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The war of the end of the world by Mario…
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The war of the end of the world

by Mario Vargas Llosa

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English (26)  Spanish (3)  Danish (1)  Portuguese (1)  Portuguese (Brazil) (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (33)
Showing 1-5 of 26 (next | show all)
Whew. This is a lotta book. Too much really.

‘The War of the End of the World’ is Mario Vargas Llosa’s version of events well known to Brazilians (at least to one I talked to anyway :), as it’s taught in history classes there. It takes place in the 1890’s in the northeastern state (then province) of Bahia, where a bunch of religious idealists built a community in Canudos and flouted the new Brazilian Republic, which had formed after Emperor Dom Pedro II was deposed.

The Republic is fragile, and it’s a period of change, slavery having just been abolished in 1888, so there is unrest and competing factions in the country. The main political parties are the Progressive Republicans, who are in power, and the Autonomists, which includes the richer landowners who were more inclined to favor the monarchy. There are also a few idealistic groups floating about: one advocating a dictatorial republic, another communism, and still another composed of religious fundamentalists who, upset with the change to the status quo, fight the republic and its ‘evil ways’, e.g. civil marriage, the separation of church and state, the census, and yes, the metric system. It’s this last group, led by the messianic Antônio the Counselor, who convinces the faithful to follow him through the wilderness, converting the downtrodden of Bahia along the way, including its bandits, murderers, and rapists. These outcasts are critical to his success in turning back several waves of the Brazilian Army, including one led by a Colonel and Republican hero with the nickname ‘Throat Slitter’.

As it may be apparent, this is a masculine book, with regular images of the horrors of war, and none of the groups or characters is particularly likeable. Vargas Llosa is successful in setting the stage to this story: the various motivations of the political groups, and how enemies turn into allies at times, are brought to life in ways that are comprehensible and interesting, surprisingly enough.

However, even though I love his writing, I think he’s less successful in other ways. This is like a South American ‘War and Peace’, or an attempt at one anyway, without being as well-rounded. There are a few human interest subplots, but not enough, and the book becomes laborious and particularly tedious in its descriptions of troop movements and the battles themselves. Put another way, it’s far too long. It’s as if Vargas Llosa accumulated a tremendous amount of knowledge in doing research for the novel, and then tried to get all of that detail included. He errs too much on the side of presenting history, to the detriment of his art as a novelist.

The book started off in 3-star country for me, being hard to get into at the outset (which was all the more concerning given its length), climbed a bit but never truly flirted with 4-stars, and ended up dropping back down to 3 stars, as I was relieved to finish it. That’s not much of a recommendation is it? It’s for you only if you are really interested in this time period or the historical events. ( )
2 vote gbill | Mar 3, 2015 |
I read this book many years ago and loved it ( )
  debrakeogh | Feb 28, 2015 |
The upsides of this novel are so stunning it seems ungrateful to dwell on the downsides. But I'll start there. The first is Mario Vargas Llosa's almost disturbing pleasure in debauchery. The second is that the structure of the book seems a little off. The second half is entirely military campaigns and killing, which related to the first, can sometimes be tedious and feel unnecessary. The book is more War and War than War and Peace. Also, as the book shifts perspectives from the rebels to the government troops to the capital, it also shifts in time. As a result, the end of the Canudos military campaign is told more than a hundred pages before the end which adds to the occasional tedium. Also, as a result, the ending of the book did not seem to satisfyingly tie together the various pieces and a number of the more interesting characters disappeared.

All of that said, it is a monumental and for the most part thoroughly absorbing novel that effectively shifts perspectives and sympathies, telling what is ultimately portrayed as a tragic but morally ambiguous story. It shifts between the two parties in Bahia (the monarchists led by a Baron and the Republicans led by a newspaper editor), the army/federal government, and the breakaway Christian/communist/utopians of Canudos. Some of the creations, like the Baron de Canabrava, the nearsighted journalist, and several of the followers of the Counselor, are stunningly rendered and as real as any fictional figures. Many of the others are more stock characters, or not fully developed, or a little wooden (e.g., the cuckolded guide who spends a substantial portion of the book trying to hunt down his wife and kill her).

Feast of the Goat was better, but in many ways this book is literally bigger and also very much worth reading. ( )
  nosajeel | Jun 21, 2014 |
3.5 stars — What an elephantine statement. I began the novel with the impression that it was kind of a Christian millenarian Germinal in terms of the bleakness of its storyline. By the end, however, it was clear to me that Vargas Llosa's model was predominantly Russian. When AC says here that "there is a certain archaism and hieratic nature in the writing," I think this is in part what he means, though the limited third-person voice never widens to full God-like omniscience.

The novel is based on the Canudos or backlands rebellion in Brazil of the late 1890s, which is known to us primarily from Euclides Da Cunha’s pioneering Sertões (available in translation from Penguin as Backlands: The Canudos Campaign), which has been called the starting point of Brazilian letters. Brazil has deposed its monarchy and established a young, unstable republic. The disenfranchised monarchists want to hang on to their property rights and are in a political fight with the republicans. This conflict forms the novel’s lethal backstory. In the foreground is the messianic figure, Antonio Conselhiero (the Counselor), who, over thirty years of preaching in the backlands has assembled a flock of congregants, including many notorious bandits, but made up largely of poor farming families forced off the land by devastating drought.

The Counselor views the new republic as the Anti-christ because of a constitution that separates church and state. The republic's transgressions include the institution of civil marriage, when, as the Counselor knows from direct contact with his deity, a perfectly valid form of religious marriage already exists. Also cited as fodder for rebellion is the collection of taxes, viewed as an encroachment on Church tithing; and a census, which is seen as a way to both reinstitute the slave trade, abolished under the monarchy, and provide the Antichrist republic with the information it needs to undertake a pogrom of all declared Catholics. An entirely baseless claim yet one that is not without irony given the story's genocidal conclusion.

In time the dispossessed pilgrims settle on one of the landholdings, Canudos, of the Baron Canabrava. The pro-republican propagandist, Epaminondas Gonçalves -- a man whose murderous PR would make even Joey Goebbels burst with admiration -- paints the squatters as recidivist monarchists in league with the elderly baron. This is false. It is true, however, that the squatters have rejected the republic. When Gonçalves arranges for a shipment of English rifles and ammunition to Canudos he conveniently exposes the "monarchists" as traitors to the fledgling republic and publishes accordingly. Because of this deft bit of disinformation, the republicans and their armies and most of the public do not know that Canudos is in fact a religious settlement with eschatological leanings. Even during the last prolonged campaign against Canudos the commanding general still believes that the jagunços have monarchist tendencies and English officers advising them. Three times the republic sends the army against Canudos and loses ignominiously, thanks to the insurgents' ruthless guerrilla tactics. The fourth campaign succeeds.

Vargas Llosa spends the first 200 pages alone establishing his characters. They are a rogue’s gallery, too, and include the “nearsighted journalist,” a character based on Euclides Da Cunha himself; the elderly Baron Canabrava, head of the (real) ousted monarchists; the newspaper owner and lethal republican, Gonçalves; Galileo Gall, a Scottish socialist, whose over-zealousness and lack of self-examination bring him to an ugly pass; the ex-slave, Big João, who ruthlessly slices his mistress to bits during a backlands excursion; Abbot João, formerly Satan João, Pajeú, Pedrão, and other murderous bandits turned upstanding Christians; the Vilanova brothers, itinerant merchants; the filicide Maria Quadrado; the Lion of Natuba, a literate, deformed young man who serves as the Counselor's scribe; and the entire Brazilian army -- a Dostoyevskian dramatis personae if ever there was one.

On the whole, the novel is an admirable endeavor. The narration is straightforward, the diction very flat. There's no fancy vocabulary, except for the occasional Portuguese word, and no structural sleight-of-hand. The writing strives to stay out of its own way, and largely succeeds. But neither does the prose exhibit any real nicety of style, to use E.M. Forster’s phrase. The idiom did not inordinately excite or please this reader. In other words, it doesn't sing. The book’s achievement is in its structure and its length (580 pages). A bit too long for me, the battle scenes especially. As we hurtle toward the end, increasingly there's a tendency toward melodrama. Cliches start popping up: "A chill ran down his spine." Then again there are many beautifully vivid renderings of action and space: the sere landscape, the streets of the impoverished squatter town. Recommended with reservations. ( )
1 vote William345 | Jun 11, 2014 |
Mario Vargas Llosa won the Nobel Prize for literature, and a friend told me that The War of the End of the World is one of his best books. So I read it, and am wondering, if this the best the guy can do, why he won the prize. Well, he won it probably for the very reasons I don't like it. He's a Peruvian writing about Brazil, and I am not (Peruvian or from Brazil). So the events that occurred at Canudos probably resonate for him in an entirely different way than they do for me, especially since I had never heard of the place. So it's about war, a changing Brazil, fanatics, and whole much of other stuff that would have been of much greater interest to me had it happened in the USA, say Waco, TX as a rough parallel. Still I read the whole thing and can say that it was not a complete waste of time....though I would say that having read the whole thing...
  nicktingle | May 11, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Mario Vargas Llosaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Богдановск… АлександрTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Euclides da Cunha in the other world; and, in this world, to Nélida Piñon
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The man was tall and so thin he seemed to be always in profile.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312427980, Paperback)

Deep within the remote backlands of nineteenth-century Brazil lies Canudos, home to all the damned of the earth: prostitutes, bandits, beggars, and every kind of outcast. It is a place where history and civilization have been wiped away. There is no money, no taxation, no marriage, no census. Canudos is a cauldron for the revolutionary spirit in its purest form, a state with all the potential for a true, libertarian paradise--and one the Brazilian government is determined to crush at any cost.

In perhaps his most ambitious and tragic novel, Mario Vargas Llosa tells his own version of the real story of Canudos, inhabiting characters on both sides of the massive, cataclysmic battle between the society and government troops. The resulting novel is a fable of Latin American revolutionary history, an unforgettable story of passion, violence, and the devastation that follows from fanaticism.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:47 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

An apocalyptic prophet in the Brazilian backlands creates the state of Canudos. In it there is no money, property, marriage, income tax, decimal system, or census.

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