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Feast of the Goat (Vargas Llosa) - Book Reviews

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
Booklist


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




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