This is a book that initially works on the reader slowly, incrementally. None of the characters, aside from Trujillo, seems particularly exceptional, at least at first, and that is partly the point: Vargas Llosa wants us to see how absolute power infects and saturates a society at every level, working its poison into even the purest and most well-intentioned hearts … It is the novel's marvelous and complex formal mastery—its ‘totalizing’ of a ‘utopian design’—that conquers the reader, in the way that the formal beauty of great musical composition does … I can't think of a novel that better dramatizes the way political evil can reach any of us in that innermost place. The Feast of the Goat is a masterpiece of Latin American and world literature, and one of the finest political novels ever written.
...a fierce, edgy and enthralling book … Mr. Vargas Llosa dramatizes the crimes of the Trujillo regime — the corruption, the murder of political enemies and the terror wreaked by the secret police — while limning the intimate consequences it had on individuals' familial relationships, business dreams and private hopes … Although Mr. Vargas Llosa vastly oversimplifies the longterm aftermath of Trujillo's reign and the country's halting steps toward reform, he does a masterly job of narrating the chaotic events that immediately ensue in the wake of the assassination. In leaving the reader with a visceral understanding of the Trujillo regime and its bloody legacy, Mr. Vargas Llosa has pushed the boundaries of the traditional historical novel, and in doing so has written a book of harrowing power and lasting emotional resonance.
Vargas Llosa employs his customary Faulknerian technique of mixing times and voices to re-create the whole story of Trujillo's dictatorship: the tyrant's chambers of power, his family, his court, his methods of domination … Two mysteries intertwine and clash in the novel with the precision of Greek drama: power and freedom. In the character of Trujillo, Vargas Llosa dissects with clinical skill the anatomy as well as the psychology of power … In this masterful novel, splendidly translated, as always, by Edith Grossman, Vargas Llosa describes in detail the procedures of manipulation, the varieties of censorship, and the subtle gradations in the exercise of power, from the subtle insinuation that an individual has fallen out of favor to the most brutal tortures and killings. In the end, the greatest mystery lies in the voluntary, hypnotic collaboration of the masses with a single man.
Assisting Trujillo is a cast of zombies that the author must have given himself nightmares raising from the crypt. By alternating fatherly affection with calculated silences, the dictator fosters a chronic, low-level panic among his spiritually gelded lackeys … The novel promises fireworks from the outset as the dictator's enemies load and point their guns, but the author is in no hurry to pull the trigger. He fills the pregnant pause with protocol — the phone calls, meetings, meals and little ceremonies that, taken together, give power its shape and form … In this crackling translation by Edith Grossman, Vargas Llosa's Trujillo is a riveting creation — a corked volcano of vulgar, self-pitying rage who demeans his aids with mocking nicknames … In a dictatorship, Vargas Llosa suggests, remaining self-possessed is the great challenge.
The novel has a triple storyline, and the narrative machinery, although skilfully assembled, creaks a bit for the first third or so of the book … If Vargas Llosa tells us much less about the lure of dictators than the other novelists, takes us less deeply into the ways power is imagined and lived by the people who dream of it and suffer from it, he tells us far more about the details of day-to-day intrigue, and the sordid, sadistic minutiae of torture and murder … There is a tidy novelistic completeness to this story, and I don’t mean to diminish its horror or the firmness with which Vargas Llosa goes through with the telling of it. But it’s hard, in a historical novel, to think of fictional characters as suffering in quite the same way as the historical ones do.
Meticulously researched — so at least it certainly seems — and filled with telling detail, it portrays the inner workings of the Trujillo regime and its opposition with what gives every appearance of verisimilitude and authority. Despite Vargas Llosa's fictionalization of history, in form the novel resembles a straightforward recounting of Trujillo's last days … When Vargas Llosa turns to the story of Urania Cabral, the book is less successful; it feels tacked on, less an integral part of this very large tapestry than an afterthought. Yet when this small part of the tale reaches its own climax, the effect is shocking even if the actual event is wholly unsurprising.
The structure, set up to deliver great globs of exposition, is a bit clunky, and the book isn't helped by Edith Grossman's wooden and often inept translation, but once the action starts, it reaches a breakneck momentum. What keeps the early parts of the novel percolating is Vargas Llosa's portrait of Trujillo, who, at the age of 70, can't seem to distinguish between the state of the nation and the condition of his own penis … In the end, though, Trujillo falls, and the nation is salvaged by the man the general accuses of lacking ‘a man's natural appetites.’ Vargas Llosa's account of Balaguer's apotheosis is a tour de force depiction of political skill. By the time he steps in, the reader — like the Dominicans, battered and hypnotized by Trujillo's spectacular bullying — has almost forgotten that authority doesn't always have to take the form of crushing force.
What we are brought to see at the end of this novel is the ultimate horror of the Trujillo regime: Not so much that he raped people's daughters but that his power was so total and pervasive that he could get people to cooperate, voluntarily, in the raping of their own daughters. His artfulness in turning all Dominicans into accomplices in their own ruin explains why Trujillo seems in some way invulnerable to death and why the terrible wounds he opened in the lives of his people take more than one generation to heal … In The Feast of The Goat, Vargas Llosa paints a portrait that is darkly comic, poignant, admirable and horrifying all at once.
This is an ambitious novel, as sure-footed as it is graphic in integrating the private aspects of daily life in the Trujillo years with the public, or hypothetical motives with real events. Of all the Spanish American novelists I've read, Vargas Llosa is far and away the most convinced and accomplished realist; and he's at his strongest in The Feast of the Goat … The Feast of the Goat comes closer than is altogether pleasant to conveying what it would be like to have your conditions of life determined by the whims of an erratic and vainglorious thug like Trujillo.
...a powerful new work of political fiction … The novel plunges the reader into a three-tiered narrative about the effects of Trujillo's mostly devilish attempts at God-like rule. But the book is no hysterically correct political polemic. From the beginning, the writer establishes some distance from the period even as he introduces us to the human cost of dictatorship … He clearly and boldly dramatizes the reality of the Trujillo decades at a pace that seems remarkably steady, despite the circuitous turns in time: the constant intrigue at the presidential palace, the growing ruthlessness of the secret police, the lively but miserable gallery of characters, many of them historical figures.
In The Feast of the Goat, Mario Vargas Llosa draws Trujillo as a Dickensian hyper-villain: incontinent, vituperative and capricious, governed by his decaying body. His regime is driven by uncontrollable emissions - outbursts of invective, uncalled-for urination and premature ejaculation - which dictate the dictator … Vargas Llosa throws himself passionately into the story. He weaves the novel around two unrelated events — Trujillo's attempt to have sex with Urania Cabral, the 14-year-old daughter of his Chief Minister, and his assassination two weeks later … The two plot-lines twist and turn around each other; woven on multiple time-frames they invoke a cast of thousands, but never stray far from the mesmerising figure of the Goat himself.
With the mesmerizing, if messy Feast of the Goat, a major spoke in the rich wheel of the Latin American ‘60s ‘Boom’ generation, prolific Peruvian novelist and essayist Mario Vargas-Llosa has written his fictional history of the final days of a tyrannical regime, and its lasting effect on one woman … The sections recounting the conspiracy to kill Trujillo read like a thriller. Five riveting chapters go by in which the assassins wait in a car for Trujillo’s to appear in order to riddle it with bullets. As we wait along with them in the cramped vehicle there is palpable urgency … The action is tightly spun if claustrophobic; this perhaps has more to do with Vargas-Llosa juggling three narrative balls of varying weight.
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 ... 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.
Vargas Llosa's triumph is Trujillo's story. We follow the sly, vile despot, with his petty rages, his lust, his dealings with his avaricious family, through his last day, with mingled feelings of repulsion and awe … Gathering power as it rolls along, this massive, swift-moving fictional take on a grim period in Dominican history shows that Vargas Llosa is still one of the world's premier political novelists.