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The Feast of the Goat: International Edition

The Feast of the Goat: International Edition - Edith Grossman, Mario Vargas Llosa I read the novel because I wanted to read something that explored the mind of the despot, partly because despots (Mubarak, Ghaddafi, Kim Jong-il, Saleh etc) and despotic laws and actions (like indefinite detention, protest crackdowns etc) were all the rage last year. I started Marquez’s Autumn of the Patriarch but couldn't get into it and came across The Feast of the Goat at about the same time. It is the second novel by Vargas Llosa that I've read and enjoyed thoroughly. Like the first (Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter) it isn't exactly a literary masterpiece but quite good and fast-paced. The novel follows the stories of three sets of protagonists; the returning daughter of a disgraced politician (in the 90s), a group of assassins waiting on Trujillo and most convincingly, the old goat himself.Although Vargas Llosa's writing is devoid of the vivid imagery and symbolism of his South American peers, his talent for narration and suspense is unmatched. He also manages to describe in some detail and with wry dark humour some of the prominent Trujillistas of the era like the psychotic Johnny Abbes (who walks around the presidential palace reading books on medieval Chinese torture), the Constitutional Sot or the Walking Turd and the debauched and sadistic Ramfes Trujillo. All humour though, dissipates towards the end of the novel as the barbaric reality of the regime is shown with graphic descriptions of torture and rape. Having never studied Dominican history, I don’t know how historically accurate the factual aspects of the novel are (some parts of the novel like the Cabral family are made up). One aspect of Trujillo’s rule though that seems to be given a pass is his ordering of the Parsley Massacres. The author through one of the characters does tell us of “innocents” being killed but otherwise he seems to allude that the massacres were necessary for the Dominican Republic to survive (am I being too harsh?). In all though, the novel does succeed in convincingly describing the mind of a despot and convincingly links dictator dominance to hyper-sexuality and machismo. It shows that despite some beneficial aspects of strongman rule (things get done with minimal bureaucracy), the eventual result from the corrupting influence of power, the personality cult and the inevitable avarice of the dictator’s family permeates like a cancer through every level of society and leads to misery, isolation and horror.