Whenever a novel by Mario Vargas Llosa (Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, Death in the Andes) hits the stands, it is cause for celebration among critics and readers alike. It took the better part of a year for his latest novel, The Feast of the Goat, to be released in translation, and the many English-speaking fans of this Spanish-language master (this reviewer included) have been champing at the bit in anticipation. As the novel opens, we find that Urania Cabral has made quite a good life for herself. She lives in an expensive Manhattan high-rise and serves as a corporate lawyer for the World Bank. At 49, she is one of the major power brokers of the New York financial community. Her success has not been without its shortcomings, however: she has been estranged from her family for some time and has no significant other with whom to mark the passing of the years.

She decides on a whim to return to her childhood home of Santo Domingo, capital of the Caribbean island nation of the Dominican Republic. Her homecoming will be something of a self-imposed test, an experiment to see whether the city can still stir up the feelings of nostalgia, rage, bitterness and impotence she felt when she left. It will also offer her the opportunity to visit her ailing father, a high-ranking government official who fell out of favor in the aftermath of the murder of dictator Rafael Trujillo in 1961. (Trujillo's government, though arbitrary and bloody, had been propped up by the U.S. government, largely because of his vehement anti-communist stance.)

Jump ahead a chapter, and you find yourself transported back to 1961. Trujillo is at the height of his power, and he rules the country with the proverbial iron fist. He routinely beds the wives of his generals and confidants and publicly brags about it in front of them, a modern-day Caligula in a tropical suit. Slowly the notion of assassination takes hold in the hearts and minds of a small group of patriots.

Deftly cutting back and forth from the assassination plot to the present day, Llosa weaves the story of a family and a country torn apart by the abuse of power. The Feast of the Goat succeeds on many levels. Llosa's writing is, as always, rich and earthy, complex and elegant. The story is a classic, marking the downfall of a despot and the unforeseen consequences for his inner circle, his enemies and his country.

 

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