The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa, copyright 2000.
Translated by: Edith Grossman
Source: Personal Collection – Purchased New
Reason for Reading: Reputation of Author
Vargas Llosa is the most recent addition to the Nobel club, having won the prestigious prize last year. He is also my most recent stop in my attempt to traverse the entire list of literary laureates. The Feast of the Goat was a little tough to get into; this can be attributed partially to the fact that the story is told from so many perspectives, but most of all because there are just too many characters of which to keep track. Perhaps not everyone would find this plethora of characters such a hassle to keep tabs on, but I tend to have great difficulty in keeping Spanish names in my brain.
In 1961, the Dominican Republic languishes under the iron fist of the meticulous, brutal and adroit Rafael Trujillo. Feeling the sting of OAS sanctions and under threat of invasion from both Cuba and the United States, Dominicans struggle to maintain their loyalty and love for El Benefactor. Parked on the highway to San Cristobal, cradling their guns in their arms and fighting off fatigue, seven men wait for the 1957 sky-blue Chevy Bel-Air, that will carry the goat to his late-night rendezvous with one of a string of young Dominican girls. The seven men have a different sort of rendezvous planned for the aging dictator. Here, in the dark, in the middle of San Cristobal Avenue, they will assassinate the Father of the Nation. Each man has a different reason for doing what they are about to do, some will do it out of hate, others out of love, but all will do it for the sake of the Dominican Republic.
In the beginning, this was a very frustrating read. For the first half or three-quarters of the novel, the chapters alternate consecutively between the perspectives of Urania Cabral, a young lady whose relevance to the story does not become apparent until the end of the book; Rafael Trujillo; and, sequentially, each of the seven would-be-assassins. At some point all of these perspectives disappear and the story begins to be told chapter-after-chapter, by different people, all of whom were involved in the plot to assassinate Trujillo.
If this sounds really convoluted, that’s because it is. Make no mistake, I had to pay close attention, especially in the beginning, to really get a handle on what was taking place. I am not a fan of stories being told from different perspectives, even when it is only two or three, so you can imagine how I felt reading this. But, in some crazy way, it really worked. I came out of this story feeling that I had a genuine understanding of the emotional and psychological warfare that was the foundation of this period in Dominican history. There is no doubt that I missed a great deal; a re-read would definitely be required to soak up everything that The Feast of the Goat was attempting to convey.
If you read the synopsis and were excited, and you can handle dense historical reads that might take a little longer than normal to get through, then don’t be put off by the peculiar format. You will take a great deal away from Vargas Llosa’s masterpiece.
RATING: A Wool New Kind of Read