Thursday, January 29, 2015

Mario Vargas Llosa, "The Feast of the Goat"

 – e-book

Read from January  31st to February18th 2014

My rating:

They had forgotten the abuses, the murders, the corruption, the spying, the isolation, the fear: horror had become myth. "Everybody had jobs and there wasn't so much crime."

I keep remembering those summer nights, many years ago, when the air was heavy with the tension of passionate discussions about Ceausescu and the political changes after his death and the communism specter that continued to haunt our country.  We were young and full of hope and mockingly called all those regretting the past “old” and “nostalgic” while secretly being afraid of them.

During one of these conversations a friend of mine forecast that in the long run Ceausescu would become legend, his evil forgotten, his few achievements overstated. That statement seemed to me so inconceivable that I started a fight even though I knew very well he shared my political views.

After more than twenty years, though, my friend’s prediction doesn’t seem so fanciful anymore. We are still too close to historical events to get a good perspective, bur how it will look in half a millennium since more and more evoke the good times with jobs and houses for all? Will the horror become indeed myth?

There is no much difference between one tyrant and another. Hitler, Stalin, Ceausescu, Trujillo, whatever their names, stirred incredible reactions in people’s souls, were loved and feared and sincerely regretted not only by so easy to manipulate masses but also by some intelligent personalities who seemed unable to react to the evil behind the mask:

On the way, they could see through the windows the huge, growing crowd, swelling with the arrival of groups of men and women from the outskirts of Ciudad Trujillo and nearby towns. The line, in rows of four or five, was several kilometers long, and the armed guards could scarcely control it. They had been waiting for hours. There were heartrending scenes, outbursts of weeping, hysterical displays among those who had already reached the steps of the Palace and felt themselves close to the Generalissimo's funeral chamber

It is true that a good story, as David Lodge reminds us, does not need history to back it up. That is, it will remain good regardless inventions, facts distortion, and other literary lies – usually called poetic licenses J. However books like this could truly fulfill Sartre’s dream of a littérature engagée, by opposing the popular myth an equally forceful one, the literary figure.

And The Feast of the Goat is this good, it is one of those novels that superpose and finally could replace the historical figure with its own, for it manages to sound credible even though it doesn’t use the usual tricks of the non-fiction novel. It only blends history and fiction by using three narrative layers: Urania’s story, the innocent victim, the conspirators’ story, the martyrized heroes and “the Chief, the Generalissimo, the Benefactor, the Father of the New Nation, His Excellency Dr. Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina”’s story, the abject manipulator whose image is in the end debunked not by revealing his crimes and injustices and greed and excesses, but by a merciless reduction to ridicule:

He seemed half crazed with despair. Now I know why. Because the prick that had broken so many cherries wouldn't stand up anymore. That's what made the titan cry.

It is only fair to break the idols’ clay feet. And much, much better to mock them than to forget they existed. The ridicule always killed better than any other weapon. And more indefeasibly.

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