The Feast of the Goat, the seminal work by Mario Vargas Llosa (1936– ), describes the end of Rafael Leónidas Trujillo’s regime in the Dominican Republic. The novel begins in the present day with the return of Urania Cabral to Ciudad Trujillo (Santo Domingo) for the first time after a 35-year absence. Vargas Llosa develops her history as a woman who escaped her Dominican past, only to become haunted and fascinated by it in adulthood. A successful lawyer in Manhattan, Urania lives estranged from her family and country; however, she finds herself studying and reading about the Trujillo regime in her spare time. Upon her arrival in Santo Domingo, Urania appears fearful and agitated as she contemplates her return to her childhood house, yet she remains determined to confront her elderly and mute father, the deposed former president of Trujillo’s senate.
As Urania speaks, first to her father and later to her aunt and cousins, Vargas Llosa uses her personal narrative as a vehicle for temporal shifts between present-day Santo Domingo and the oppression of Dominicans by the Trujillo regime during the early 1960s. Much of what Urania recalls from her life as a young girl involves the politics of the time, although often indirectly. Amid these fragmented memories, Vargas Llosa intermingles the experiences of Agustín Cabral, General Trujillo himself, and the assassins implicated in the 1961 anti- Trujilla revolt.
Vargas Llosa describes Trujillo’s absolute control over the lives of his cabinet members and his demand for their constant loyalty. He routinely tests his officials’ loyalty by marginalizing them with no explanation. One such test causes the permanent dismissal of Urania’s father, who fails to reclaim his post despite his numerous pleas, attempts, and offers. In this section, Vargas Llosa additionally transitions to the metanarratives of Trujillo’s assassins as they wait to shoot him along a dark ocean highway. The longest of these stories is that of José René “Pupo” Roman, the deposed secretary of the armed forces. His hope of killing Trujillo and precipitating a coup fails when Roman is unable to bring himself to take over the military. Instead of wresting the country from Trujillo’s brothers and sons, Roman is captured and ruthlessly tortured by Trujillo’s son Ramfis for many months before his merciful death.
As the immediate events surrounding Trujillo’s death dissipate, Vargas Lloso provides a narrative salve for the harsh descriptions of the torture of the assassins and their accomplices through the story of President Joaquín Balaguer. Initially a figurehead, Balaguer alone convinces Trujillo’s family and officials that the country must move toward democracy. In several deft decisions, he exiles Trujillo’s brothers, sons, and wife and pacifies the United States as well as the Catholic Church.
Vargas Llosa now finally returns the readers to Urania, who discloses the true source of her anger toward her father. Throughout the story, Vargas Llosa makes references to Trujillo’s failing prostate and his displeasure with a woman he invited to Mahogany House, his personal resort where he received women and young girls. Indeed, Urania reveals that her father sent her to Mahogany House as an offering to Trujillo in an attempt to curry his favor and return to his post as president of the senate. Her fear and Trujillo’s impotency result in the general’s fury, both at Urania and at his declining body. He expels her from Mahogany House, and she returns to school, where the Dominican nuns ensure her safe passage to their sister school in Michigan. Urania narrates the brutal story of her rape to her aunt, who provides her with little sympathy, and to her cousins, who are horrified. The novel concludes as Urania departs for the United States, unsure of any future for her involving her family or the Dominican Republic.
Kristal, Efraín. Temptation of the Word: The Novels of Mario Vargas Llosa. Nashville, Tenn.: Vanderbilt University Press, 1998. Oviedo, José Miguel. Mario Vargas Llosa: A Writer’s Reality. Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1985. Patterson, Richard E. “Resurrecting Raphael: The Fictional Incarnation of a Dominican Dictator.” Callaloo 29, no. 1 (2006): 223–237.
Vargas Llosa, Mario. A Fish in the Water: A Memoir. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994. Walford, Lynne. “Vargas Llosa’s Leading Ladies.” In Leading Ladies: Mujeres en la Literatura Hispana y en Las Artes, edited by Yvonne Fuentes and Margaret R. Parker, 70–80. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2006.
Categories: Latin American Literature, Literature, Novel Analysis
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