The Peruvian master (The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto, 1998, etc.) now turns to the bloody reign (1930–61) of the Dominican Republic’s dictatorial president Rafael Trujillo—and its aftermath.
The story consists of three parallel narratives. The first employs the viewpoint, and especially the memory, of Urania Cabral, a 49-year-old Manhattan attorney whose return to the homeland from which she had been exiled is juxtaposed against the story of her father, a callow politician who had curried favor by “giving” his then-adolescent daughter to the notoriously libidinous Trujillo. A second plot details the machinations of several conspirators, whose genuine love for their beleaguered country contrasts strongly with the personal enmity they bear toward their enemy—and eventual victim. Through a dexterous manipulation of rhetorical devices (notably, direct addresses to its characters by both an omniscient narrator and themselves) and shifting viewpoints (even within lengthy flashbacks), Vargas Llosa evokes a multiplicity of responses to the aforementioned characters—and especially to “the goat” (Trujillo), whose own thoughts and memories comprise the third—and strongest—strand. This is a Nixon-like egotist who puts the best possible face on his worst excesses: the priapic appropriation of dozens of virgins (a necessary exercise of his manly vigor, even though he has become incontinent); the ruthlessness with which political enemies are tortured and murdered (viewed as a moral cleansing vital to the health of the state); even the genocidal slaughter of Haitian immigrants working in the Republic’s canefields (justified as a defense of his nation’s racial and ethnic purity). Oddly enough, this monster of various appetites takes on a flawed, pathetic humanity. Vargas Llosa’s exhaustively detailed portrayals of both the carnage he wreaks and his own sins, self-delusions, fears, and fantasies rival, perhaps even surpass, that of the unnamed dictator in García Márquez’s great novel The Autumn of the Patriarch.
A landmark in Latin American fiction.