Trujillo return in novel haunts Dominicans
By Susannah A. Nesmith ASSOCIATED PRESS

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic

Mario Vargas Llosa spent months researching his new novel about the late Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo, and found, 39 years after Trujillo's death, a society still haunted by his long dictatorship.

For much of last week, Vargas Llosa, the Peruvian novelist and essayist, has been in Santo Domingo both promoting and defending his new novel, "La Fiesta del Chivo" ("The Goat's Party"). He says the book, though fictional, represents the "human truth" of the dictatorship.

It is a version that many Dominicans, still struggling to solidify their democracy, are not comfortable with. The book has left many in this Caribbean nation of 8 million feeling a little exposed, a little embarrassed.

Trujillo governed the Dominican Republic from 1930 to 1961, when he was assassinated by a handful of conspirators.

"The iron curtain that we have covered ourselves with for decades has been broken," said Carlos Francisco Elias, a literary critic.

Trujillo's legacy was a series of authoritarian administrations, fraudulent elections and a culture that reveres strongmen - including Joaquin Balaguer, a close Trujillo aide who led the country on and off from 1962 through 1996, and who, at 93, is running again for president in May.

Visiting for the first time since the book was published, Vargas Llosa told a crowd of more than 800 that everything in the novel either had happened "or could have happened."

Vargas Llosa said it had pained him to learn that the family of Antonio de la Maza, one of the men who assassinated Trujillo, was unhappy.


"If I have admiration for any of the characters that figure in the novel, it is for the seven men who waited for Trujillo on the highway to San Cristobal and killed him there," Vargas Llosa said.

De la Maza's relatives bought an advertisement in the newspaper Hoy saying the novel would confuse younger generations who didn't live through "the system that asphyxiated us."

All of the conspirators have died.

A historian and former ambassador to the United States, Bernardo Vega, noted that none of the assassins' families had come to hear Vargas Llosa speak. "The families are not happy with the book because he treats them as humans who get drunk and cheat on their wives and have human weaknesses, rather than as the heroes we read about in history books," Vega said.

In Vargas Llosa style, "The Goat's Party" moves back and forth in time and place.

It begins with the fictionalized memories of a woman whose father had fallen out of favor with the regime and who had offered her to Trujillo to satisfy Trujillo's rumored passion for young girls.

Her memories are superimposed on the story of the dictator's assassins and of his final days. Scenes of the torture those men suffered in prison afterward are mixed with a portrait of the woman, Urania Cabral, visiting her father for the first time since her encounter in Trujillo's bedroom 35 years earlier.

Vargas Llosa also devotes a good bit of the book to Balaguer, his puppet president, describing how he had managed to stay in power. The author said he portrayed Balaguer as cold and calculating because he had come across that way in interviews and in "a good part of his works."

Balaguer has not publicly commented on the book.