The Feast of the Goat

I’m taking a risk writing a review for a novel written by a Nobel prize winner in literature, Mario Vargas Llosa.

Mario Vargas Llosa is yet another great author from Latin America-to be more specific, he is originally from Peru.

The Feast of the Goat is the first book I’ve read written by Mario Vargas Llosa, and I’m certainly going to read more of his work. I was captivated by this book, and even if it is quite long, it was interesting to see that I managed to complete it in just three days (I was of course on vacation 🙂 ).

The novel is based on true facts, namely the regime in the Dominican Republic under dictator Rafael Trujillo. The author presents historical events in an artistic, romantic manner. After I finished reading, I checked facts on Wikipedia and was surprised that something like that could actually happen. It would seem that mankind has quite a shocking history.

The way in which the author takes events that took place in the Dominican Republic between 1930 and 1961 and wraps them into a story where every character has a significant emotional investment and also a huge stake in the plot is absolutely surprising.

The book is organized in chapters and the chapters are not related to each other in order. The novel is composed of three separate storylines. Every storyline has its main characters who are depicted in separate chapters, without a relation to each other. The main topic follows the events that lead to the dictator’s assassination and its aftermath. Every figure in the book has something to do with Trujillo’s reign and is brought into the picture with their own story, enriching the plot and adding to its dramatic effect. Some of the characters are inspired from real people who actually took part in the depicted events.

The story is extremely captivating and I had a hard time keeping to the default order of chapters. I just couldn’t continue with a next chapter that would follow a different storyline, when the previous one had ended in a cliffhanger, and my first thought was usually to jump a few chapters to where the same story carries on. Although tempting, I resisted that urge, and read the book as the author wanted readers to, and every chapter seemed more interesting and exciting than the previous one. The final chapters reveal how all the storylines are related, resulting in the inevitable ending.

Each of the many characters is presented with their struggles of trying to either survive or defeat the system. Brave or weak, sick or crazy characters show up all throughout the story, but I’ll only focus on two of them, namely the ones who surprised me most.

The Goat, The Benefactor, Generalissimo, The Chief, Trujillo are just different names that Dominican’s Republic dictator has in the course of the book. There are many conflicting feelings toward this character. Every figure of the book undergoes a major emotional struggle as an effect of Trujillo’s reign, but what I think is absolutely surprising in this novel is how all these feelings are presented differently from each character’s perspective.

There are also some dark or funny sections in the story related to the main character of the book, for example while everyone in the novel is struggling to survive either by avoiding the attention of the dictator or quite the opposite, by getting into his favors, the dictator himself is more concerned about his looks and aesthetics, as well as his potency. The same goes for sections where he justifies his most horrific actions so they make perfect sense from his point of view.

The other important character in the book, Urania, is not a figure inspired from reality. She and her family are fictive characters, but her storyline is the one that I found the most intriguing. She flees abroad and pledges to never return. After living for more than thirty years in New York and having a successful career she decides to go visit her estranged father and family. All of this brings back old feelings and memories that she had tried to forget during those long years.

By the end of the book, she decides to go back to her life, though keeping in touch with her family, and this, I believe, is the author’s way of saying that she found closure and that she will maybe try to lead a normal life. In my opinion, the author added this character to highlight the long term impact of the dictatorship.

A large part of the novel describes the natural beauty of Santo Domingo (also Ciudad Trujillo in the book) and the Dominican Republic in general, and it made me curious to visit this country.

On the other hand, with the same skill and attention to detail, the author presents brutal methods of torture used to extract confessions from the regime’s enemies. The torture scenes and some of the terrible events presented make this book or at least some of the chapters a bit dark.

If you are wondering where the name of the book comes from, the answer is in the very beginning of the novel:

“The people celebrate
and go all the way
for the Feast of the Goat
the Thirtieth of May.

– “They Killed the Goat”

A Dominican merengue ”

If you are still in doubt about the meaning of this poem, don’t worry-they will definitely make sense after reading the book.

History would definitely be a more interesting subject in school if it were Mario Vargas Llosa who would depict each event. I can’t decide what I liked best, the impact of the story itself or the intriguing characters that Vargas Llosa embedded into the narrative, but I’m certain that aside from being an amazing reading experience, the novel also sends a message about the destructive force of a totalitarian regime and its long term effects. A regime that people of the Dominican Republic or other such countries will have a hard time forgetting.

Hardcover book:

Kindle version:
The Feast of the Goat

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