A simply stellar novel of which the author states the following:
"It's a novel, not a history book, so I took many, many liberties. The only limitationA simply stellar novel of which the author states the following:
"It's a novel, not a history book, so I took many, many liberties. The only limitation I imposed on myself was that I was not going to invent anything that couldn't have happened within the framework of life in the Dominican Republic. I have respected the basic facts, but I have changed and deformed many things in order to make the story more persuasive -- and I have not exaggerated."
For a longer discussion, you can click through here; otherwise continue reading.
In his retelling of the last days of the life of dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo who held absolute control over the lives of people in the Dominican Republic from 1930 to 1961, the author employs three narrative strands that weave through each other, or as he calls them, "trajectories," to tell his story. The first is via the return of Urania Cabral, daughter of Agustin Cabral, once a powerful member of Trujillo's staff before his ultimate downfall. After leaving for America at the age of 14 some 35 years earlier, Urania has finally returned to face the demons that drove her away; in the meantime she has been spending her time studying law, taking a position with the World Bank, and reading everything she could get her hands on about the Trujillo regime to try and understand what happened to her, and the reasons for her self-imposed exile. Her father can't explain it to her; he has suffered a stroke which renders him unable to speak; flashbacks reveal what Agustin is unable to tell her. Urania's own tragedy, eventually related to two incredulous female relatives, underscores the monster that Trujillo has become, but at the same time, it also illustrates exactly what sacrifices people who enjoy his good graces will make to maintain their status quo.
A second narrative thread is taken up by the conspirators, including some of Trujillo's closest trusted military officers.While they lay in wait for Trujillo's car to pass by, the reasons behind their actions are revealed. Everything has been carefully planned, not only in terms of the assassination itself, but what is supposed to happen next -- a coup which will take out the existing Trujillistas, most notably Johnny Abbes Garcia, the sinister head of the SIM (military intelligence), and replace them with a junta with General "Pupo" Román at its head.
Finally, the third voice is that of Trujillo on the last day of his life. He spends time in the past, recounting his disappointment in his sons, his sexual conquests, and events which he's experienced during his reign, interspersed with his present. As his body ages, he is plagued by problems with his prostate, which have made him both incontinent and impotent, a significant factor in not only his assassination, but in an earlier tragedy that brings the story full circle and highlights yet another theme of this novel in terms of the link between sex and power.
It's difficult to talk about this book and some of its symbolism without giving away the show, hence only a sketchy discussion here, but it is an excellent novel. Even though, as noted above, the author took some liberties in putting his story together, sometimes it's difficult to figure out exactly what is fictional here simply because it is all so realistic, all so "could have happened."
If you peruse the vast number of critical reviews of this novel, you will discover a wealth of symbolism lying beneath the action of this novel; if like me you're more of a casual reader and can't catch every single nuance, that's okay. Feast of the Goat is not for the squeamish; if you're upset about yet another novel highlighting the evil that people do then pass on this one. If, however, you are interested in circumstances that can create a person like Trujillo who can keep an entire nation paralyzed in the grip of his authority, this is a good place to start. Although helpful, even if you know nothing about the Dominican Republic or its history, it's definitely not a deal breaker -- the author makes everything extremely clear. Most highly recommended for readers of historical fiction, and for readers of the so-called "Dictator novel" form, where writers have used their literary talents to respond to tyranny, an area I plan to further explore in the near future.
The Shadow of What We Were is an awesome book, especially if you are a fan of Latin-American fiction or if you happen are interested in reading aboutThe Shadow of What We Were is an awesome book, especially if you are a fan of Latin-American fiction or if you happen are interested in reading about the 1973 Chilean Coup, which sadly, the US just happens to have backed, resulting in the deaths or disappearances of countless numbers of people. If not, then you probably might want to skip this one, although I must say that the writing is especially good.
I have a rather lengthy review here ; feel free to pop over and give it a look!
first: I bought a real copy of this book, so this ARC is yours if you want it. You have to live in the US and be the first to leave a comment. I'll pafirst: I bought a real copy of this book, so this ARC is yours if you want it. You have to live in the US and be the first to leave a comment. I'll pay postage.
second: the review: Had I done my homework, as I usually do when I come across a new author, I would have learned that Roberto Ampuero is the author of an entire series featuring detective Cayetano Brulé. Beginning in 1993 with ¿Quién mató a Cristián Kustermann? (Who Killed Christian Kustermann?) Brulé has been involved in several cases; The Neruda Case is the latest to be written but it seems to be a prequel that explains how Brulé got his start in the detective biz. To be brutally honest, as I sat down to read this book, I was concerned that having Pablo Neruda as a character in a detective novel might be a cheap ploy. Although the main character spends a lot of time and energy traveling around and pursuing answers on Neruda's behalf, the book turns out to be an homage of sorts to the Nobel-winning poet rather than your standard detective novel. It's also a commentary on the betrayal and death of ideals.
The author notes that as a boy he lived near Neruda's home La Sebastiana in Valparaíso, where
"on three separate occasions, I went to La Sebastiana, in my school uniform and carrying my briefcase full of notebooks, and stood at the door to the poet's garden..." All I wanted to do was to talk to the poet. But all three times I was petrified...not daring to knock and ask to enter the realm where Neruda dwelt with his secrets."
Now, Ampuero’s Cayetano Brulé has the honor of entering that house, where the author’s “boyhood shyness” kept him from doing the same.
Sitting in the Cafe del Poeta in Valparaiso one day in 1990, Cayetano Brulé sees a photo of Pablo Neruda on the back of his menu and flashes back to his very first case back in the 70s, “the most closely guarded secret of his life,” that began at party his wife Ángela had made him attend at the home of the city’s mayor. Not feeling like mingling with the bigwigs, Brulé hides out in the library. His peace is shattered when another man walks into the room and they begin talking. It is only when Ángela comes in to tell the stranger that he’s wanted at the party that Cayetano realizes he’s been spending time with Pablo Neruda, who invites him to his home at La Sebastiana. It isn’t long until Brulé is welcomed into Neruda’s home that the poet gets to the point of the invitation: he is dying of cancer, he’s seeking an oncologist, Dr. Ángel Bracamonte, and he wants Cayetano to do some detective work to locate him. After a trip to Mexico city that produces more questions than answers, Neruda explains the real reason behind his search: it seems that Bracamonte’s wife, Beatriz, was once one of the poet’s many lovers; he needs to know if the daughter she gave birth to is his. Time is running out -- and Neruda, plagued by his memories of all the women he's betrayed in the name of poetry, wants to know for sure before the end comes. Cayetano’s search will take him from Mexico to Cuba, to East Germany and Bolivia where he realizes that the utopian ideals promised by revolution have all but collapsed and have become something else entirely. It will also place him in the company of some well-known figures of the times, including Neruda’s friend Salvador Allende, whose tenure as president of Chile is on its last legs.
If you want to look at this book simply as the series prequel that explains how Cayetano Brulé first got into the private eye business, there are a couple of entertaining moments: Neruda’s advice to Brulé about using the novels of Georges Simenon as a guide to becoming a detective, his “Maigret del Caribe,” Brulé’s narrow escape from East Germany, and a few other scenes featuring the hapless newbie detective. But of greater interest to me was the political backdrop against which this book is set, during the last gasps of the Allende government prior to the US-backed coup that placed Pinochet in power. And aside from the sillier moments where Brulé is initiated into the detective trade, there is a much more serious exploration of different idealistic visions that got lost somewhere along the way.
Very much recommended, especially if you are interested in Latin American history or revolutionary history in general. I hope this book does well; perhaps it will create some interest in translating Ampuero's other novels into English. ...more
I loved this book. Without saying much about the full storylines here (you really have to experience this book yourself), I read this book twice -- thI loved this book. Without saying much about the full storylines here (you really have to experience this book yourself), I read this book twice -- the first time through I didn't like the disjointed feel of the book, but then when I got to the ending, something the author said made me think that perhaps I should go back and read it again. The light bulb over my head flashed on after the second read and I realized that what is important in this book is not that there are little stories wrapped up to our satisfaction as readers, all neatly tied up in a cohesive sort of way (because there aren't), but rather that we spend a lot of time in life trying to sort out some kind of meaning when all the while it seems to escape us. What we think we know doesn't always turn out to be the reality. While frustration is part of the journey, it's setting out on the overall quest that is important as well as what we find along the way. We may never get to the actual point of our destination, but that's also reality. Life is obviously not a well-ordered series of answers, and the author illustrates this point by leaving many things undisclosed in this novel, for example: whatever happened to Milan Rakic? What was Juan Kalel's future as seen by the fortune teller? What does it mean when a gypsy does a pirouette? (I really wanted to know the answer to this one!) Are all of these episodes really parts of the life of Eduardo Halfon or is it all one big fiction -- all things we will never really know.
As Halfon says, "Literature is no more than a good trick a magician or a witch might perform, making reality appear whole, creating the illusion that reality is a single unified thing." The uncomfortable feeling I got while reading this book the first time through reflects my own expectations that this book would flow like a cohesive narrative and that all would eventually be revealed, when in fact, reality isn't that simple -- it's often a series of incohesive events and discoveries. I actually wish more authors would take this approach in their writing, capturing life as it really is -- in reality there is always something left undone, unfound, unanswered. Most of what we read, however, hands us the answers on a plate -- every dilemma solved, every base covered, every moment answered for, when in fact there are often big holes and big questions left unanswered.
The Polish Boxer is an extremely clever novel, and one that requires a lot of postread thought, and I could go on and on but suffice it to say, I loved it. There are some things I didn't like -- the orgasm drawings, the sometimes ridiculous conversations between Halfon and his girlfriend -- but I loved his use of language and the ideas thrown out here. Beautiful book -- highly recommended....more