FicusFan's Reviews > The Feast of the Goat

The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa
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's review
Oct 18, 08

really liked it
bookshelves: fiction, government, near-past, politics, torture, book-group-companion, dominican-republic, downward-spiral, violence, dictatorship, read-10-08, read-2008
Read in October, 2008

** spoiler alert ** One of my book groups is reading In the Time of the Butterflies. Someone on LibraryThing recommended this book as a companion read because it also deals with the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. The story is set in 1961, just before Trujillo was as assassinated.

This is a good book that really gives a sense of the scope, damage and horror of living under a dictatorship. It is also unfortunately a tough read. Some of it may be due to the fact that it is a translation, but some is due to structural problems with the story, and perhaps the approach the author took to the material.

The author, while writing fiction, also seems to want to write a history of the time. The 2 impulses often clash, when the story becomes wooden and is overwhelmed by the complete-ist requirements of history. In one thread in particular you end up with about 1/4 page of names of people who were at a meeting, but none of them are characters or play a part in the fictional story.

Another issue for non-Spanish speakers, and those not familiar with the culture is the use of full names, including the second last name. They often seem to go on forever, and make it hard to keep the characters straight.

The book is divided into 3 threads, to tell different aspects of the event, its aftermath and the way it impacted the lives of many people. Vargas tries to show how everybody was touched by the filth : those who were damaged/killed/maimed, their friends, their relatives, those who had to keep silent in the face of such monstrosity, and those who had to actively collaborate to keep them and their families alive.

The first thread is set in the modern day and is of a middle aged woman, Urania, who has been away from the DR and estranged from her family for 35 years. She is the daughter of one of Trujillo's closest advisers. Her father betrayed her when she was 14, and she has never completely recovered. He meanwhile, survived Trujillo, and the aftermath of the assassination, only to succumb to a stroke that left him a prisoner in his frozen and uncommunicative body.

Urania fills the part of the damaged survivor, and she is able to look back and speak about life in the past. She is able to contrast her early innocence and naivete about the truth of the dictatorship, and then after her event, she speaks about the ability to see the lies and the corrosive action of the fear, the collaboration, and the violence.

Unfortunately she is not done well as a real person, or an interesting character. We never really learn what motivates her, and her ending seems artificial. She never becomes more than a cardboard avatar.

The best thread is the one that belongs to Trujillo. We get to see what motivates him, and how he views his actions. Of course this is not based in truth, but it is done so well that it is totally believable. It is also completely scary to see how easy it is to rationalize and to ignore the harm one does. He is not some evil mindless cartoon monster, but a real person who chooses to be evil, and lie to himself about his actions.

The weakest thread is the one that seems to hold everyone else. It starts out with four of the assassins, but after the event, it seems to belong to any and all. It is the weakest in terms of story coherence. We meet four men and read about them and their lives and families, and then they are either gone or become only occasional entries. Other characters take their place, and we also learn about their lives and families, but its like a revolving door. Very interesting, but hard to keep track of who is who, what they do, and what their position is regarding Trujillo.

After the assassination the story occasionally has the killers, but focuses more on the Trujillistas left and their attempts to keep things calm to prevent a US invasion, and to gain power, and crush their opponents.

It is also through this thread that you get a sense of the breadth and depth of the evil of regime. Almost everyone has had a run in the Trujillo, and/or the secret police. Many have lost friends and family members, and live in fear of the same thing happening to them. It serves the purpose of the history approach to the book, at the expense of the story element.

Even with all its issues, it is still an amazing read, and worth the effort.

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Reading Progress

10/10/2008 page 45
10/11/2008 page 143
35.4% "Tough sledding to start, but once you get into it, the story is riveting"
10/11/2008 page 143
35.4% "Tough Sledding to start, but once you get into it, the story is riveting."
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