Friday, April 1, 2011

El sueño del celta / The Dream of the Celt by Mario Vargas Llosa: A Review


In case you found Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and José Eustasio Rivera's La vorágine difficult to understand, here is Mario Vargas Llosa's latest novel El sueño del celta to explain to you exactly what happened in those novels. Roger Casement, the novel's protagonist, was a British consul who traveled to Congo and the Amazon and wrote scandalous reports about the horrible treatment of the natives of Africa and South America by the colonial forces. Later on, he joined the Irish nationalist movement and militated for the cause of Ireland's independence.

This is not a novel that offers much - or any, I would say - space for the reader to analyze, interpret, imagine, or look for his or her own answers. Everything is spelled out with painstaking attention to detail. As a result, some parts of the novel sound like they were copy-pasted from an encyclopedia. Sources of historical data, short biographical sketches of real-life people who appear in the novel, dates and gigures populate the pages of El sueño del celtaVargas Llosa seems to have lost his capacity to relinquish control over his text and allow the readers to interact with it on their own. For those who managed to remain unfamiliar with the civilization versus barbarity conflict, Vargas Llosa makes absolutely sure that you will be sick to death of both terms by the end of the novel. And for those who didn't get the message that imperialism is wrong, it will be hammered in on every other page.

Everything I have written so far has probably made you think that I hated the novel. This, however, is not true. El sueño del celta doesn't offer much for analysis but it is surely informative and very well-written. I now know everything I ever wanted to know (and a lot, lot more) about Roger Casement, his travels, struggles, ailments, friends, foes, hopes and dreams. This novel is anything but boring. Vargas Llosa is a great narrator who can turn anything into a great story. I have no doubt that this novel will be quite successful if only for the fact that it is very easy to read.

The enumeration of sufferings inflicted by the colonial forces on the natives of African Congo and the indigenous people of the Amazon becomes painful to read at a certain point. This, of course, is a story that needs to be told and repeated as many times as possible lest we forget that imperialism can never be excused. I have to warn you, however, that an honest piece of writing about colonialism (such as this one) will be so disturbing as to prevent you from sleeping at night.

There are people who insist that Vargas Llosa is a Libertarian. It is a statement that is as silly as claiming that Juan Goytisolo is a Communist. Writers have a tendency to try on political discourses without really knowing what those discourses are about. They don't, however, allow their political triflings influence what and how they write in any way. It's been a while since I have read an indictment of the horrors that free market and wild capitalism inevitably bring along that would be as passionate and convincing as El sueño del celta. Anybody who believes that it would be a good idea to let market forces act freely, without any restraints from the government, should read this novel and hopefully just shut up already. In El sueño del celta,Vargas Llosa condemns the horrifying greed of free market capitalists better than any writer I have read in a while.

1 comment:

profacero said...

Very interesting; I want to read it.

I'm teaching El hablador which I hadn't really reread since it came out. At the time it seemed to me like a straw man type attack on
Arguedas and to fit with the neoliberal turn V-LL had taken. I'm less sure now, and I'm finding the text more complicated than that.