The Feast of the Goat

From Academic Kids

The Feast of the Goat (Spanish title: La Fiesta del Chivo) (1996) is a novel by the Peruvian novelist, Mario Vargas Llosa. It is set in the regime of Rafael Leónidas Trujillo in the Dominican Republic. The novel follows two interwoven storylines, both revealing of the political and social environment in the Dominican Republic, past and present.

The first story is that of the present-day return of Urania Cabral, the daughter of a disgraced crony of Trujillo, to her natal city of Santo Domingo. The novel narrates Urania's odyssey in the present tense through the city she last saw as Ciudad Trujillo, named in honor of the Generalísimo Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina, nicknamed "El Chivo" ("The Goat"). Urania's return to the homeland and family, which she had sworn off forever is symbolic of the Dominican (and Latin American) political reality — the desire to confront the past and the complicity which made the horrors of Trujillo's reign possible. With each step, Urania remembers more of her past; with each person she encounters, the reader gains a window into the mentality of a people who have tried all but to wipe thirty-one years of tyranny from their collective memories.

The second story is set in the days and months surrounding Trujillo's 1961 assassination. Vargas Llosa uses this segment to meticulously examine the thoughts and lives of the most important political actors of the era: Trujillo himself, then-figurehead president Joaquín Balaguer, intelligence chief Johnny Abbes García, and each of the General's assassins, as well as a variety of fictional and composite characters. Each of these figures makes for a fascinating character study; the motivations and philosophy of the Goat and his cronies provide valuable insight into the mind of a dictatorship. The moral and rational justifications presented for the iron-fisted governance of Trujillo, the torture and persecution, the terror and assassination campaigns against Dominican exiles, and Trujillo's 1937 massacre of tens of thousands of Haitians on the Haitian-Dominican border are as informative as they are shocking. The story furnishes a real perspective on the mind of the Dominican people, and indeed, any people living under oppression, as well as allowing a glimpse into the machinations of global and hemispheric politics during the Cold War. Vargas Llosa examines Trujillo's attitudes towards communist Cuba's Castro, Venezuela's Betancourt, and of course John F. Kennedy and the "Yanqui meddlers" who eventually brought him down.

Vargas Llosa dedicates a large portion of the novel to narrating the eventual sad fates of Trujillo's assassins. Principal among these stories is that of the ex-Secretary of the Armed Forces José René "Pupo" Román, who had a minor role in the conspiracy to kill the dictator. Román was tortured in the most brutal and horrendous manner possible for several months before dying by Trujillo's son Ramfis. Some of the tortures described in The Feast of the Goat are so horrific to the point of incrediblity; nevertheless, the writer insists that he had to tone down some of the procedures used in the La Cuarenta prison in order to make them more believable, which is not to say more palatable.

The title of the novel is taken from the popular Dominican merengue Mataron al Chivo ("They Killed the Goat") which has its roots in the assassination of May 30, 1961. It is cited at the beginning of the novel:

El pueblo celebra
con gran entusiasmo
la fiesta del Chivo
el treinta de mayo

"The people celebrate
With great enthusiasm
the feast of the Goat
the thirtieth of May"

English translation: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, translated by Edith Grossman, 2001.

es:La fiesta del chivo


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