The Feast of the Goat is a novel based on the true story of the assassination of Trujillo, President of the Dominican Republic from the 1930s to 1961.
The story begins with the return of Urania, daughter to one of the president’s henchmen. She left the DR as a teenager, has never come back, and hates her father, an old man confined to a wheelchair and fed by nurses and relatives. She has not seen him, or replied to his letters in forty years.
Urania’s story alternates with others: those of the group of men waiting on the highway for Trujillo’s car to pass so they can carry out their plans of assassination. Each has a history with the dictator, and a story to tell. As the novel develops Urania tells her grotesque tale to her appalled cousins: a story of her father’s betrayal and cowardice and his sacrifice of her to the impotent and incontinent dictator. The other voices fill in the cruel details of Trujillo’s character and methods.
The early parts of this novel are quite slow, and a little difficult to follow. The point of view can shift from paragraph to paragraph with little warning and few signals for the reader. One minute the present, another the past: the histories of the assassins cut into their conversations as they wait to kill Trujillo in 1961; Urania’s different present forty years later is filled with her memories. For me these complications were exacerbated by the Spanish names, and a tendency to slip between the nicknames, family names and Christian names of the same characters.
Later the novel picks up pace. From the moment of the assassination events race on, as the fate of each conspirator is outlined in thrilling and often shocking detail.
The blurb has a quotation from the TLS that says this novel is emblematic of Latin America in the c20: 100 Years of Solitude should step aside. I can see how a tale of violent dictatorship could be emblematic of Latin America, but as writing this book has none of the brilliance or originality of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It doesn’t intend to. The Feast of the Goat is a political thriller, at its best when it thrills: elsewhere less engaging, though a grim and interesting insight into its subject.