Feast of the Goat (Vargas Llosa)

The Feast of the Goat 
Mario Vargas Llosa, 2000
Picador : Macmillan
416 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780312420277

Haunted all her life by feelings of terror and emptiness, forty-nine-year-old Urania Cabral returns to her native Dominican Republic—and finds herself reliving the events of l961, when the capital was still called Trujillo City and one old man terrorized a nation of three million.

Rafael Trujillo, the depraved ailing dictator whom Dominicans call the Goat, controls his inner circle with a combination of violence and blackmail. In Trujillo's gaudy palace, treachery and cowardice have become a way of life. But Trujillo's grasp is slipping. There is a conspiracy against him, and a Machiavellian revolution already underway that will have bloody consequences of its own.

In this "masterpiece of Latin American and world literature, and one of the finest political novels ever written" (Bookforum), Mario Vargas Llosa recounts the end of a regime and the birth of a terrible democracy, giving voice to the historical Trujillo and the victims, both innocent and complicit, drawn into his deadly orbit. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—March 28, 1936
Where—Arequipa, Arequip, Peru
Education—National University of San Marcos
Awards—Nobel Prize; too many more to list
Currently—lives in London, UK 

Jorge Mario Pedro Vargas Llosa, 1st Marquis of Vargas Llosa (last name Llosa is pronounced: yoh-sa) is a Peruvian-Spanish writer, politician, journalist, essayist, and Nobel Prize laureate.

Vargas Llosa is one of Latin America's most significant novelists and essayists, and one of the leading authors of his generation. Some critics consider him to have had a larger international impact and worldwide audience than any other writer of the Latin American Boom. He was awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature "for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual's resistance, revolt, and defeat".

Vargas Llosa rose to fame in the 1960s with novels such as The Time of the Hero (La ciudad y los perros, literally The City and the Dogs, 1963/1966), The Green House (La casa verde, 1965/1968), and the monumental Conversation in the Cathedral (Conversación en la catedral, 1969/1975). He writes prolifically across an array of literary genres, including literary criticism and journalism. His novels include comedies, murder mysteries, historical novels, and political thrillers. Several, such as Captain Pantoja and the Special Service (1973/1978) and Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter (1977/1982), have been adapted as feature films.

Many of Vargas Llosa's works are influenced by the writer's perception of Peruvian society and his own experiences as a native Peruvian. Increasingly, however, he has expanded his range, and tackled themes that arise from other parts of the world. Another change over the course of his career has been a shift from a style and approach associated with literary modernism, to a sometimes playful postmodernism.

Like many Latin American authors, Vargas Llosa has been politically active throughout his career; over the course of his life, he has gradually moved from the political left towards the right. While he initially supported the Cuban revolutionary government of Fidel Castro, Vargas Llosa later became disenchanted. He ran for the Peruvian presidency in 1990 with the center-right Frente Democratico (FREDEMO) coalition, advocating neoliberal reforms. He has subsequently supported moderate conservative candidates. (From Wikipedia.)

Book Reviews
A fierce, edgy and enthralling book...Mr. Vargas Llosa has pushed the boundaries of the traditional historical novel, and in doing so has written a book of harrowing power and lasting resonance.
New York Times

The book brings readers to the precipice of terror and lets us look into the abyss of cruelty as it poses and answers the question: Why do people not oppose dictators?... He has by his body of work already secured a place as one of the monumental writers of our time.
Boston Globe

[Vargas Llosa] is one of our greatest and most influential novelists. His new novel confirms his importance. In the world of fiction his continued exploration of the often-perilous intersection of politics and life has enriched 20th century literature... In The Feast of the Goat, Vargas Llosa paints a portrait that is darkly comic, poignant, admirable and horrifying all at once.
Madison Smartt Bell - Los Angeles Times

This fictional biography crosscuts between Trujillo's ascension and his final days in power, aspiring to—and often achieving—a kind of Shakespearean mix of high tragedy and low comedy, as Trujillo's excesses become ever more grotesque and fantastical. Only the addition of Urania Cabral, an attorney in New York who finally returns home to make peace with her father, a former member of Trujillo's inner circle, remains unconvincing.
The New Yorker

"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, Agustin 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. Vargas Llosa is on solid ground with The Day of the Goat, mining a rich vein.
Publishers Weekly

Vargas Llosa's fictional portrait of ruthless Dominican Republic dictator Rafael Trujillo focuses on the end of the old "goat's" life. Trujillo, who well understood that his power depended upon the United States, is said to have sought his protection and promotion by paying Congressmen and other U.S. "leeches" the equivalent of the annual military aid his nation received from Washington. Although the United States eventually got fed up with his excesses, its fear of a second Communist regime in the Caribbean kept him in power. So entirely ruthless was Trujillo that he even dispatched his physician off the docks of Santo Domingo, at the time named Ciudad Trujillo, when he was told that his prostate was cancerous. Vargas Llosa relates Trujillo's story from the perspective of Urania Cabral, a successful New York lawyer who has spent a lifetime in exile but returns to her homeland when the tyrant is finally murdered. Urania hopes to rid herself of the demons that have possessed her since 1961, when as a teenager she was battered and humiliated by the impotent and vindictive old dictator. Vargas Llosa, one of Latin America's master storytellers, has retold this nightmare with evenhanded eloquence and exuberant detail. Recommended for all but squeamish readers. —Jack Shreve, Allegany Coll. of Maryland, Cumberland 
Library Journal

(Starred review.) True to the maxim that Latin American fiction reflects Latin Americans' preoccupation with history and politics, the latest novel by the Peruvian master is, like Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, a powerfully drawn anatomy of tyranny and tyrannicide....  [A]n irresistible masterpiece. —Brad Hooper

The Peruvian master (The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto, 1998, etc.) now turns to the bloody reign (1930-61) of the Dominican Republic's dictatorial president Rafael Trujillo-and its aftermath. The story consists of three parallel narratives. The first employs the viewpoint, and especially the memory, of Urania Cabral, a 49-year-old Manhattan attorney whose return to the homeland from which she had been exiled is juxtaposed against the story of her father, a callow politician who had curried favor by "giving" his then-adolescent daughter to the notoriously libidinous Trujillo. A second plot details the machinations of several conspirators, whose genuine love for their beleaguered country contrasts strongly with the personal enmity they bear toward their enemy-and eventual victim. Through a dexterous manipulation of rhetorical devices (notably, direct addresses to its characters by both an omniscient narrator and themselves) and shifting viewpoints (even within lengthy flashbacks), Vargas Llosa evokes a multiplicity of responses to the aforementioned characters-and especially to "the goat" (Trujillo), whose own thoughts and memories comprise the third-and strongest-strand. This is a Nixon-like egotist who puts the best possible face on his worst excesses: the priapic appropriation of dozens of virgins (a necessary exercise of his manly vigor, even though he has become incontinent); the ruthlessness with which political enemies are tortured and murdered (viewed as a moral cleansing vital to the health of the state); even the genocidal slaughter of Haitian immigrants working in the Republic's canefields (justified as a defense of his nation's racial and ethnic purity). Oddly enough, this monster of various appetites takes on a flawed, pathetic humanity. Vargas Llosa's exhaustively detailed portrayals of both the carnage he wreaks and his own sins, self-delusions, fears, and fantasies rival, perhaps even surpass, that of the unnamed dictator in Garcia Marquez's great novel The Autumn of the Patriarch. A landmark in Latin American fiction.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
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Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for The Feast of the Goat:

1. By the end of the book, we learn why Urania Cabral left the Dominican Republic at the age of 14 (did you guess early on?). Yet the question remains: why does she return?

2.  Talk about Trujillo's methods of maintaining loyalty from his subordinates. Why have so many remained loyal? Why would they agree to subject their wives and daughters to his carnality?

3. Eventually seven of Trujillo's supporters are driven to oppose him. What is it that motivates the assassins to turn against their leader?

4. Antonio de la Maza, one member of the inner circle who turns assassin, believes that the dictator had in effect already killed him. What does he mean by that—and what has Trujillo taken from him.

5. Follow-up to Question 4: Varga Llosa exposes the fallout that the corruption of power has on the lives of ordinary people. Talk about the regime's many crimes—and the toll those crimes took on familial relationships, business hopes and private dreams.

6. Vargas Lloso presents an intimate portrait of Trujillo. How is the dictator depicted—what kind of man does the author show him to be? What does he value, or crave, most? What do you consider his most hideous offense?

7. Which of the three story lines contained in the book—Urania Cabral's, the assassins', or Trujillo's—do you find most engaging?

8. Talk about some of the other members of the regime, primarily Trujillo's son Ramfis, and the president Joaquin Balaguer.

9. What miscalculations were made after the assassination that enabled Balaguer to take control of the government? Talk about the aftermath of the assassination.

10. After the assassination, one character laments Trujillo's death, believing that he gave the country prosperity and security. Is there validity to that observation? Can dictatorships, even brutal ones, be preferable to chaos, anarchy, and poverty?

11. What role did the Catholic Church play in the Dominican Republic under the Trujillo regime?

12. Is this book's depiction of torture overly graphic? Why might Vargas Llosa have incorporated such intimate details of brutality?

13. Machismo is on display in this novel. What role does it play in public and private life? How does it perpetuate the power structure?

14. Vargas Llosa hopes that his novel will serve as a spur to the memory so that the atrocities of Trujillo's rule will never be forgotten. The act of remembering plays a pivotal role in the book's plot. How are various characters driven by their memories...or in Augustin Cabral's case by his lack of memory? How, for instance, is Urania affected by her memory?

15. What do you see as the outcome for Urania? Will she find inner peace and move on, or will her memory keep her psychic wounds from ever healing?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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