Bowled Over by a Book

by Jay Nordlinger

I guess I have more of a political bent than I do a literary one. I wish it weren’t so, but can we help it? All my life, I had read Mario Vargas Llosa — but his journalism. His essays. Interviews of him. That sort of thing. I admired him greatly, and I considered him one of the great classical liberals in Latin America. But I had never read a novel of his — the stuff that got him the Nobel prize.

I suppose I considered Vargas Llosa a political figure, primarily.

A friend gave me a novel by him. I laid it aside (as I do books). Then, some weeks later, I was shirking the reading I had to do, and my eyes fell on the novel. I picked it up, figuring I’d read a few pages.

I did. They were okay. I read a few more. They were okay. Then they were more than okay. And I couldn’t eat, sleep, or breathe until I was finished with the novel.

It is The Feast of the Goat, published in 2000 — a novel of Trujillo and his dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. It is a work of genius, pure and simple. I called David Pryce-Jones. I said, in effect, “Did you know that Vargas Llosa was a flat-out genius?” P-J is polite, but he said, in effect, “Uh, yeah. Where have you been?”

Today on the homepage, my column is devoted to notes on The Feast of the Goat, dictatorship, and man. See what you think, here.

P.S. In recent days, I have had two pieces at The New Criterion that may interest you. Here is one on a Russian pianist — not very well known — who lived from 1908 to 1978. Interesting, impossibly hard life. The pianist is Maria Grinberg, and she is great. There is a story in there about her patronymic — her middle name, so to speak — that you will eat up.

And here is a piece on Swan Lake: its unstalability. A couple of days ago, someone asked me, “What makes a great work of art great? Its universality?” Yes, I said, but also its unstalability: the fact that you can’t wear it out. That you can watch it or listen to it or read it again and again and again.

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