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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Dictatorship of Greed and Depravity: A Review of Mario Vargas Llosa’s “The Feast of the Goat”



The recent popular uprising against Egypt’s long time dictator Hosni Mubarak reminded me of Mario Vargas Llosa’s novel The Feast of the Goat, about The Dominican Republic’s long time dictator Rafael Trujillo. The similarities between the two dictatorships is crystal clear: Greed, an obsession with power and control, kleptomania of the dictator and his inner circle, brutal suppression of the people by the secret police and military, and the unwavering support of the U.S. government. In Trujillo’s case things got so bad that he was assassinated, ending a thirty-one year dictatorship that left the Dominican Republic in shambles.

Vargas Llosa’s novel begins with the return to the Dominican Republic of Urania Cabral, the daughter of a member of Trujillo’s inner circle. “Urania. Her parents had done her no favor; her name suggested a planet, a mineral, anything but the slender, fine-featured woman with burnished skin and large, dark, rather sad eyes who looked back at her from the mirror. Urania! What an idea for a name. Fortunately nobody called her that anymore; now it was Uri, Miss Cabral, Ms. Cabral, Dr. Cabral.”

Why has she returned to Santo Domingo when once she had said she would never in this life or the next return? To visit her father, whom she hasn’t seen, spoken with or written to since she left at age fourteen for a private school in Michigan.

“He awoke paralyzed by a sense of catastrophe… At last he managed to stretch his hand toward the bedside table where he kept the revolver and the loaded sub-machine gun. But instead of a weapon he grasped the alarm clock.” Thus we are introduced to the glorious dictator, Generalissimo Rafael Trujillo as he awakens early one morning. His mind scrolls back through his life, examines in detail his wife, his ne’er do well sons Ramfis and Radhamés, his conquests, his wealth, the men of his inner circle (the ingrates), and his aged body that refuses to perform as before. Reading, my mind flashed on Kim Jong-Il, North Korea’s longtime self-obsessed ruler. The similarities between dictators are endless.

No one was secure in Trujillo’s sick world. Remaining a member of his inner circle was deliberately not easy; at any moment, on a whim, one could find oneself tossed aside like a used piece of toilet tissue. If you were an attractive young woman, or had a pretty daughter, you’d best keep her out of Trujillo’s sight, or he will pluck her for a night of “dancing” that will leave her in ruins and your position in no better shape. Sexually obsessed, he equated his virility with the nation’s health, he thrived on deflowering young maidens, considering it a blessing they had better thank him for.

When people finally had enough, they plotted his assassination, which occurred on May 30, 1961. The outcome, however, was not to be what they hoped for, as there was no swift recovery. “The Goat” might be dead, but his aura lingered on.

The Feast of the Goat is spellbinding. Simply stated, it is one of the best novels I have read in years.

An easy *****

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