The Voyage Out Book Group’s Reader’s Guide to The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa
The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa (Translated by Edith Grossman)
The Literature of Latin America
Other Books From Region:
Roberto Bolano’s By Night in Chile
Julio Cortazar’s Hopscotch
The Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, whose deeply political work vividly examines the perils of power and corruption in Latin America, won the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature. Upon announcing the award, the Swedish Academy praised Mr. Vargas Llosa “for his cartography of the structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt and defeat.”
Mr. Vargas Llosa, 74, is one of the most celebrated writers of the Spanish-speaking world, an anti-totalitarian intellectual whose work covers the range of human experience, whether it is ideology or eros. He is frequently mentioned with his contemporary Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who won the literature Nobel in 1982. Mr. Vargas Llosa has written more than 30 works of nonfiction, plays and novels, including “The Feast of the Goat” and “The War of the End of the World.”
When Mr. Vargas Llosa was young and went to Europe for the first time, he said, “Latin America seemed to be a land where there were only dictators, revolutionaries, catastrophes. Now we know that Latin America can produce also artists, musicians, painters, thinkers and novelists.”
In Latin America Mr. Vargas Llosa is widely admired for his literary greatness but is a divisive figure because of his conservative politics. He has frequently criticized leftist governments in the region, including those of Cuba and Venezuela.
In Peru, members of Congress once took to the floor to praise him. People celebrated him in Arequipa, the provincial city where he was born, with Peruvian television showing a band playing the national anthem in the streets.
But the Mexican writer Paco Ignacio Taibo II said that Mr. Vargas Llosa was “deplorable as a citizen and as a person.”
Mr. Vargas Llosa first realized that he wanted to be a writer when he was a child, enthralled with an adventure novel by Jules Verne. He spent much of his early childhood in Cochabamba, Bolivia, then moved with his parents to a middle-class suburb of Lima. He attended the University of San Marcos in Lima in the mid-1950s — a tumultuous time in Peru — and later drew from that experience to write “Conversation in the Cathedral,” a novel published in 1969.
After college he wanted to leave Peru, and began his literary career abroad, living in London, Paris and Madrid.
His work found an international audience in the 1960s with the publication of “The Time of the Hero,” a novel based on a Peruvian military academy that aroused some controversy in his home country. By the early 1980s, he was one of the best-selling Latin American writers in the world, having published “Conversation,” “Green House” and the comic novel “Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter,” among other works.
“They’re not only fantastic novels that read beautifully,” Rubén Gallo, a professor of Spanish-American literature at Princeton, said. “He’s one of the authors who in the 20th century has written the most eloquently and the most poignantly about the intersection between culture and politics in Latin America.”
A brief and unsuccessful effort to officially enter the political arena came later. While Peru was besieged by high inflation and the attacks by the Maoists of the Shining Path in 1990, Mr. Vargas Llosa made a quixotic run for the presidency, opposing Alberto Fujimori, then a little-known agronomist.
Mr. Vargas Llosa was ahead in polls for much of his campaign, but some factors may have worked against him: his aristocratic bearing in impoverished Peru and his acknowledgment that in the largely Roman Catholic country, he was an agnostic.
Mr. Fujimori triumphed, and the failed bid left Mr. Vargas Llosa with a sour taste for politics in his country.
Afterward, Mr. Vargas Llosa’s influence in the Spanish-speaking world became more widespread through his column for El País, the Spanish daily newspaper in Madrid. The column, “Piedra de Toque,” or “Touchstone,” is distributed in newspapers throughout Latin America and explores themes including literature, travel and the politics of the Middle East and Latin America.
The previous Nobel laureate of the “boom generation,” Mr. García Márquez of Colombia, won after wide acclaim for his masterpiece, “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” In a twist worthy of one of Mr. Vargas Llosa’s subplots, Mr. García Márquez and Mr. Vargas Llosa, at one point close friends, had a violent falling out in 1976 in Mexico City, which they have yet to patch up.
The episode unfolded at a film premiere. When Mr. García Márquez approached Mr. Vargas Llosa to embrace him, the Peruvian writer instead punched him in the face, giving him a black eye, an image immortalized days later by the photographer Rodrigo Moya. Mystery shrouds what happened, but apparently the feud had to do with Mr. Vargas Llosa’s wife, whom Mr. García Márquez had consoled during a marital estrangement.
Mr. Vargas Llosa is very fond of futbol, and is generous with his money. He is particularly a supporter of higher education.
Questions/ Tangents/ Topics:
1) The book is broken up into three distinct sections that are interwoven by chapters, how is the writing style different across the three sections, and does this style alter the ways we think about the characters?
2) What type of villain is Trujillo?
3) How has the passage of time altered the characters thoughts about Trujillo?
4) How does sexuality and sex interact in the novel? In other words, what types of power plays are made with sex?
5) Why did Urania come back? Was it a successful trip?
What We Talked About When We Talked About This Book:
- Machismo was an unnamed character. We talked about the ways each character interacted with History and family in terms of the masculine society in which they lived.
- Torture is everywhere in the book. We talked about what is too much when it comes to these types of descriptions (or if too much exists). How does the story come across as useful if it is off putting, or, is off putting the point?
- Trujillo is a giant, but the main character of this story seems to be Urania. Is Vargas Llosa hopeful?
- We talked about the interaction between real people in a fictionalized account of history. How much were we on Google? How much does it matter if you can contextualize the book within history? The book does stand on its own, with no need for prior knowledge, but is it made better through research?