Paint it black

Nothing comes much blacker than Mario Vargas Llosa's stunning, brutal depiction of the dying days of the Trujillo regime in the Dominican Republic. The island of Hispaniola has witnessed its fair share of violence in the twentieth century. Both Haiti and the Dominican Republic endured two of the nastiest dictatorships in Central / South America, the Duvalliers in Haiti, and the more urbane, but equally nasty, Trujillos in their island neighbour.

Llosa's novel The feast of the goat is told from several different viewpoints, and in different times. The principal narrator is Urania, a 40-something Dominican exile, who has returned to her homeland for the first time since she left as a 14 year old girl just a fortnight before Trujillo's assassination. Brought up as the daughter of one of Trujillo's most devoted ministers, she appeared to have led a priviliged lifestyle until her break for unknown reasons from her family and island home. Part of her story is told from a modern perspective, and part as memory, there are also odd sections which are part her father's memories and part Urania's own "spin" on his thoughts. Parallel to these are the account of the last day of Trujillo's life partly from his perspective, partly from his assassins. And the assassins own accounts are carried forward beyond the end of Trujillo to a time when the regime truly starts to change.

The quick switches of narrative do take a little getting used to at first. But you soon settle into them, and Llosa is expert at making each voice very different - you're never going to get one narrative thread mixed up with another. And the use of the Trujillo / assassin voices are particularly effective in getting under what made the regime tick and why it was so successful (a massive personality cult on a par with Chairman Mao or Ho Chi Minh, and, for a long time, the backing of  the US as a bulwark against Communism), and also the savage brutality and suppression that lay beneath the apparently suave persona.

It is an incredibly brutal novel. Llosa examines at depth both the brutality of totalitarian regimes, and the way in which they brutalise their society. No-one is going to come out of this unscathed, even the bystanders. In 2010 the author was awarded the Nobel prize for literature. His citation said that he had been awarded the prize "for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual's resistance, revolt, and defeat". If you want to know what the Nobel committee meant, you need look no further than The feast of the goat. Mario Vargas Llosa is a wonderful writer, and this novel is one of his very best works.

On a more prosaic note - it's also enabled me to finish off the N / Central American leg of my 666 journey.


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