Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Feast of the Goat


The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa | LibraryThing

* A 1001 Books Book

Vargas, L. M., & Grossman, E. (2001). The Feast of the Goat. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. 9780374154769

I eventually picked up The Feast of the Goat for a few reasons – my latent interest in turbulent Dominican history, the book’s listing as a “Core” 1001 Books Book, and writer Vargas Llosa’s recent status as a Nobel Prize Laureate. Ironically, I finished the book around the fiftieth anniversary of Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina’s assassination. So, I pulled this book off one of HCPL’s shelves.

Vargas Llosa offers three distinctly different storylines throughout the book –  the fictitious Urania Cabral in the 1990s, Trujillo’s assassins, and then Trujillo/El Jefe/The Goat. on his last day – 30 May 1961. The author alternates between these three points of view.

Storyline 1 – In the 1990s, successful attorney Urania returns to her native Dominican Republic for the first time in years. She visits her invalid father, the once powerful Secretary of State Agustin Cabral. Agustin fell out of favor El Jefe. Urania angrily recalls her last days in the DR with Agustin. Later, Urania relates her nightmarish coming of age to her aunt and cousins. The Cabral family was created by Vargas Llosa.

Storyline 2 – the assassins lie in wait on 30 May 1961 for Trujillo. These real-life killers are Antonio Imbert Barrera, Antonio de la Maza, Salvador Estrella Sadhalá – “Turk,” and Amado García Guerrero – Amadito. Each one bears the scars for want The Goat dead. Vargas Llosa based his characters on actual people.

Storyline 3 – Trujillo lives out his last day. El Jefe reminisces about his despotic career, his family, tough relations on the world stage, and his regular deflowering of young girls. Vargas Llosa took an actual dictator and made him even more villainous.

Vargas Llosa recreates the last days of the Trujillo Regime quite vividly. The feelings of desperation, hopelessness, and machismo pervade. The truest rendering of characters were the ones the author made up – the Cabrals. I found the “real people” rather suspect.

I’m happy I read this book because I could see connections to the writings of both Junot Díaz and Julia Alvarez. I wonder if Díaz used the name Cabral as a tribute to The Feast of the Goat. However, I found some parts – especially those from The Goat’s point of view, tedious and disgusting. I felt a need to wash out my eyes or something. Also, I liked that Urania found some peace in sharing her experience with the women of her family.

Three and a Half Out of Five Pearls

Song: YouTube – Antonio Morel y Su Orquesta feat Macabi “El Chivo”

Places : The Dominican Republic, The United States

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Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits


* 1001 Books Book

Allende, I. (2005). The house of the spirits. New York: Dial Press. 9780553383805

Allende, I. (1985). The house of the spirits. New York: A.A. Knopf. 9780394539072

Having enjoyed Allende’s writing in the past, I checked out The House of the Spirits from HCPL. Before I proceed, I must state that I’ve never read anything by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. From what I’ve seen online, this will color the reader’s opinion of The House of the Spirits.

This work is the saga of the Truebas, a family living in an unnamed South American country (presumably Chile). It follows the Trueba family for  four generations against a backdrop of political definition, struggle, and upheaval of the twentieth century. There’s also a talk of The Politician (Salvador Allende) and his fall from power.

Allende tells the story through two different voices – a third person narrator and Esteban Trueba, the elderly patriarch. The latter was engaged to Rosa del Valle, also called Rosa la Bella. When Rosa dies from an accidental poisoning, Esteban throws himself into the reconstruction of his family’s hacienda, Las Tres Marias. Esteban takes out his rage on the peasants, raping many of the females.

The matriarch of the House of Trueba is Clara del Valle, who is introduced in the first line of the book. Clara possesses all sorts of ESP and she’s sister of Rosa the Beautiful. Inadvertantly, she predicts the death of Rosa. When this happens, Clara falls silent for years. She only communicates through writing while maintaining a family history.The next time Clara talks, she announces that she’ll marry Esteban Trueba.

When they do marry, they reside in the house on the corner. Soon, they have children (Blanca, twins Jaime and Nicolas) in this house. The house  where many gather around Clara. This group includes both living and dead folks. Among the living are the Mora Sisters and the Poet (thought to be Pablo Neruda).

I was amazed by this work. As I’ve mentioned in reviewing Island Beneath the Sea, Allenda is a gifted storyteller. These characters are so real that I can almost see them. The magical elements almost offer the book the feel of fairy tale. For example, Rosa the Beautiful has green hair and yellow eyes. Esteban and Clara’s granddaughter, Alba, also has green hair. Yet, Allende gets down to business such as Pinochet’s coup on September 11, 1973. Of all of her works I’ve read, this one is the best.

Four Out of Five Pearls

Places: Chile, Peru, Europe, United States, Canada, China

Literary Ties: Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz, Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley, Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros

For more reviews of Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits, please click on the following links:

Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises


Audiobook read by William Hurt

*1001 Books Book

Hemingway, E., & William, H. (1926). Ernest Hemingway’s The sun also rises. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc.  9780743564410

I attempted reading this particular Hemingway novel several years ago but wasn’t in the mood. So, I added this to my “To Be Read/TBR” list and read other books. In my perpetual quest for shorter audiobooks, I stumbled upon The Sun Also Rises in the HCPL catalog. When I noticed that the narrator was William Hurt, I decided to give The Sun Also Rises another try.

Narrator Jake Barnes  is an American journalist expatriate in Paris as well as a World War I veteran.  Injuries from WWI have rendered Jake impotent. He drinks a lot and is a bullfighting aficionado.

Jake begins the novel by describing his “friend” Robert Cohn. Cohn is a rich Jewish American expatriate who, like Jake, is a writer. Cohn didn’t fight in The Great War. Facing much anti-Semitism at Princeton, Cohn has grown a chip on his shoulder; he fits right in with his contemporaries of Rive Gauche and the Lost Generation. Cohn lives with his social-climbing girlfriend Frances Clyne.

Listlessly, Cohn seeks escape and stops by Jake’s office to get him to go to South America with him. Jake turns him down and avoids Cohn as much as possible. That evening, Jake drifts through bars and clubs and eventually runs into the love of his life. The beautiful, magnetic Lady Brett Ashley is a twice-divorced Englishwoman whom Jake met during the War. Brett loves Jake but will not commit to Jake due to his impotence. Brett does not commit to any man.  Cohn sees Brett, falls for her, and an affair ensues.

All of this proves calamitous when Jake treks to Pamplona to see the bullfights. Jake’s an aficionado whereas his friends want to party. He’s joined by fellow expatriate and war veteran Bill Gorton, Brett, Cohn, and Mike Campbell, Brett’s fiancé. When the handsome bullfighter Romero enters the scene, Brett wants him. At this point, Brett has three men competing for her attention.

The writing and tragedy are exquisite. Jake’s star-crossed love is poignant; the disconnect of this group is stiffling. Jake finds himself in a bind – should he extend Brett in the form of Romero or should he remain true to the code of Spaniard bullfighting aficionados?

Four Out of Five Pearls

Places: France, Spain, The United States, The United Kingdom, Italy

Literary Ties: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, “In a Station of the Metro” by Ezra Pound, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark, Ecclesiastes 1:5,

For more on Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, check out the following:

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice


*1001 Books Book

Austen, J., & Gibson, F. (2000). Pride and prejudice. Recorded Books classics library. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books. 9780788749148

I was on one of my bursts of wanting to read more of the 1001 Books list when I saw Austen’s Pride and Prejudice among the audiobooks shelf at one of the HCPL branches. Since so many of my friends and colleagues raved about this book and I enjoyed Bride and Prejudice, I finally listened to Austen’s great novel of manners.

In early nineteenth century England, the Bennet family faces the daunting consequences of fee tail. Mr. Bennet has five daughters (lovely Jane, clever Elizabeth, plain Mary, silly Kitty, and frivolous Lydia) and no sons. None of the Bennet women can inherit from Mr. Bennet; his estate will go to his closest male relative. Compounding the issue is his vacuous wife, Mrs. Bennet, who singlemindedly wants her daughters to marry well. 

When wealthy bachelor Mr. Bingley rents a nearby estate, he and Jane quickly like each other. Of course, it takes they don’t realize that the feeling’s mutual. It doesn’t help that Bingley has ornery friend Mr. Darcy advising him against pursuing Jane. On top of that, Darcy is the coldest, most prideful person Elizabeth has ever encountered. . . or so it seems.

This work, like many of Austen’s others, formed the definition of the modern novel. Excellent characterization, plot development, dialogue, and slice of life all can be found within the covers of Pride and Prejudice. These characters are so familiar that we can see them in our contemporary lives.

Four Out of Five Pearls.

Places: Great Britain

Linkage:

James Baldwin’s Go Tell It On The Mountain


* 1001 Books Book
Baldwin, J. (1995). Go tell it on the mountain. New York: Modern Library. 9780679601548

The title of this book alone piqued my interest. Prior to  checking it out from HCPL, I was quite wary of this book. Nevertheless, my curiosity beat out my fear; after all, I’m strong in my beliefs.

Generally speaking, this semi-autobiographical novel follows characters connected to a storefront Pentecostal church in 1930s Harlam. It’s a day in the life sort of thing as well as a multi-generational  story.

The main character is John (James Baldwin), a young teenage boy being reared by his victimized mother Elizabeth and her husband, the strict, violent “preacher” Gabriel.  Gabriel abuses his family and seems to “have it in” for John, more so than John’s siblings. In return, John despises his father and fantasizes about killing him.  When John has such dreams and homoerotic feelings, he feels the wrath of God.

John shares center stage with his parents and his Aunt Florence as well. Still and all, it’s mostly John’s story. In addition to all of the abuse, John carries the burden of being held to high standards. He is expected to be a preacher when he grows up, unlike his impish younger brother, Roy. So, the reader sees the fateful day where John must decide between duty and temptation.

I have a feeling that this was a good book. The prose is clear and illustrative. These could be people I know. Yet, I didn’t enjoy it much. I’m tired of reading about abusive fire and brimstone spouting types at the moment. I felt Baldwin’s pain but I’m weary of reading about violent Christians. Maybe I should reread Cry, The Beloved Country.

Three Out of Five Pearls

Word Bank: (pending)

  • Come to Jesus
  • Fundamentalist
  • Pentecostal
  • Seventh Day
  • Storefront
  • Threshing Floor

Places: Harlem & Manhattan, New York; Georgia

For more on James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain, please check out the following links:

Happy Anniversary, Atticus & Scout!


Fifty years ago today, Harper Lee’s timeless To Kill a Mockingbird was published. This is one of my all-time favorite books and I own at least one copy of it somewhere.

Congrats to the book and to its author! May more people discover the lessons taught by Atticus Finch!

Kathy Kemp: Let us now praise Harper Lee

La Fayette’s The Princess of Clèves


* 1001 Books Book

La Fayette, Segrais, J. R. d., & La Rochefoucauld, F. (1951). The Princess of Clèves. New York: New Directions.

So, I’ve been trying to climb onto the 1001 Books wagon again. A Pre-1700s title stood out to me – The Princess of Clèves. After requesting it through interlibrary loan (ILL), I found myself reading La Fayette’s The Princess of Clèves.

Before I mention the plot, let me explain some of the context. The book was published anonymously in March 1678 and the events took place in 1558.  Some say this is the first work of historical fiction in that someone such as La Fayette researched another day and time and then wrote the novel. Most remarkably, this novel of Henry II’s French Court faithfully adheres to French historical record.

La Fayette brings us to the court of French Henry II. We meet the “who’s who” and become acquainted with the intrigues and the precarious nature of royal favor. Madame de Chartres brings her beautiful ingenue daughter to this very court as a wide-eyed fifteen year old. Her mother seeks out a husband for lovely, virtuous daughter.  The de Chartres don’t do so well thanks to seemingly petty jealousies. Nonetheless, the Prince de Clèves has come into his own inheritance and can do as he pleases. . . He wants the lovely Mademoiselle de Chartres for his wife. Although he’s second-rate, the de Chartres accept his offer. Soon, the Prince of Clèves finds himself disappointed. While she’s nice about his affection, Madame of Clèves does not return them.

Matters aren’t helped when the handsome Duc of Nemours comes onto the scene. The Duc of Nemours and the Princess of Clèves fall in love. The titular character has a dilemma between remaining true to the Prince of Clèves or running off with her perfect match, the Duc of Nemours.

I was happy that the version of book I read had a list of characters in the back. Not knowing much about this part of French history was a bit of a loss for me. Yet, I admired how closely observed the history was in the book. I did research as I read and could appreciate all La Fayette said in this regard. Let me say that her main character was fictitious.

Also outstanding is the psychology of a book from the 1600s! There’s drama and such internal conflict. The emotions and the dilemmas of these characters are very modern.

One thing which bothered me was a lack of names. Okay, she’s Mademoiselle de Chartres and then she’s the Princess of Clèves. Could we at least give her one constant – a name? How about Marie?

Four out of Five Pearls

Word Bank:

Cyphers

Dauphin/Dauphine

Places: France

For more on La Fayette’s The Princess of Clèves, please check out the following links:

Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea


Borrowing from Arukiyomi . . . I read this by my PC mostly.

* 1001 Books Book

Rhys, J., Raiskin, J. L., & Brontë, C. (1999). Wide Sargasso Sea. New York: W.W. Norton. 9780393960129

I reviewed Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre after reading it in 2008. Spotting Wide Sargasso Sea on the infamous 1001 Books list, I skimmed the info in my book and mentally added it to my TBR list. Recently, I watched the Masterpiece Theatre version and thought of Rhys’ prequel. After some debate with my coworkers about what sort of monster the first Mrs. Rochester should be, I picked up the Norton Critical Edition of Wide Sargasso Sea.

Rhys takes up the cause of the madwoman in the attic – (Bertha) Antoinette Cosway Mason. Part I is told by the young  Antoinette, a beautiful white Creole heiress in Jamaica (circa 1834).  She’s troubled from the start – burdened with a derainged widowed mother, no father in early years, and the issue of a line of slaveholders.  In free Jamaica, Antoinette is neither Jamaican nor British. It doesn’t help that other kids call her a “white cockroach.” Things don’t improve much for Antoinette until her mother remarries Mr. Mason. While not fond of her stepfather, Mr. Mason offers order in a crazy world.

Part II is told by the unnamed husband (Mr. Rochester) of Antoinette. He wonders what he has done, marrying a stranger.  Apparently, he came down with a fever after arriving in Jamaica. Nonetheless, the husband has gained much in this union. He and Antoinette arrive at their honeymoon house. Eventually, the ice breaks (so to speak) between the two and things go well. Then, the husband receives a letter which changes everything.

Part III is voiced by Bertha as she’s now called. She talks from the attic of Thornfield Hall.

Rhys is no Charlotte Brontë. Part of me wants to cry “blasphemy!” Then again, these are two fictional works. I did find Antoinette sympathetic but I felt manipulated. I can feel sorry for a girl in an unstable house. In fact, I felt bad for Bertha in Jane Eyre.

I didn’t care for the reworking of the time setting, either. Here, Rhys tried to make the events coincide with the Jamaican abolition. I think she could’ve had some sort of Jamaican antebellum cries within her work. She didn’t need to have it set later.

Nor was I fond of the “male oppression” themes. Yes, things were that bad for women then. However, where was Antoinette’s mother when she needed her? She was taken care of by her stepfather. I felt like I was being hit over the head with this. Of course, this is likened to Britain’s treatment of Jamaica.

Perhaps another turnoff was that the book was rife with footnotes and explanations of what I was to read and then explanations of what I had just read. In this case, the notes hindered rather than helped.

I say Two Out of Five Pearls

Places: Jamaica, Dominica, Martinique, England

Word Bank: (definitions thanks to book cited above)

  1. calabash: a large dried gourd of the local calabash tree; they were used as bowls.
  2. Creole: in this context, those of English or European descent born in the Caribbean.
  3. frangipani tree: also called plumieria, a small tree native to the West indies with flowers that smell very sweet, especially at night.
  4. Maroon: in Jamaica, this term referred to the runaway slaves and their descendants who escaped to the mountains  and lived free in small communities.
  5. Patois: A French word also used in English to refer to any dialect that develops out of contact between the language of a colonizing people (i.e., English) and that of a colonized people (i.e., Native Americans).
  6. salt fish:  salted, dried cod imported from Canada as standard food for slaves and wages for apprentices. The colloquial connotations of the term “salt fish” include low-class stutus and low quality of character, as well as a poor diet.
  7. sargassum: a free-floating mass of seaweed. It is found in the Sargasso Sea, an oval-shaped area of the North Atlantic Sea, bordered by the Gulf Stream and encompassing the Bermuda Islands.

For more on Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea, check out these links: