgraced (but still living Trujillo cabinet member known as "the egghead," the narrative of the dictator himself nearing senescence and the multi-perspective narrative of the assassins who kill the Dictator in 1961 and what came immediately after, told from several perspectives.   The Feast of the Goat is impressive technically, and is also interesting in terms of the story of Trujillo, a true 20th century military-political monster- not quite Hitler/Mao/Stalin level but impressive for his day and time, and also closely linked to the US by his training and politics. 

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