I still remember the university class when I first saw “The Feast of the Goat”. The course was called The Military History of Latin America, taught by a young and energetic professor who I was sure couldn’t even have a Master’s degree, he was just too excited. The first day of the course he handed out the class outline, along with the customary list of required reading materials for the semester. If it wasn’t imposing enough to see the list of 10 or so books on paper, the professor decided that it would be a good idea to also pass around a stack of the books so people could “have a look at them”.
I remember taking the stack and thinking “I will not read a single page of any of these”, but I would. I remember flipping through the textbooks only to see a little novel-looking book in the middle of the stack.
“The Feast of the Goat” I thought, “this must have been put in here accidentally, it looks like a novel.”
As the semester began I undertook my usual duties of buying hundreds of dollars worth of books I’d be able to sell back for 5% of their cost at year’s end. I would then read the first 5 or 6 pages before deciding that I could just skim the book before the tests. However, when I picked up Mario Vargas Llosa‘s “Feast of the Goat” something funny happened, I couldn’t put it down. In fact, I read the entire book in one sitting, something that to this date I’ve only done on that one occasion.
The Feast of the Goat is what I would call a semi-fiction novel. It takes real events, real places, and then takes the real people and puts you in their shoes allowing you to think what they may have been thinking, feel what they may have be feeling, and see the world through their eyes. In the case of this book we are taken to the end of the Rafael Trujillo era in The Dominican Republic. Vargas Llosa puts us in the shoes not only of the harsh Dominican dictator himself but also the exiled daughter of one of his former administration chiefs, and the men who are planning his assassination.
Arriving in the Dominican Republic most people see the white sands, the beautiful waters, and the stunning all-inclusive resorts. Very few reach back and see this part of the country, a part of the country that has struggled, has cried, and has had to fight for its freedom and independence. For anyone who travels to the Dominican Republic, “The Feast of the Goat” should be required reading.
At the end of the day, this novel isn’t just a look into Dominincan history, but in many ways is a look into the history of Latin America as a whole. Next time you’re in the book store be sure to pick this up, you’ll thank me later.