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The Dream of the Celt by Mario Vargas Llosa

The Dream of the Celt (2010)

by Mario Vargas Llosa (Author)

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My third historical novel in a row. And it was not nearly as good as Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies or Laurent Binet's HHhH (not to mention Vargas Llosa's absolutely brilliant The Feast of the Goat or epic The War at the End of the World). Although it was still worth reading.

Bring Up the Bodies is deeply immersed in its history, but tells its story as a novel, largely dialogue between the characters, that makes their psychologies and motivations come alive--all while wearing its history lightly with little exposition or digressions into history. HHhH is an experimental novel that tries to faithfully recount its history, reluctantly follows novelistic conventions for short spurts (and quite well), but then retreats into the narrator's voice to apologize for fabricating anything.

In contrast, the majority of The Dream of the Celt reads more like a history book or biography than a novel. Those parts have little dialogue, few invented characters, and very extended descriptions of Roger Casement's trips to investigate and report on the epic atrocities in King Leopold's Congo and the Putumayo region of Peruvian Amazonia. These parts are almost always interesting (and horrifying), rarely tedious, but are not infused with anything of the special possibilities that is afforded by the novel of going deeper into a character's head, shifting perspectives, showing through stories, a plot, developing multiple characters, or just about anything else.

These historical chapters alternate with somewhat shorter chapters that depict Casement's final days before his execution for treason in Pentonville prison. These are more novelistic, with dialogue, somewhat more interesting characters (e.g., the prison's sheriff), and lots of flashbacks to Casement's role in what eventually became the Easter Uprising. These are perfectly fine, fast reading, but do not come anywhere close to The Feast of the Goat.

Altogether much of the interest of the book comes from learning about Roger Casement (who was largely new to me), more about the Congo and Putumayo, and the Easter Uprising and how that period in Ireland's struggle for independence intersected with the First World War. All interestingly told. And this is reason enough to read the novel. ( )
  nosajeel | Jun 21, 2014 |
Roger Casement heeft alles van een gevallen held. Hij is een diplomaat van Ierse afkomst die in opdracht van de Britse kroon een onderzoek instelt naar de wantoestanden in Kongo onder Leopold II. De resultaten zijn verbijsterend en Casement wordt door de publieke opinie op handen gedragen. Enige tijd later wordt hij naar Peru gestuurd om er ook de wantoestanden in de Amazone te onderzoeken. Hiermee wordt zijn reputatie helemaal gevestigd, ware het niet dat hij zich door zijn werkzaamheden bewust wordt van de onderdrukking van zijn eigen volk en zich steeds meer als nationalist profileert tot hij zich in volle oorlog aan Duitse zijde schaart om de Ierse zaak te dienen. Hij wordt opgepakt wegens hoogverraad en ter dood veroordeeld. Ondanks de steun van vele van zijn vrienden en sympathisanten tot op het hoogste niveau, wordt hem geen gratie verleend. Zijn nationalisme in volle oorlogstijd in combinatie met zijn vermeende, voor die tijd afwijkende, seksuele voorkeuren hebben hem de das omgedaan.
Roger Casement heeft echt bestaan en de feiten die in dit boek worden aangehaald hebben echt plaatsgevonden. Is dit dan een biografie? Neen, alhoewel de auteur aanhaalt dat hij historisch onderzoek heeft verricht, wordt in dit boek nergens verwezen naar historische bronnen (dankbetuigingen zijn geen bronnen). Het boek is ook geschreven vanuit het personele standpunt van Casement wat nu niet bepaald een erkende historische methode is. En wat nog het meest ten nadele van een historische biografie spreekt is het feit dat de auteur een vlak en eenzijdig beeld schetst van Casement, terwijl de figuur zelf helemaal niet zo eenduidig was. Geen biografie dus, misschien wel een historische roman, gebaseerd op feiten? Neen, geen enkel personage, misschien met uitzondering van de cipier die een zweem van menselijke trekken vertoont, komt uit de verf. Het zijn vlakke, nietszeggende figuren, namen die blijven zweven in een nevel van onpersoonlijkheid. De structuur is chronologisch met flashbacks, maar hier en daar zit er toch wel iets fout en herhaalt hij een aantal zaken die er eigenlijk niet meer thuishoren. En van de zo geroemde schrijfstijl van Vargas Llosa ben ik ook al niet zo onder de indruk. Op geen enkel moment kon ik me inleven in de personages, de setting, de sfeer (Kongo en de Amazone ware m,i, onderling verwisselbaar) of de plot. Nochtans had de auteur met een figuur als Roger Casement goud in handen. Maar wat hij ermee heeft aangevangen vond ik bijzonder teleurstellend. ( )
  JustJoey4 | Dec 1, 2013 |
Vargas Llosa cuenta la vida de Roger Casment. Comprometido con la causa de los oprimidos en Congo y Perú. A partir de una dura experiencia en contacto con la dura realidad de las colonias, se convierte en un ardiente luchador por la independencia de Irlanda. ( )
  alberto_lamana | Oct 15, 2013 |
Roger Casement was an Irish freedom fighter in the early twentieth century who has been nearly lost to history. His work in uncovering the abuses to the native peoples of the Congo and South America by the rubber barons was applauded. But when he made the connection that the British Empire was endangering his own native Irish language and culture in not so different a way that colonialism was destroying the Congo, his militancy went way beyond the comfort zone. He tried to set up an Irish regiment of soldiers who fought against Great Britain supported by Kaiser Wilhelm. Although the regiment never took off and the Easter Uprising was a failure, he was captured and eventually hung for treason. ( )
  mojomomma | Oct 9, 2013 |
Roger Casement is a figure in the history of anti-colonialism who is no longer widely remembered. In this exceedingly well-researched historical novel, Vargas Llosa recounts Casement's remarkable work at the turn of the 20th century to draw the world's attention to the real meaning and motives of the colonial adventures of the European powers. Casement was a Irishman of the Protestant class who began his career with a commercial and later diplomatic posting to the Congo. There he became aware of the horrendous abuse of native people who were enslaved, tortured and often murdered by white colonists, mostly Belgians in the service of King Leopold, in pursuit of harvesting natural rubber from the jungles. Casement's report to the British government exposed to the world the atrocities committed under the guise of bringing civilization to the "savage" peoples of the region. His report brought shame to the Belgian occupiers and world sanction against their practices. (For a complete account of the horrors of the Belgians in the Congo, see King Leopold's Ghost by Adam Hochshield.)

After exposing the horrors in the Congo, Casement was dispatched to the Amazon where even viler abuses were exacted against the Indians of the basin, this also in pursuit of rubber by a British commercial enterprise. Casement's report again received world wide attention, although promises to stop the abuses were never fully realized. For his efforts, he was knighted and was a figure of admiration in many parts of the world.

Over time Casement equated the rapacity and exploitation of colonial rule with the centuries-long British domination of Ireland, his native country. He fell in with the nationalist movement and came to believe that only the violent overthrow of British rule would bring freedom to the Irish people. At the outbreak of WWI, and in collusion with other well-known nationalists, Casement conceived a scheme to enlist Irish prisoners of war in German camps to form an Irish Brigade which would, alongside German troops, engage the British in Ireland to drive them from the country. This failed to materialize, but he persuaded the German government to supply arms to the Irish patriots. Casement learned very late of the planned Easter week rising and argued against it as a futile waste of blood that would only make martyrs of the nationalist leaders. Nonetheless, the arms were shipped secretly to the west of Ireland, but the British army quickly captured them and arrested Casement.

He was put on trial for treason and sentenced to hanging. The book alternates chapters between Casement's work in the Congo and Amazon and his prison reflections in the days before his execution.

One of the controversial aspects of the story is the discovery and publication by British authorities of Casement's so-called "Black Diaries" in which he recounted his sexual encounters with men and young boys. Vargas Llosa poses the thought that, while Casement was undoubtedly a homosexual, the diaries at least in some part were his fantasies about sexual contacts and not completely the reality of his sexual life. The diaries did much to quell any efforts to spare Casement's life and may have over the many years since kept Casement from receiving the praise given to other heros of the Irish independence movement. It was only in 1965 that the British government finally consented to the reinterrment of Casement's remains in Ireland, where he was given a patriot's recognition.

While a work of fiction, Varga Llosa's book is clearly an accurate history of Casement and his campaign against the evils of colonialism. The fervor of Casement for Irish independence led him to his alliance with Germany, which was not only a foolish quest, but brought the enmity of the British toward him at this time of intense patriotism and anti-German sentiment. In pleading his oppostion to the Easter rising as bound to bring only the bloody sacrifice of the nationalist leadership, he did not imagine that it was the martyrdom of Pearse, Connolley, Plunkett and the others that would stimulate the ever-growing sentiment against British dominion that ultimately saw the independence of Ireland.

This complex and important figure in world and Irish history deserves the sensitive and thoughtful treatment given him in Vargas Llosa's excellent book. ( )
  stevesmits | Aug 18, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Llosa, Mario VargasAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Grossman, EdithTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Risvik, KariTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Risvik, KjellTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schmidt, Rigmor KappelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Cuando abrieron la puerta de la celda, con el chorro de luz y un golpe de viento entró también el ruido de la calle que los muros de piedra apagaban y Roger se despertó, asustado.
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"In 1916, the Irish nationalist Roger Casement was hanged by the British government for treason. Casement had dedicated his extraordinary life to improving the plight of oppressed peoples around the world--especially the native populations in the Belgian Congo and the Amazon--but when he dared to draw a parallel between the injustices he witnessed in African and American colonies and those committed by the British in Northern Ireland, he became involved in a cause that led to his imprisonment and execution. Ultimately, the scandals surrounding Casement's trial and eventual hanging tainted his image to such a degree that his pioneering human rights work wasn't fully reexamined until the 1960s."--Dust jacket.… (more)

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