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on 3 June 2017
A truly compelling story. Although a novel, it covers true events and real characters. A chilling and quite disturbing read. I knew nothing about Dominican Republic politics before reading this but it spurred me into looking into the facts that inspired the novel - and sadly they are very real.
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on 7 December 2006
Wow, what a novel! I was completely blown away by this tour de force from Llosa, a gruesome, bitter, but beautiful tale told with the vivacity and skill we've come to expect from him. The story is woven cleverly around a central historical event and a central ahistorical event, while unravelling an intriguing story of power, hope and betrayal.

Unlimited power is portrayed compellingly in the Goat, a taudry charismatic, egotistical maniac ruling the Dominican Republic. His subtle art of suspicion and less subtle art of violence allow an iron grip to take hold over a small clique of insiders who in turn take an iron grip over a whole nation. It is the ultimate fable of a society infected from the top with bile and cruelty, seeping out to destroy all in its wake.

Hope is found in the plot to unseat this power, through characters completely distinct, and painted with wonderful prose into twentieth century heroes. Their hope is true, their motivations distinct, but their aim clear. The way in which this is betrayed by naivety and recklessness is a great tragedy in this novel.

Finally, the heartbreaking aspect of this book is the betrayal, the betrayal by power and of hope, centred through the largely metaphoric role of the daughter of a Senator. Her fate is realised brilliantly through the use of diverging time devices, and is at once tragic and deeply symbolic of the infection mentioned above.

I cannot commend this book enough, it could well be one of the top 10 or 20 pieces of fiction of the twentieth century.
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on 25 April 2002
Brutal, and uncompromising do not buy this book if you are squeamish.
The books starts off slowly- a brilliant middle-aged (polymath) woman, Urania Cabral, the daughter of the former Secretary Of State to the Dominican Republic visits her father who is barley alive- he cannot speak but we think he can listen and understand what she is saying. She speaks to her father for the first time in thirty years about what her father did when she was a little girl. Whilst she has been away she has, as an obsession/ hobby, studied the recent history of the Dominican Republic and in particular the regime of her fathers boss General Rafael Trujillo. The story she tells is horrific- you will have to read it to find out what happens .... believe me the denouement is extreme and comes at you like an express train. My favourite chapter is one of extreme calm, the interregnum and Joaquin Balauer scheming and taking ultimate control. Totally Machiavellian, absolutely mesmerizing
Mario Vargas Llosa is a great writer. The book is a must read because, as George Santayana said in 1905, 'Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it!'
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on 30 April 2005
Mario Vargas Llosa's 'The Feast of the Goat is a detailed and exceptionally well-written account of political life in the Dominican Republic, the Caribbean nation that shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, in the last years of the tyrannical rule of 'the Goat', Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, who effectively ruled from 1930 to 1961 (despite officially renouncing the Presidency in 1947). This novel provides a considerable amount of factual detail for those readers that have some prior acquaintance with the subject matter, but is nevertheless eminently readable for those without. There are references to a great many - possibly as many as a hundred - historical figures, and sometimes the great number of unfamiliar names can be a handful, but the novel is written (and translated) in such a way that the reader can recall previous information about characters re-introduced into the story.
'The Feast of a Goat' consists of broadly three interwoven strands. Firstly, the author unflinchingly tackles the actions, behaviour and thoughts of Trujillo head-on, offering insights into the psychological make-up and motivations of a despot. In the process, Vargas Llosa also analyses the character and actions of the Generallisimo's closest lackeys. Secondly, the novel builds up the suspense in the execution and aftermath of a plan to take The Great Benefactor's life, in the process examining the personal histories of the seven co-conspirators. Thirdly, Vargas Llosa chronicles the harrowing stories of Uranita Cabral, successful New York lawyer, as she returns to Santo Domingo to confront her broken and invalided father, Agustin, formerly right-hand man to 'The Father of the New Nation'.
If I were to venture a minor criticism, it is that in concentrating almost exclusively on the impact of the regime on the political elite of the time and their families, I still have little insight into the lives of ordinary people or culture in the Dominican Republic. Nevertheless, this is an extremely satisfying feast of a novel with great drama, suspense, emotion and historical accuracy, offering perceptive insights into the character make-up of tyrants and issues facing those living under them: a subject that regrettably retains relevancy half a century on.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 1 January 2011
A rather slow and disjointed political novel, the 'Feast of the Goat' brings to life in vivid and shocking detail the brutal Trujillo regime of the Domincian Republic. The novel is told from several points of view, including that of an exile returning home after many years falling the fall of the dictatorship, and from that of the various assassins of Trujillo, as well as important figures in the Trujillo regime and even the dictator himself.

Whilst using these multiple view points provides the reader with detail and information they would never get from a single narrator, it does make the story rather disjointed and makes it hard to develop a real connection with any of the characters. The changes in viewpoint and length of time spent with each seem quite arbitrary and affect the rhythm and pace of the book. There are also lots of characters with very similiar names/multiple names which, particularly for non-Spanish speaking readers, makes it hard to tell who is who and therefore follow the story. A 'cast of characters' at the start for reference would have helped with this.

In parts the story is very gripping and shocking, particularly in the last part of the book where it really picks up pace. But I found the first three quarters at least very hard to get into and kept putting it down in favour of other things. I am glad I persisted as I it certainly taught me a lot, but I look for a bit more enjoyment factor in fiction. Saying that, it is well written and quite easy to read. Overall it's not a bad book, but it could have been a lot better.
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on 5 June 2003
The Feast of the Goat is a thriller in the best sense of the word. It is utterly engaging, a tale of a dictator who dominates his people yet cannot control his bladder. The central character of Trujillo shows how absolute power corrupts absolutly. Llosa describes how one man can come to dominate a whole nation and its people through fear and intimidation, a web of corruption and guilt that renders those around him incapable of breaking from their master's spell. Llosa also shows the fall of a dictator also brings its own problems and how events can cast shadows that linger long after the evnt is over and forgotten by most.
Overall, a superd read, I'd recommend it to all.
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on 27 September 2003
South America has produced some wonderful novels over the past few decades. But Mario Vargas Llosa's 'Feast of the Goat' is a truly astonishing accomplishment from a very multi-talented and controversial figure. Those who read the works of Vargas Llosa will need no persuasion in getting hold of the book, but for those who are browsing through Amazon, I can honestly say that this book is superb: it has so many different features. Principally, it is a thriller, a real page-turner, but one which you have to be in the mood. It works in a non-linear way, the best comparison I make probably is with films, such as Memento or Pulp Fiction. It switches back and forth across two periods, as as the story goes on, there are more and more developments and layers to the story. Gradually you piece together the incredible history that Vargas Llosa has laid out before us. Ok, its a thriller, but its also a great piece of literature. Dazzlingly written, atmospheric and very psychological. It is a testament to Vargas Lloas's writing technique that he allows the reader to follow and digest a highly complex plot with reading enjoyment and ease. He plays with the reader's mind by submerging the reader into the inner dialogues and minds of the characters while at the same time maintaining an all-seeing overview of the story's events. It has a sense of history, a sense of the tyranny and madness of the 20th Century, a powerful sense of the subconscious terror that a few, even one, can inflict upon so many. A remarkable book. Before I read Feast of Goat, I would have said that Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude was the benchmark of South American literature, and it remains one of the greatest novels of the 20th Century. But Vargas Llosa has at last proved himself to be one of the great writers, and this book, very different to 100 Years of Solitude, takes South American literature to a different level.
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The title to this review is also the title to an old Phil Ochs song which had always been my principal point of reference for the Caribbean country of the Dominican Republic, a bit more than half the island of Hispaniola. Santa Domingo is the capital (during much of the period of this novel the capital was called Ciudad Trujillo, for the normal abnormal megalomaniac reasons). I knew the lyrics by heart, even before certain ones became a painful reality in my own life: "And the tanks made tracks past the trembling shacks where fear's unfolding"... "But the soldiers make a bid, giving candy to the kids, their teeth are gleaming." The United States Marine Corps and the Dominican Republic have had a long relationship, with the latter in the subordinate position. The Marines first took over the country in 1916. As this novel depicts, one of the marines, Sgt. Gittleman, served as a mentor and advocate for Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina who would take over the leadership of the country in 1930, and subject it to a brutal rule for 30 years, that did bring some prosperity to those "in favor." After Trujillo's rule, the Marines invaded again, in 1965, and it was this invasion that was the subject of Ochs' song.

Of the various areas of the world, the Caribbean has interested me the least. I knew virtually nothing about the history of the Dominican Republic; I had heard of "Trujillo," but had not even realized that he had been assassinated (or that he had tried to assassinate others, like the President of Venezuela). A couple of friends had urged me to read this book, citing its excellence, and so I did. Normally I would have also read, in conjunction with the book, some background on the events via Wikipedia, et al., but in this case I deliberately did not, wanting to first obtain the history from Mario Vargas Llosa, and I was not disappointed. I felt I obtained a truer picture of the political condition of the country in the first half of the 20th century than if I had read 20 standard history books (if that many on this period exist).

The novel is a "page-turner." Llosa maintains high dramatic tension throughout. It commences with Urania Cabral, the daughter of a disgraced former member of Trujillo's cabinet going back to her native country after 35 years, a period in which she refused to communicate with any of her family there. She had left at the age of 14, and is now 49. She returns to her very dilapidated childhood house, to visit her equally dilapidated and incapacitated father, who is now 84, a stroke victim, requiring the services of a "caregiver," whom Urania has been paying for. I felt Llosa brilliantly captured the terrible discord in their relationship with the following: "After hesitating a few moments, Urania brings the spoon that holds a slice of mango up to his mouth. The invalid, who has still not taken his eyes off her, closes his mouth, clenching his lips like a difficult child."

Llosa alternates chapters involving three different scenes. There is the above one with Urania and her father; then there is Trujillo himself, and how he rules; and finally there are the ones who are waiting to assassinate "The Goat," one of Trujillo's unfavorable nicknames, as he is driven to an assignation in 1961. About a third of the way through the novel, it is revealed that the assassins (later to be call "executors of the tyrant") get their man. But even though the "climatic event" might be revealed early, much else is not, and thus the reader goes from one clue to another, slightly more enhanced clue, looking for the answer of how the "skinny little girl" who so upset Trujillo, plays into the story.

I felt that the author gave a true and scathing portrait of one of the worst tyrants of the Western Hemisphere. A key to maintaining power is to recruit just the right kind of subordinate, who will be relentlessly faithful (a/k/a "follow any order"), and then play them off against each other, always maintaining a high level of insecurity in them. Llosa also depicts the insecurities of Trujillo himself. And in bits and pieces the author reveals how seven former Trujillo loyalists and henchmen could have developed such a hatred for the man that they sat on the side of the road waiting to kill him, and not caring if they also died.

I couldn't help think about the large degree of similarity in the personality of Trujillo with that of other tyrants humankind has produced such as Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Haile Selassie, differing mainly in the number that they killed. Concerning the latter, I felt that Ryszard Kapuscinski provided a brilliant portrait in The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat (Penguin Classics) by Kapuscinski, Ryszard (2006), and how Selassie used the identical techniques that Trujillo did in playing his subordinates off against each other.. And there is so much else in this novel, including the depictions of Trujillo's sorry children, the analysis of the literally fatal indecisiveness of General Jose Rene Roman, and the equally brilliant analysis of how the nominally meek poet, Dr. Joaquin Balaguer, managed to consolidate power after Trujillo's death. Concerning Henry Chirinos, Llosa says: "there was no one like him for giving, in parliamentary speeches filled with Latin phrases and quotations that were often in French, the appearance of juridical necessity to the most arbitrary decision of the Executive... His mind, organized like a legal code, immediately found a technical argument to provide a veneer of legality to any decision made by Trujillo..."

Of Latin American writers, I have long admired Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Carlos Fuentes and Isabel Allende, but now Mario Vargas Llosa might have just taken first place in this pantheon: 6-stars.
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on 26 April 2002
This is a shockingly vivid tale of the demise of the dictator of the Dominican Republic, Raphael Trujillo. It is a complex story of trust & betrayal of a country & its people.
A woman, born in the Dominican Republic, returns after an absence of more than 30 years, attempting to face what drove her away as a young girl. The years of repressive dictatorship are relived with her return.
THE FEAST OF THE GOAT gives us an expanded view of what many countries of Central & South America have suffered at the hands of cruel & greedy dictators, & their long road toward democracy. A riveting, thought-provoking book.
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on 12 December 2010
This novel has three narratives, one following Trujillo on his last day of power (and life) in the Dominican Republic, another following the "action group" that will kill him (and the aftermath of the killing for them), a thrd following a Dominican exile returning many years later who has left in 1961 at the age of 14 for reasons that become clear.

There's no doubting Vargas Llosa's power as a novelist here. And there's also a very perceptive chapter about the transition away from the Trujillo regime under Balaguer - which could only have been written by a novelist who is also a politician.

But the book is unrelentingly bleak. So much so that I would hesitate to recommend it unreservedly. (Other books about the worst kinds of experience that can face human beings, such as Primo Levi's If This Is A Man, or Slavenka Drakulic, As If I Am Not There - or indeed The Poisonwood Bible or Half Of A Yellow Sun - are nonetheless uplifting to read.) I note I am not the only Amazon reviewer to find it a real challenge to make it through to the end of this novel.
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