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Word Count: 923
A thugs life The Feast of the Goat Mario Vargas Llosa trans Edith Grossman 404pp Faber Spanish-American novelists have had good reason sad to say to write dictator novels and two rather different ways in which to go about it The first is to abstract from the historical experience of any one country and treat the contagion of caciquismo in imaginary terms as it might have taken hold anywhere in South and Central America - Miguel Angel Asturias Augusto Roa Bastos Alejo Carpentier and Garca Mrquez have all in their time done this to powerful effect A second way is that followed by the Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa in The Feast of the Goat which is to descend to street level in a spirit of togetherness and recreate the circumstances in which one actual dictator met a violent death in a real country Theres nothing remotely allegorical about the story as its told here in very concrete terms but its not hard either to take this particular Strong Man as standing for the rest of his grisly cousinhood The dictator in question is Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina an army officer who seized power in the Dominican Republic in 1930 and held on to it with increasing savagery and the predictable support for most of the time of the United States until he was assassinated in a roadside shootout 31 years later In the novel at least the assassination is the work of a small group who have suffered more than most from the viciousness of the regime It happens not as a denouement but halfway through as a crisis since Trujillos long-overdue removal opens the way for politics of a less lethal sort to resume in the Republic Vargas Llosa pursues the story through the immediate and psychotic aftermath when Trujillos playboy son Ramfis - named grotesquely for the high priest in Aida - returns from his career of well-funded lechery in Paris
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