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Mario Vargas Llosa's La fiesta del chivo: history, fiction, or social psychology?

The Latin American novel of dictatorship has long constituted a "subgenre" of Latin American historical fiction. (1) The mid-nineteenth-century novel Amalia, by Jose Marmol, is frequently cited as the very first work of this sort, based on the dictatorship of Juan Manuel Rosas in Argentina. A long list of novels has followed, including Miguel Angel Asturias's El senor presidente (1946), Alejo Carpentier's El recurso del metodo (1974), Gabriel Garcia Marquez's El otono del patriarca (1975), Augusto Roa Bastos's Yo el Supremo (1974), and Luisa Valenzuela's Cola de lagartija (1983), just to name a few. MarioVargas Llosa has twice forayed into this genre: first, in his novel Conversacion en La Catedral (1969), based on the dictatorship of Manuel Odria (during the years 1948-1956 in Peru); second, in his novel La fiesta del chivo (2000), based on the dictatorship of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo in the Dominican Republic from 1931-1961. In an interview with Enrique Krauze, Vargas Llosa explains his motivation for writing La fiesta del chivo:
   Yo estuve en Republica Dominicana [en 1975] cerca de ocho meses y
   oi muchisimas anecdotas sobre un tema que parecia inevitable en
   todas las conversaciones con dominicanos: la era de Trujillo.
   Tambien lei algunos libros sobre este personaje, sobre la
   conspiracion para acabar con el, sobre la vertiginosa represion. Y
   de todo eso quiza lo que mas me impresiono fue la conducta de
   personajes como el general Roman, conspiradores importantisimos que
   hicieron fracasar la conspiracion.  Por que fracaso? Porque los
   principales conspiradores quedaron paralizados por lo que habian
   hecho ... Trujillo seguia dentro de ellos, vivo aunque el cadaver
   estaba alli. (22).

Thus, the author's stated intent is to illustrate the effects of Trujillo's dictatorship on the Dominican psyche through a historically-based, novelistic recreation of the Trujillo era. Since its appearance in 2000, many critics have commented upon the historical basis of La fiesta del chivo, but none has fully explored the relationship between the novel and history. Only Robin Lefere has discussed the text's place within the Latin American historical novel, suggesting first, that La fiesta del chivo falls short of what a contemporary historical novel should be, because it does not problematize its relationship to history ("Lectura critica," 544). Second, Lefere claims that because the novel lacks any aclaratory paratextual information regarding its historical sources, it would be:

erroneo--no procedente, contrario al 'pacto ficticio' que se nos propone --inferir del texto datos y conocimientos relativos a un referente extratextual determinado, como la dictadura de Trujillo [...] en rigor, solo podemos y debemos leer la novela como una fabula, que nos habla de la dictadura y del poder, pero de forma metaforica y universalista; cualquier parecido con la realidad es pura coincidencia. ("La fiesta del chivo" 332)

Lefere's comments ignore a long tradition of surreptitious use of historical intertexts in contemporary Latin American historical fiction. Although some novels, like Garcia Marquez's El general en su laberinto or Roa Bastos' Yo el Supremo make explicit reference to some of their historical sources, other intertexts are covertly cited or alluded to within these texts, in a way similar to Vargas Llosa's employment of historiography in La fiesta del chivo. Such "hidden" references and parallels nonetheless invite a simultaneous reading of historical sources (which, in the case of Vargas Llosa's novel, are, not surprisingly, easy to discover) as well as a dialogue with them on the historical figure portrayed in the novel. In this manner, Vargas Llosa, like his predecessors, implicitly questions the relationship between fiction and history, and the relative truth values of each. (2)

Lefere's confusion on this topic may stem in part from the specific type of historical fiction that Vargas Llosa creates in La fiesta del chivo. First, the author's work neatly reflects Noe Jitrik's definition of the historical novel in Latin America. Jitrik favors a somewhat broad definition of the historical novel which can include works that focus on local customs (costumbrismo), social and/or political criticism, and social psychology. According to Jitrik:
   la novela historica se propone representar conflictos sociales ...
   pero tambien ... podrian entrar manifestaciones costumbristas, de
   critica social o politica y aun de psicologia social ... en tal
   abanico, una constante insoslayable seria la referencia a hechos
   historicos ... En suma, ... lo que peculiarizaria la nocion de
   novela historica es la re ferencia a un momento considerado como
   historico ... y ... cierto apoyo documental realizado por quien se
   propone tal representacion. (20-21)

Jitrik's definition citing the inclusion of representations of social psychology combined with historical documentation characterizes with precision the type of historical fiction that Vargas Llosa achieves in La fiesta del chivo. Vargas Llosa fictionalizes history by inventing a series of characters and events who reflect the Dominican people's internalization of a code of humiliation, adulation, and subservience vis a vis Trujillo.

Vargas Llosa has explicitly stated his view of the relationship between historical fact and narrative fiction in his article "The Truth of Lies." According to the author:
   Successful fiction embodies the subjectivity of an epoch and for
   that reason, although compared to history novels lie, they
   communicate to us fleeting and evanescent truths which always
   escape scientific descriptions of reality. Only literature has the
   techniques and power to distill this delicate elixir of life: the
   truth hidden in the heart of human lies. (164).

In other words, Vargas Llosa's interpretation of the demoralization and paralysis of the Dominican nation as a psychological factor operative in the perpetuation of the Trujillo dictatorship and the ultimate inability of the conspiracy against Trujillo to lead to a successful overthrow of his government, may be thought of as an example of the "fleeting and evanescent truths" provided by literature as opposed to history books.

In this process of elucidating the social psychology of the Dominican nation, Vargas Llosa's novel also illustrates the concept of "fiction biography" as described by Naomi Jacobs in The Character of Truth: Historical Figures in Contemporary Fiction. Jacobs defines three different types of contemporary historical fiction: 1) fiction biographies; 2) fiction histories; and 3) recombinant fiction. According to Jacobs, fiction biographies are fictional works that treat a time period in the life of a single historical figure. These works employ both modernist and postmodernist literary techniques and do not subscribe to the traditional obligations of completeness and objectivity that characterize historical biography. Historical facts serve merely as a departure point for the equally valid fictional development that "may provide truths more valuable than those built on factual research" (Jacobs xx; 28). Jacobs's notion of fictional development providing more valid truths than factual research is a concept that neatly coincides with Vargas Llosa's notion of the "fleeting and evanescent truths" of fiction. Jacobs asserts that in the twentieth century the tasks of the biographer and the fiction writer more closely approximate each other than ever before:
   Since we now tend to locate the true meaning of a life in the
   private springs of public actions, any biographer who undertakes to
   present a life must attempt to provide knowledge that cannot be
   established irrefutably upon facts; working more or less from
   speculation, the biographer finally resurrects a spirit that could
   be the biographer's own shadow. More and more, biographies have
   come to read like psychological novels, and once biographers had
   entered the domain of the novelist, it was inevitable that serious
   novelists would reenter the domain of the biographer ... The new
   fiction biographer solves this problem [of verifiable vs. imagined
   elements] by creating a context in which the two sorts of facts,
   now indistinguishable from one another, serve equally the
   stimulative function of truth and the symbolic and evocative
   functions of fiction. (30-31)

Jacobs's comment about the linking of truth and the symbolic functions of fiction leads us to her second category, fiction histories. The author defines these works as those that reduce historical figures to simplified types. They go beyond specific historical contexts and present historical figures as "representative of unchanging patterns of human behavior" (Jacobs, xx). Jacobs's third category, recombinant fiction, refers to the mixture of historical and mythical figures that destroys all boundaries between fiction and history.

Vargas Llosa's La fiesta del chivo clearly exemplifies Jacobs's concept of fiction biography. The Peruvian author focuses on the "slice of life" constituted by the final days of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo's existence. From this concretely historical departure point, through flashbacks, dialogues, and reminiscences, other key moments in the dictator's life are recreated in the novel. Although the novel is based on historical sources, it presents multiple and first person narrators (as opposed to omniscient narration), and Trujillo and other characters' thoughts, dialogues and conversations. These are the so-called "imagined facts" (in addition to invented characters and anecdotes) that blend with the verifiable ones (historical names, dates, and events) to create the fusion of truth and the symbolic effect of fiction. This symbolic effect is manifested through the representation of absolute power and its effects on a populace. (3)

The "imagined facts" present in La fiesta del chivo are carefully interwoven with information from historical sources and frequently overlap with them within the novel. These "imagined facts" illustrate Vargas Llosa's main novelistic technique in La fiesta del chivo: the invention of characters and/or events during the Trujillo dictatorship, which, although not historically documented, illustrate Vargas Llosa's interpretation of historical information about the Trujillo era as expressed in historical documentation. Vargas Llosa either invents circumstances or manipulates historical facts to express his vision of the social psychology of the Dominican people under the dictatorship. Vargas Llosa portrays the Dominicans as a people so frightened, browbeaten and manipulated by the Trujillo government, as to have internalized a code of subservience and humiliation which rendered them paralytic and doomed to inaction until the conspirators of May 30th finally assassinated Trujillo. The failure of this act to propel the nation into rising up against the government and instituting a new one, is also seen as a result of years of psychological abuse that causes the nation to be paralyzed by Trujillo's death.

The first conspirator upon whom Vargas Llosa focuses in the novel is the army lieutenant Amado Garcia Guerrero. The narrator informs us that Trujillo tests Garcia Guerrero's loyalty by forbidding his marriage to Luisa Gil, whose brother was supposedly a conspirator against Trujillo, arrested for belonging to the opposition group, 14 de Junio. Although this episode appears to be fictional, it is based on Trujillo's historically documented tendency to subject his supporters to such proofs of faithfulness. The novel highlights Garcia Guerrero's servile behavior in this episode by emphasizing the intimidating effect of Trujillo's glance ["una mirada que nadie podia resistir sin bajar los ojos, intimidado, aniquilado por la fuerza que irradiaban esas pupilas perforantes" (52)] and Garcia Guerrero's passive acceptance of Trujillo's negative response:
   Salio con paso marcial, disimulando la zozobra que lo embargaba. Un
   militar obedecia las ordenes, sobre todo si venian del Benefactor y
   Padre de la Patria Nueva, quien habia distraido unos minutos de su
   tiempo para hablarle en persona. Si le habia dado esa orden a el,
   oficial privilegiado, era por su propio bien. Debia obedecer. (54).

Hence, Vargas Llosa uses historical information (that Trujillo subjected his men to such tests) projected through fictional details (Garcia Guerrero's marriage plans with Luisa Gil) to illustrate his thesis about the progressive squashing of the psyche of the Dominican people.

Another undocumented but plausible episode that highlights Dominican humiliation and passive acceptance is Trujillo's treatment of the character don Froilan, one of his ministers. In the novel, Trujillo has an affair with Froilan's wife. The dictator later boasts of his relationship with her in front of Froilan and in public:
   -- Saben ustedes cual ha sido la mejor, de todas las hembras que me
   tire? ... La cabeza de cabellos plateados busco y encontro, en el
   circulo de caballeros que escuchaba, la cara livida y regordeta del
   ministro. Y termino: La mujer de Froilan! ... don Froilan habia
   heroicamente sonreido, reido, festejado con los otros, la humorada
   del jefe ... tantos millones de personas ... aceptaron ser vejados
   de manera tan salvaje (lo fueron todos alguna vez) como esa noche,
   en Barahona, don Froilan Arala. (81-82)

Don Froilan's passive acceptance of Trujillo's outrageous comments and actions is offered as a typical example of the type of humiliating behavior to which the dictator subjected his people. The constant fear instilled in the public, the lack of free will and need to practice servile behavior, led to reactions of paralysis and passivity among the Dominican people. Although the narrator of La fiesta del chivo affirms with regard to this episode: "Lo contaba el propio Crassweller, el mas conocido biografo de Trujillo" (83), no such mention appears in this historical source. Instead, we are told by Crassweller that Trujillo used sex "for other purposes than sex itself, the use of it as a lever. In Trujillo's case it was employed at times as an instrument of power" (Crassweller, 80). Such passages in historical texts allow the reader to imagine Trujillo doing just the sort of thing Vargas Llosa attributes to him in the novel (bedding his minister's wife to test and humiliate him), but without his actually having necessarily performed the specific actions attributed to him by novelistic discourse. Thus, there is a certain foundation in historical documentation, at the same time that the events appear to be purely fictional. They are "imagined facts," yet their historical derivation contributes to their expression of greater truths achieved through fictional development: the psychological damage and general demoralization suffered by Dominicans under Trujillo.

Many other similar examples can be cited. When Juan Tomas Diaz, one of the dictator's generals, shows mercy toward the invaders during the VenezuelanCuban attack on the government of the Dominican Republic, Trujillo removes him from his post and then holds a dinner to which he invites him in order to shame him in front of his fellow officers. Diaz's only reaction is to lower his gaze, unable to meet Trujillo's stare (96-100). When Antonio de la Maza's brother is murdered by the regime because he was witness to the Galindez murder ordered by Trujillo, he remains silent, as if paralyzed (130) and passively accepts Trujillo's pacifying offer of some government contracts. Even after Trujillo's assassination, characters, such as general Pupo Roman, are portrayed as unable to act to consummate the government overthrow because of a passivity instilled in them for years and years under the Trujillo dictatorship: "Sumido en esa especie de hipnosis penso que su indolencia acaso se debia a que, aunque el cuerpo del Jefe estuviera muerto, su alma, su espiritu o como se llamara eso, continuaba esclavizandolo" (450). Pupo Roman's inaction is of course historically documented, but here Vargas Llosa offers an interpretation of the inner motives of historical figures. Such motives have never been historically determined, since Pupo Roman was subsequently arrested and tortured to death by Trujillo's son and the remaining state intelligence apparatus.

Of all the novelistic episodes that dwell on the servile behavior, humiliation and paralysis of the Dominican nation, the one that stands out the most is the story of Urania Cabral and her father, Agustin Cabral. This episode, the central one of the novel, focuses on Cabral's desperate reaction when he suddenly falls into disfavor with Trujillo. Through Urania's recollections and narration, we learn that Cabral offered the virginity of his fourteen year old daughter as a peace offering to Trujillo, in the hopes that the dictator (who was merely testing his loyalty) would restore him to his former position. Although Agustin Cabral and Urania are largely fictitious characters, the act of offering one's daughter to Trujillo in this manner, was a historically documented practice that shows better than any other, the level of demoralization and servitude of the Dominican nation.

Vargas Llosa invents and develops Urania according to the way in which Trujillo actually treated women, according to a number of historical sources. Trujillo y sus mujeres by Ramon Alberto Ferreras is the historical source that serves as the main inspiration for Vargas Llosa's representation of Urania and the horrible experiences that befall her. Ferreras describes the practice of fathers offering Trujillo the supreme sacrifice of their daughters' virginity thus:
   Aquel personaje [Trujillo] de quien era orgullo en sus dias, para
   algunos padres, el que sus hijas sostuvieran relaciones sexuales
   con el tirano ... Fueron muchachas con quienes Trujillo ejercio el
   medieval "derecho" de "prima noitte" o de pernada, ... con o sin su
   consentimiento previo. (57-60)

In addition, the following comment by Ferreras is clearly the source for the description of how Urania loses her virginity at Trujillo's Casa de Caoba:
   Hay quienes aseguran; basados en confesiones de algunas de las
   muchas virgenes que desfloro Trujillo entre 1950 y 1961, que cuando
   ya el miembro viril no respondia con erecciones rapidas, ante la
   presencia de las invioladas formas de la hermosa nina que tuviera
   delante [...] Trujillo se irritaba consigo mismo, y en varias
   ocasiones llego hasta romper el himen de una que otra muchacha,
   utilizando el dedo mayor de su mano derecha. (98).

If we compare this description to Vargas Llosa's disturbing narration of the sexual encounter between Urania and Trujillo, it is impossible not to see Ferreras's book as its source:
      --Te equivocas si crees que vas a salir de aqui virgen, a
   burlarte de mi con tu padre--deletreaba, con sorda colera, soltando

      Cogiendola de un brazo la tumbo a su lado. Ayudandose con
   movimientos de las piernas y la cintura, se monto sobre ella. Esa
   masa de carne la aplastaba ... Pero la asfixia no evito que
   advirtiera la rudeza de esa mano, de esos dedos que exploraban,
   escarbaban y entraban en ella a la fuerza. Se sintio rajada,
   acuchillada; un relampago corrio de su cerebro a los pies. Gimio,
   sintiendo que se moria.

      --Chilla perrita, a ver si aprendes--le escupio la vocecita
   hiriente y ofendida de Su Excelencia--. Ahora, abrete. Dejame ver
   si lo tienes roto de verdad y no chillas de farsante.

      Era de verdad. Tenia sangre en las piernas ... (558-559).

Finally, Ferreras narrates an episode of a girl who, like Urania Cabral, found herself thrown into Trujillo's arms against her will. This tale may have partially inspired Vargas Llosa's writing of La fiesta del chivo. In the episode recounted by Ferreras, the girl in question is tricked by her mother (who wanted her to be Trujillo's lover) into an encounter with Trujillo, who whisked her off in his car and kept her captive for a month against her will when she refused to have a sexual relationship with him. The girl finally decided she had no other alternative but to capitulate to Trujillo, since no one would believe she was still a virgin anyway. Ferreras tells us:

La muchacha decidio correr la aventura y, luego de sus relaciones de aposento con el tirano, y al dejarla este en libertad de hacer lo que le viniera en ganas ... se dedico a estudiar de nuevo en su pueblo, y luego en la capital, hasta que corono su aspiracion de siempre, de dedicarse a la medicina en cuerpo y alma, donde lleva decenios de bien logrado ejercicio profesional.

Pero, la de esta muchacha medica ... no es la historia de amor que titula este breve comentario; que bien podria dar pie a una interesante novela historica. (Ferreras 109-110)

The girl in this anecdote, like Urania, is tricked into a sexual encounter with Trujillo by her parent. They are also both excellent students and become respected professionals (Urania Cabral is a successful attorney in the United States in the novel). Perhaps La fiesta del chivo is the "interesting historical novel" that Vargas Llosa writes in response to Ferreras' comment. (4)

The life of Urania's father, the character Agustin Cabral, is also somewhat historically inspired. Agustin Cabral appears to be based on the figure Mario Fermin Cabral, president of the Senate, whose role as Trujillo favorite fallen in disfavor is documented in Robert Crassweller's Trujillo: The Life and Times of a Caribbean Dictator. According to Crassweller, Fermin Cabral was the Senator who proposed renaming Santo Domingo "Ciudad Trujillo": "Fermin Cabral moved in the zone of adulation. Parades, reviews, titles, commemorations, memorials and the like were his speciality" (Crassweller, 117). Fermin Cabral was later named Governor of Santiago Province. After nine months in that office, he was suddenly arrested and accused of having coerced the judge who dismissed charges against a Trujillo enemy, Gustavo Estrella Urena. These accusations were part of a political hoax that Trujillo had elaborated to disassociate himself from the excesses committed by one of his Generals, Jose Estrella. Estrella was accused of crimes that were later thrown out on a technicality and Cabral was also eventually released (Crassweller 117, 179, 192). (5)

Cabral's public humiliation in the newspaper section titled El Foro Publico also has at least a theoretically historical basis. Crassweller indicates that all the letters printed there came from the office of Trujillo in the National Palace (Crassweller, 78). This episode may have been inspired by the public defamation of another Cabral, the Licenciado Sanchez Cabral, whom Jesus Galindez mentions in his study La Era de Trujillo:
      El Caribe del dia siguiente, 10 de agosto, publico en su seccion
   Foro Publico una carta insultante para el Lic. Sanchez Cabral,
   llamando la atencion sobre la cena y los discursos pronunciados.

      Si se leen atentamente todas estas cartas y comentarios, poco a
   poco se confirma la extrana razon del escandalo: el Lic. Sanchez
   Cabral y el Lic. Alvarez no habian mencionado a Trujillo en sus
   discursos ... (129) (6)

Vargas Llosa appears to fuse these two historical figures that share the name Cabral in his construction of their novelistic namesake. Nonetheless, the author significantly alters historical detail in his portrayal of Agustin Cabral, because historical texts specifically point out Cabral's role as political scapegoat in the episode surrounding General Estrella, whereas the novel simply extracts the notion of a feigned disfavor to test Cabral's loyalty and to show how Trujillo employed such tactics to augment the feelings of dependency and subservience of his followers. Hence, Vargas Llosa diffuses the political charge of the historical reference and infuses the episode with a purely psychological content: the portrayal of the techniques used to subjugate and humiliate the Dominican people. This is the emphasis that Vargas Llosa gives to his portrayal of Trujillo as historical figure in his novel in his effort to illustrate the devastating psychological results (paralysis and passivity) of authoritarian rule on Dominican society. (7)

Finally, the details surrounding Trujillo's unusual Tuesday trip to La Casa de Caoba on the night of his assassination have been altered in the novel for purely fictional purposes. Ferreras' text Trujillo y sus mujeres suggests that Luis Rodriguez, Manuel de Moya Alonzo's chauffeur, called Trujillo that night with the news that he had successfully arranged the rendezvous for the dictator with the female whom he had requested:
      Amigos de Luis Rodriguez cuentan que la noche del 30 de mayo,
   1961, Luis Rodriguez llamo a la estancia Radhames y pregunto al
   telefonista de la puerta si Trujillo estaba en su residencia ...

      Trujillo escucho a Luis por telefono decirle que la muchacha de
   que le habia hablado esa manana en el Palacio Nacional, estaba lista
   para su primera noche de amor, esperandole en la casa de Caoba, a
   donde el la habia llevado ...

      Segun los amigos de Luis Rodriguez, esa llamada llevo a Trujillo
   a la perdicion... . no tenia otra visita ni actividad programada
   para esa noche, toda vez que al dia siguiente, como de costumbre,
   era que estaba programado su viaje al retiro de la Casa de Caoba....
   Luego de la llamada de Luis Rodriguez Trujillo volvio a salir a la
   calle ... (119).

Vargas Llosa also attributes Trujillo's decision to travel to La Casa de Caoba in San Cristobal that night as one based on a desired sexual encounter. However, in the novel, it is not the spontaneous call of Luis Rodriguez that causes Trujillo to change his plans, but rather Trujillo's own decision to seek another sexual partner after his disastrous experience a few nights before with Urania Cabral. Thus, once again, the historical essence remains intact, but the minor details are changed for narrative coherency and enhanced narrative characterizations. In other words, the fact that in the novel Trujillo decides to seek a new sexual partner (rather than receiving a fortuitous call from Rodriguez) suggests the character's machismo and inability to accept his impotence, which he views as a sign of weakness, during his previous sexual escape. This simple alteration is designed to better develop Trujillo as novelistic character, his personality and motivations.

In addition to the "imagined facts" based on historical sources examined above, the novel also incorporates historically documented events and characterizations. The novel's intertextual dialogue with its historical documentary sources begins with its title, La fiesta del chivo. Vargas Llosa points out the title's relationship to a popular Dominican merengue through the novel's epigraph: "El pueblo celebra/con gran entusiasmo/la Fiesta del Chivo/el treinta de mayo." Its source is indicated as "Mataron al Chivo, Merengue Dominicano." This same Dominican merengue, translated into English, prefaces another book, the historical work Trujillo: The Death of the Goat by Bernard Diederich, certainly one of Vargas Llosa's major sources for his novel. (8) This historical work, just as Vargas Llosa's fictional one, focuses mainly on the events surrounding the assassination of Trujillo on the night of May 30, 1961.

Vargas Llosa cleverly infuses the word "fiesta" with a double meaning through his alternation of chapters based on the fictional character Urania Cabral (who returns to the Dominican Republic thirty-five years after her exit right before Trujillo's death), and chapters based on the development of the assassination plot. During the course of the novel, Urania narrates the events that prefaced her leaving the country and the animosity she feels toward her now elderly father. It is not until the end of the novel that we learn that Urania's father, a former Trujillo favorite fallen in disfavor, attempted to regain Trujillo's support by offering him the virginity of his fourteen year old daughter, Urania. When Agustin Cabral arranges this encounter through Manuel Alfonso, he simply tells Urania that she has been invited to "una fiesta" at Trujillo's house. The reference to this party motivates much of the novelistic discourse. It is this unsuccessful sexual encounter with Urania that leads Trujillo to seek another sexual adventure a few days later, a Tuesday (the day of his assassination), when he doesn't usually frequent La Casa de Caoba (the site of his amorous affairs) on that particular day of the week. Hence, "fiesta" simultaneously refers to the sexual "party" and Trujillo's death (as in the song). Indeed, the two are seen as linked in the novel, since Trujillo's increasing decadence in his final years of rule provoked the conspiracy against him that led to his downfall.

Vargas Llosa has replicated minute historical detail throughout the novel. Although it would be impossible to review every instance in which the author extracts information from historical sources, if we examine his portrayal of the conspirators involved in Trujillo's assassination plot, the reader will learn much about Vargas Llosa's technique. In each case, Vargas Llosa accurately replicates the historical background and motivations of these protagonists. The novel simply fills in their words and thoughts in an attempt to offer their full psychological portrayal. In this sense Vargas Llosa performs a traditional task of the historical novel, filling in what Sandra Berman calls the "interstices of history" (23). The particular bent that the author gives to these details illustrates his novelistic purpose of portraying the devastating demoralization of the Dominican people during the Trujillo regime.

In most instances, Vargas Llosa's portrayal of the assassins corresponds to the portraits presented in Diederich's Trujillo: The Death of the Goat. For example, Diederich recounts Trujillo's murder of Octavio de la Maza, brother of Antonio de la Maza's (one of Trujillo's assassins). After this event, Trujillo woos Antonio with a series of government contracts as a "consolation" for the death of his brother. Diederich goes on to portray de la Maza thus:
      Trujillo's favors gave Antonio the reputation of being El Jefe's
   crony, high on the list of his favorites. The implication hurt
   Antonio deeply. As the months of pampering by El Jefe went by, he
   became more morose.

      Guts Antonio de la Maza had. He could kill in passion, in the
   heat of the moment, as Tavito had killed in London. To kill in
   solitary vengeance was contrary to his hot-blooded nature. Even
   when Trujillo made him dance attendance and tormented him about the
   cause of his brother's death, he was not goaded to murder. He only
   brooded. But events within and beyond the Republic were moving
   steadily toward the removal of the dictator, events which would
   sway and inflame Antonio's grief and rancor until talk became
   action, became assassination. (25-26).

Compare Diederich's description of de la Maza to Vargas Llosa's:
   Antonio de la Maza no habia sido nunca un trujillista de corazon
   ... Apreto los dientes asqueado: nunca habia podido dejar de
   trabajar para el Jefe.... hacia veintitantos anos que contribuia a
   la fortuna y el poderio del Benefactor ... Era el gran fracaso de
   su vida.... Odiandolo con todas sus fuerzas, habia seguido
   sirviendole, aun despues de la muerte de Tavito. Por eso, el
   insulto del Turco: Yo no venderia a mi hermano por cuatro cheles.
   El no habia vendido a Tavito. Disimulo, tragandose la bilis.  Que
   otra cosa podia hacer? ... No era una conciencia tranquila lo que
   Antonio queria. Sino vengarse y vengar a Tavito. Para conseguirlo,
   trago toda la mierda del mundo estos cuatro anos....  Por que no
   salto sobre el [Trujillo] cuando lo tuvo tan cerca? ... Era algo
   mas sutil e indefinible que el miedo: esa paralisis, el
   adormecimiento de la voluntad, del raciocinio y del libre albedrio
   que aquel personajillo acicalado hasta el ridiculo ... ejercia
   sobre los dominicanos ... (119-130).

Vargas Llosa captures Diederich's characterization of de la Maza as hot-tempered, brooding, and sensitive to the implication that he had been "bought off " by Trujillo's favors instead of avenging his brother's murder. Vargas Llosa further develops Diederich's summary of Antonio de la Maza's personality by suggesting that his failure to seek immediate revenge stemmed from a pervasive spirit of paralysis that permeated Dominican society during and immediately after the Trujillo government (the same paralysis we noted in examples of "imagined facts"). Diederich's interpretation of de la Maza as uninclined toward bloody revenge until a confluence of other events in the country provided the propitious moment for such action, is taken as a departure point for Vargas Llosa's development of a thesis of psychological passivity deeply rooted in the Dominican psyche as a result of years of authoritarian rule.

Similarly, Diederich portrays Salvador Estrella Sadhala as an intelligent, introspective, religious man:
      At thirty-eight, Estrella was a quiet, dry man and a devout
   Catholic. [...] He had graduated from teacher's college but had
   gone into road contracting in 1959. Because of his father's loyalty
   to Trujillo, he had received lucrative state contracts. [...]
   Estrella launched into a long list of abuses committed by Trujillo
   against priests and nuns since the February pastoral letters. (73)

Vargas Llosa also emphasizes Sadhala's religious devotion and conflict upon contemplating the possible murder of Trujillo:
      Con sus cuarenta y dos anos, Salvador era uno de los mayores
   entre los siete hombres apostados en los autos que esperaban a
   Trujillo ... en las semanas que siguieron al jubilo del 25 de enero
   de 1960 [the date in which the Church renounced support for
   Trujillo], Salvador se planteo por primera vez la necesidad de
   matar a Trujillo. Al principio, la idea lo espantaba, un catolico
   tenia que respetar el quinto mandamiento [...] (258-263).

Almost every one of Vargas Llosa's characterizations maintains a similar faithfulness to his historical sources, including the dialogues and thoughts of Trujillo himself.

Another character who is historically based but whose activities in the novel are not strictly documented is Manuel Alfonso. Vargas Llosa has given his character a slightly different name, but he clearly corresponds to Manuel de Moya Alonzo, a historical figure who is discussed in both the books by Robert Crassweller and Ferreras. Ferreras's text appears to be the "filter" for the information used by Vargas Llosa [the name "Alfonso" is very close to "Alonzo," which is the name Ferreras uses in his text; Crassweller simply refers to this individual as Manuel de la Moya]. (9) Ferreras explains Alonzo's role as Trujillo's go-between ("celestino").

En sus correrias de prima noche en los primeros dias en su gobierno, el tirano se hacia acompanar de un hombre bien parecido, que dizque habia sido modelo profesional en los Estados Unidos de Norteamerica, llamado Manuel de Moya Alonzo, quien ocuparia los mas relevantes cargos durante los treinta y un anos en que goberno Trujillo. Se le reconocia como el principal de los muchos celestinos que tuvo el tirano en su vida. (Ferreras 59).

Similarly, Urania's aunt describes Manuel Alfonso thus:
   Bien parecido y de excelente familia. Se fue a New York a buscar la
   vida y termino exhibiendo trajes de modistas y almacenes de lujo, y
   apareciendo en los carteles callejeros ... Trujillo, en su viaje a
   Estados Unidos, se entero de que el pimpollo de los afiches era un
   tiguere dominicano. Lo mando llamar y lo adopto. Hizo de el un
   personaje. ...

      --Sobre todo, le escogia las mujeres--interrumpe Manolita--
    Verdad mami?

Manuel Alfonso is the character who arranges Urania's sexual encounter with Trujillo through her father, Agustin Cabral, and who escorts her to La Casa de Caoba.

One historically based character, the minister Henry Chirinos, actually has nothing to do with the Trujillo dictatorship at all. Chirinos is based on a congressman during the Fujimori dictatorship in Peru (1990-2000) by the name of Enrique Chirinos Soto. According to Catherine M. Conaghan, the Peruvian Chirinos was "often lampooned in the press for his weight and his drinking problem" (130), both of which are characteristics used to portray Henry Chirinos in La fiesta del chivo. The construction of this character suggests an important connection between the Trujillo regime and that of Alberto Fujimori. Indeed, there are many parallels that can be drawn between the Trujillo era in the Dominican Republic, and the Fujimori presidency in Peru. Each man relied heavily on underhanded intelligence organizations run by ruthless men (Abbes in the Dominican Republic and Montesinos in Peru), each intelligence agency had a similar name (SIM in the Dominican Republic; SIN in Peru), each government controlled the press (Trujillo was responsible for the writing of many of the letters that appeared in the Foro Publico of the newspaper, El Caribe, while Fujimori bought or bribed almost every television station), and each government was responsible for significant persecution of its enemies and human rights violations. Since La fiesta del chivo was published in 2000, the year the Fujimori government ended, and Mario Vargas Llosa was the opposition candidate who ran against Fujimori in 1990, it seems likely that Vargas Llosa's reflection on dictatorship, although centered on the Dominican Republic, was largely motivated by the Peruvian circumstances of the last decade and certain analogies which can be established between the two dictatorships. Vargas Llosa's interpretation of the Trujillo dictatorship thus cannot escape an ideological predisposition to criticize his former political opponent, Fujimori, through the parallels established between the Peruvian and Dominican presidents.

This connection between Trujillo and Fujimori has important implications for the development of a theory of contemporary Latin American historical novel as a whole. At the beginning of this article, I spoke briefly about both the overt and implicit relationship between the Latin American historical novel and historical sources. After having examined the relationship between La fiesta del chivo and its historical intertexts, it now seems relevant to reflect on how this relationship can help us to broaden the definition of the contemporary Latin American historical novel as a whole. As previously discussed, Lefere's definition of the historical novel as a problematization of its own relationship to history seems too narrow. Consequently, I would like to now suggest that contemporary Latin American historical fiction implies at least four different ways in which history can be used, all of which should indeed be considered within the contemporary definition of the historical novel. The first type of historical novel links history to individual or collective identity, examples of which abound in the Latin American Boom novel. Good illustrations of this type of historical novel are Carlos Fuentes's La muerte de Artemio Cruz (1962) and Terra Nostra (1975). In the first of these novels, Fuentes shows how the identity of his protagonist, Artemio Cruz, is linked to the Mexican Revolution, and how the choices this character makes within this specific historical context are emblematic of Mexican national identity as a whole. Similarly, Terra Nostra rewrites history by mixing historical and literary figures in an attempt to arrive at a definition of the essence of Latin American culture.

The second category of historical novel refers to those novels that portray history through the technique of magical realism. Such texts as Alejo Carpentier's El reino de este mundo (1949), Garcia Marquez's Cien anos de soledad (1967), or Isabel Allende's La casa de los espiritus (1982) respectively reflect on political realities such as the Haitian revolution, the Colombian civil wars/ U.S. imperialism, and the Allende and Pinochet governments in Chile, by mixing historical events with fantastic or exaggerated elements that reflect popular beliefs. This category is akin to Jacob's "recombinant fiction." The use of such fantastic or popular elements may correspond to diverse imperatives. For example, in Allende's novel, magical beliefs and practices are associated with the female protagonists, especially Clara, and are employed to construct a feminist space of protest and resistance against patriarchy.

The third type of historical novel is the one referred to by Lefere. These historical narratives employ historical interests within themselves to question and contest official historiography. In this process, historical figures are either vindicated or demystified, as in Augusto Roa Bastos's Yo el Supremo (1974), which deconstructs the black legend surrounding the nineteenth century dictator, Jose Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia. Another good example is Gabriel Garcia Marquez's El general en su laberinto (1989), which demystifies the heroic figure of Simon Bolivar.

Finally, the fourth type of historical novel refers to those texts that use history symbolically. In other words, they portray a concrete historical figure or event to mediate upon another, different historical event or historical tendency. They may also employ figures that are composites of various historical personages who represent a certain historical type or category, such as the dictator. La fiesta del chivo is this kind of historical novel, as shown throughout this article. In other words, Vargas Llosa's exploration of the Trujillo government is in large part a reflection on other, more contemporary dictatorships and their psychological effects on the people of their countries, specifically, the dictatorship of Alberto Fujimori in Peru. Another good example is Vargas Llosa's novel La guerra del fin del mundo (1981), which focuses on the nineteenth century socialist rebellion in Brazil. Seymour Menton has suggested that this novel is actually a reflection on the failure of Latin American socialism and a defense of Peruvian property rights (40-41).

These suggested categories overlap somewhat with those established by Naomi Jacobs, but also conflate some aspects of her groupings. Novels from all four of my categories use both the historical and imagined facts characteristic of Jacobs's "fiction biographies," while the idea of emphasis on the symbolic function of history in my fourth category, clearly borrows from Jacobs's notion of the symbolic function of "fiction history," just as my third category of magical realism closely parallels her idea of "recombinant fiction." However, Jacobs's discussion of the symbolic function of fiction histories suggests that such texts avoid the specificity of a particular historical figure, and tend instead to base themselves on a composite of historical phenomena and tendencies. Nonetheless, I demonstrated how novels such as La fiesta del chivo employ one specific historical episode to symbolically refer to another. The analysis of this novel suggests that the symbolic function of historical fiction is not limited to novels such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez's El otono del patriarca (1975) or Alejo Carpentier's El recurso del metodo (1974) that reflect on dictatorship through the construction of figures who are a composite of various historical dictators, but rather also includes texts that construct parallels between sets of very specific historical events and circumstances that evoke one another.

Similarly, Jacobs views her categories are largely independent of one another, and hence does not consider the possibility that historical novels can concurrently belong to several classifications at once. Many Latin American novels simultaneously fit into two or more of my categories. A good example would be Yo el Supremo, which simultaneously mixes historical elements with purely mythical ones (category two), questions official historical discourse (category three), and symbolically reflects on present dictatorship (the government of Alfredo Stroessner) through a past one (the government of Dr. Francia, category four). Consequently, unlike Jacobs, who presents her categories as discrete entities, my four types of historical novels posit a more fluid relationship between different types of historical fiction. In turn, these overlapping uses of history suggest a broader view of what constitutes a historical novel in the twenty-first century. (10)


Barragan Jimenez, Luis. "La corruptibilidad de un chivo." Especulo: Revista de Estudios Literarios. 21, n. p.

Berman, Sandra. Introduction. On The Historical Novel. By Alessandro Manzoni. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984, 1-60.

Cabrera, Fernando. "Apuntes para 'La fiesta' de Mario Vargas Llosa." Horizontes: Revista de la Universidad Catolica de Puerto Rico 42.83 (2000): 141-152.

Carlyle, Thomas. Critical and Miscellaneous Essays, Vol. 4 Carlyle's Complete Works. Boston: Estes and Lauriat Publishers, 1885.

Castellanos, Jorge and Miguel A. Martinez. "El dictador como personaje literario." Latin American Research Review 16.2 (1981): 79-105.

Conaghan, Catherine M. Fujimori's Peru: Deception in the Public Sphere. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005.

"Conversacion entre Alvaro y Mario Vargas Llosa: Las dictaduras latinoamericanas." Letras Libres (2000): 20-23.

Crassweller, Robert D. Trujillo: The Life and Times of a Caribbean Dictator, n.p., n.d.

Diederich, Bernard. Trujillo: The Death of the Goat. London: The Bodley Head, 1978.

Drews, Joerg. "El punto culminante del habilidoso. Mario Vargas Llosa no maneja la izquierda." Revista de Critica Literaria Latinoamericana 27.54 (2001): 213-216.

Ferreras, Ramon Alberto. Trujillo y sus mujeres. 9th ed. Santo Domingo: Editora Amfer Grafica, 2003.

Galindez, Jesus. La Era de Trujillo. Santo Domingo: Editorial Letra Grafica, 1999.

Jacobs, Naomi. The Character of Truth: Historical Figures in Contemporary Fiction. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1990.

Jitrik, Noe. "De la historia a la escritura: predominios, disimetrias, acuerdos en la novela historica latinoamericana." The Historical Novel in Latin America: A Symposium. Ed. Daniel Balderston. Gaithersburg (Maryland): Ediciones Hispamerica, 1986. 13-30.

Krauze, Enrique. "Conversacion entre Mario Vargas Llosa y Enrique Krauze: La seduccion del poder." Letras Libres 2.19 (2000): 22-26.

Lefere, Robin. "Lectura critica de La fiesta del chivo." Literatura y musica popular en Hispanoamerica. Granada: Universidad de Granada, 2002: 541-546.

--. "La fiesta del chivo, mentira verdadera?" Actas del XIV Congreso de la Asociacion Internacional de Hispanistas. Eds. Isaias Lerner, Robert Nival and Alejandro Alonso. Newark (Delaware): Juan de la Cuesta, 2001: 331-338.

Luna Escudero Alie, Maria Elvira. "Transgresion y sacrificio de Urania Cabral en La fiesta del chivo de Mario Vargas Llosa." Especulo: Revista de Estudios Literarios 24, n.p.

Martin, Georges. "Reperes pour une etude de la 'compilatoire' historique dans Yo el Supremo." Imprevue (1977): 37-55.

Masoliver Rodenas, Juan Antonio. "La arana en el corazon del laberinto." Letras Libres (Abril 2000): 84-85.

Menton, Seymour. Latin America's New Historical Novel. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993.

Rojas-Trempe, Lady. "Violencia politico-sexual del Estado, trauma y la historia de una victima en La fiesta del chivo." Mario Vargas Llosa: Escritor, ensayista, ciudadano y politico. Ed. Roland Forgues. Lima: Minerva Miraflores, 2001. 537-552.

Vargas Llosa, Mario. La fiesta del chivo. Madrid: Grupo Santillana de ediciones, S.A., 2000.

--. "The Truth of Lies." Trans. John King. Pen America: A Journal for Writers and Readers 4.2 (2002): 159-167.

Weldt-Basson, Helene C. Augusto Roa Bastos's I The Supreme: A Dialogic Perspective. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1993.

--. "The Purpose of Historical Reference in Gabriel Garcia Marquez's El general en su laberinto." Revista Hispanica Moderna 47.1 (1994): 96-108.

by Helene C. Weldt-Basson

Wayne State University


(1) Note that I am conflating here two categories that some critics have chosen to view as separate: dictator novels (that focus on the dictator as central character) and novels of dictatorship (where the dictator is usually a minor character). Technically, La fiesta del chivo belongs to the dictator novel category, whereas Vargas Llosa's previous work, Conversacion en La Catedral, belongs to the group titled "novels of dictatorship." For my purposes here, the terms can be used interchangeably, only because I am interested in looking at the phenomenon of novelistic representation of dictatorship, whether the dictator is the main character or not.

(2) Although Vargas Llosa's primary concern, as we shall see, appears to be a mimetic representation of "history" based on the particular viewpoint of certain historical sources upon which he has chosen to base the novel, the tracing of the novel's constructive process will show how the author manipulates and expounds upon such sources in order to achieve a novelistic portrayal focused on the question of the Dominican people's internalization of a code of subservience. The question of historical truth, always present at some level in an intertextual reading with historical sources, is subordinated, although not eradicated, by the focus on the issue of the effects of authoritarian rule on the Dominican psyche. The comparison to manipulated sources always raises to some degree the question of the subjectivity both of the novelistic version of history as well as that of the novel's historical counterparts.

(3) The current bibliography on La fiesta del chivo consists of the following articles: "Conversacion entre Alvaro y Mario Vargas Llosa," Letras Libres (2000): 2023; Luis Barragan Jimenez, "La corruptibilidad de un chivo," Especulo: Revista de Estudios Literarios 21, n.p.; Fernando Cabrera, "Apuntes para 'La fiesta' de Mario Vargas Llosa," Horizontes: Revista de la Universidad Catolica de Puerto Rico 42.83 (2000): 141-152; Joerg Drews, "El punto culminante del habilidoso. Mario Vargas Llosa no maneja la izquierda," Revista de Critica Literaria Latinoamericana 27.54 (2001): 213-216; Enrique Krauze, "Conversacion entre Mario Vargas Llosa y Enrique Krauze: La seduccion del poder," Letras Libres 2.19 (2000): 22-26; Maria Elvira Luna Escudero Alie, "Transgresion y sacrificio de Urania Cabral en La fiesta del chivo de Mario Vargas Llosa," Especulo: Revista de Estudios Literarios 24, n.p.; Juan Antonio Masoliver Rodenas, "La arana en el corazon," Letras Libres (abril 2000): 84-85; and Lady Rojas-Trempe, "Violencia politico-sexual del Estado, trauma y la historia de una victima en La fiesta del chivo," Mario Vargas Llosa: Escritor, ensayista, ciudadano y politico. Ed. Roland Morgues (Lima: Minerva Miraflores, 2001): 537-552.

(4) It is interesting that Roa Bastos seems to "answer" a comment in a historical text as well with his novel Yo el Supremo. He responds to the following comment by Carlyle: "As the Paraguenos, though not a literary people, can many of them spell and write, and are not without a discriminating sense of true and untrue, why should not some real Life of Francia, from those parts, be still possible! If a writer of genius arise there, he is hereby invited to the enterprise" (Carlyle, Critical and Miscellaneous Essays, 216-217). Roa Bastos's novel is in many ways the "Life of Francia" written by a Paraguayan "writer of genius."

(5) In "Conversacion entre Alvaro y Mario Vargas Llosa," the author of La fiesta del chivo denies any connection between his character Agustin Cabral and any historical figures: "Cabral es un apellido muy comun en la Republica Dominicana y el Cabral de la historia no tiene la menor relacion con el senador Cabral, padre de Urania, que yo me invente" (21). Vargas Llosa makes this statement in reference to another historical Cabral who served as a connection between the conspirators and the CIA. Despite the author's declaration, there does appear to be some similarity between a historical Cabral and the character of Urania's father.

(6) Note that Galindez himself was a victim of Trujillo. His study of Trujillo is thought to have provoked the dictator into ordering his abduction from a train station in New York City in 1956 and having his thugs carry out Galindez's subsequent murder. Galindez is also a character in Vargas Llosa's novel.

(7) There are many other fictional episodes that derive from historical fact. These include the rape of Rosalia Perdomo which loosely corresponds to the rapes and wild parties historically attributed to Ramfis Trujillo by Crassweller (304-307); the banquet held in honor of Simon Gittleman, which has its basis in comments by Diederich (98); Trujillo's nickname "Chapita" discussed in the novelistic episode about "el loco Valeriano," which corresponds to some words by Diederich (60); and the description of Trujillo's house, which relates to a similar description by Crassweller (146), among others.

(8) Vargas Llosa states that this book was one of his principal sources. See: "Conversacion entre Alvaro y Mario Vargas Llosa," Letras Libres (2000): 20-23.

(9) Georges Martin uses the term "filter" with regard to Yo el Supremo's use of historical sources. He claims that many of the texts are not cited from their original historical sources in Yo el Supremo, but rather filtered into the text through the historical biography on Dr. Francia written by Julio Cesar Chaves. In a similar fashion, various historical texts speak of Manuel de la Moya, but Ferreras's work appears to be the direct source because of Vargas Llosa's derivation of his character's name. See: Martin, "Reperes," 37-55.

(10) The further development of these categories remains outside the scope of this article. The articulation of the specific characteristics of these four uses of history in contemporary Latin American fiction will be the topic of a future book project.
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Author:Weldt-Basson, Helene C.
Date:May 1, 2009
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