Faber & Faber (2012 – first published 2000 as El Chivo), 496 pages
Book Depository, €9.64
The Feast of the Goat is a masterpiece. It is a portrait of a narcissistic and brutal dictator. It shows the mechanisms by which an individual’s basest desires, for power, sex, and money, can infect a whole society and lead to a cycle of murderous violence.
Rafael Trujillo was an archetypical Latin American dictator. He was a military dictator who came to power through a rigged election in 1930 and held onto power for more than 30 years. He renamed the Dominican Republic’s capital city after himself and built a cult of personality around himself. Opposition was brutally suppressed by Trujillo’s secret police. Trujillo orchestrated the racist Parsley Massacre that resulted in the deaths of thousands of Haitians. Like most dictators Trujillo used his position to enrich himself and his family at the expense of the average Dominican. He also used his power to sexually abuse and rape women with impunity. Vargas Llosa’s novel is a forensic account of Trujillo’s rule dovetailed with the story of those plotting to kill him.
Perhaps the most successful character in The Feast of the Goat is Urania Cabral. She is a thread that is woven between the Trujillo era and modern-day Dominican Republic. She struggles to come to terms with Trujillo’s abuse, the complicity of her father in the abuse, and her relationships with her surviving Trujillo-supporting relatives. Urania is a rare female voice in a novel that exposes the worst excesses of a society run by a cabal of violent hyper-masculine men.
For some The Feast of the Goat might be too political to be considered art. Too much politics can turn art into propaganda. Vargas Llosa’s novel is a political novel but the distance offered by time, his creation of characters such as Urania, and the universality of his portrait of the psychology of evil raise The Feast of the Goat above mere propaganda.