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The war of the end of the world by Mario…

The war of the end of the world

by Mario Vargas Llosa

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English (24)  Spanish (3)  Danish (1)  Portuguese (1)  Portuguese (Brazil) (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (31)
Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
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. ( )
  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 |
I find it very difficult to put into words my thoughts on this book. This is a historical novel based on the peasant revolt that took place in Brazil in the late 19th century when a renegade priest and his followers took over an abandoned estate in Canudos and established a community that refused to recognize the authority of the newly established republic, the old catholic church or civil marriages. Money was outlawed. There could be no taxation, census taking, marriage or ownership of property in this new community. With the exception of former tax collectors, Freemasons or men who had worn the uniform of the republic all were welcomed, given a plot of land for their home and to farm. Thousands of former bandits, slaves, prostitutes, beggars and misfits of society flocked to Canudos where they were not only welcomed but made to feel human for the first time in many of their lives. This priest who they called The Counselor, talked to all with dignity and in the eyes of the peasants became a saint that they loved, protected and followed as he led.

This was a time when the new republic was still on shaky footing with the large landowners, who were mostly Monarchists, still in opposition to the new government. Agents for the new government see Canudos as the perfect rallying cry for the country and accuse them of being agents of a foreign power in league with the Monarchists. As can be readily imagined, the government of the republic decided to wipe this community out before this type of revolt took root in other parts of Brazil and seriously undermined their central control. What followed was an epic battle where tens of thousands of republic soldiers fought the renegades of Canudos, losing thousands of their soldiers to a ragtag group of defenders of Canudos before finally prevailing.

The story is told from the perspective of several points of view, residents of Canudos, believers and people with nothing making the pilgrimage to this haven, the landowners who were seeing their rich haciendas burned down and their workers leaving for Canudos, newspaper writers who followed the soldiers, government leaders and various other voices. We hear the resident of Canudos talk of their plans to defend themselves, to waylay supplies on their way to the republic soldiers, the co-operation of all and the love and respect they exhibited to one another. We hear from the soldiers about the humiliation of losing so many, the mutilations performed on the soldiers and the despair in the souls of the soldiers.

This was an enormous undertaking and the writer to his credit wrote an epic masterpiece that left me in awe and wanting to find out more from this period of Brazil’s history. This is not a book for everyone, many will give up within the first 100 pages, but if you stay with it you’ll be rewarded richly. I highly recommend.
( )
  mlbelize | Jan 27, 2014 |
I sheepishly admit that upon seeing the title and the praise without reading anything about the description, I thought that this would be some sort of science fiction epic. I was understandably disappointed within the first few pages when I realized that it was not science but historical fiction. That said, the story was more engrossing than a lot of sci-fi I have read, with interesting characters and events. For various reasons, I couldn't put it down and finished all five hundred and some-odd pages in about a week.

I'm curious as to how much of the book is fact -- for example, which of the characters besides the Counselor and some of the military officers were real people -- and I'm strongly considering reading the journalistic account of the War of Canudos, [b:Rebellion in the Backlands|893558|Rebellion in the Backlands|Euclides da Cunha|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1179251393s/893558.jpg|878784]. I sort of hope that some of these characters (Galileo Gall, Abbot Joao, the Lion of Natuba, the Little Blessed One, Maria Quadrado) have some basis in reality, but I'm not holding my breath.

The only books I've read in the last 2 years that have been as engaging as this were [b:Homage to Catalonia|9646|Homage to Catalonia|George Orwell|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1337103046s/9646.jpg|2566499], [b:For Whom the Bell Tolls|46170|For Whom the Bell Tolls|Ernest Hemingway|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1298424632s/46170.jpg|2252079], [b:Seeing|47667|Seeing|José Saramago|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1328875016s/47667.jpg|1090709] and [b:Blindness|2526|Blindness|José Saramago|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1327866409s/2526.jpg|3213039], in that order. I guess it says more about me than anything else that the first two are war stories and the second two are by Saramago. Now that I think of it, all five of the books have in common their treatment of mass disaster and the breakdown of social order, which fascinates me.

Vargas embellishes his treatment with highly memorable characters and mostly good (if occasionally anachronistic) dialogue, but I still had some problems with it. First and most distracting was an issue of voice and pacing, which aren't the same problem but somewhat related nonetheless. For the life of me, I can't figure out why Vargas wrote some sections in past tense and others in present. I tried to detect a pattern but got nothing, possibly because the book was too long to remember specific examples as I kept reading. If anyone can enlighten me I'd be appreciative, but in the meantime I'm going to continue with my impression that it took me out of the flow of the story when he changed tenses. He also had an entire section that was a letter in the 1st person without introduction, and later intermingled the baron and journalist's conversation with Abbot Joao's war account in a confusing way.

A related issue was the actual structure of the novel. Though it was consistently engaging in each of its separate sections (several sections for each chapter), the technique of completely shifting perspective, character, setting and time between sections had the effect of totally halting any momentum that I had going as a reader. Perhaps this was a good thing overall, as it allows the reader a chance to put the book down and do something else. But for me it was mostly frustrating, for example being wrapped up in a blow-by-blow account of a particular front of the battle, then switching abruptly to the Baron/Journalist's later conversation, or conversely being enthralled with the happenings of Canudos as it is trying to endure the siege and then being switched to a minor subofficial of the Republican Army that we have never met and will never see beyond this section. Basically, I would have enjoyed the book more if it had been less episodic.

My next biggest problem with the book was its hyper-romanticism, which quite simply needed to be toned down. My first instance of this feeling occurred in the battle-to-the-death of Rufino and Gall, all the circumstances of which were oh-so-convenient and just sort of ridiculous. The next examples were more or less minor and mostly had to do with extremely fortuitous character encounters (Pejao being the one to shoot Col. Moreiras, the journalist stumbling randomly upon Padre Joaquim, who then randomly stumbled upon Jurema and the Dwarf). These instances were just sort of ridiculous and unbelievable. The worst for me was the relationship that developed between Jurema and the journalist. It was not sufficiently developed and was absolutely incredible. There were even passages that explicitly admitted this incredibility: Once again the baron was overcome by the feeling that it was all unreal, a dream, a fiction, which always took possession of him at the very thought of Canudos. All these happenstances, coincidences, fortuitous encounters, made him feel as though he were on tenterhooks. . . the thought of the strange geography of chance, the secret order, the unfathomable law of the history of peoples and individuals that capriciously brought them together, separated them, made them enemies or allies. 502And then a couple of pages later this is an actual exchange between the baron and the journalist: "Why is it you didn't die of thirst? You weren't a combatant, were you?"

"I wonder myself why I didn't," the journalist answered. "If there were any logic to this story, there are any number of times when I should have died in Canudos."

"Love doesn't quench thirst," the baron said, trying to wound his feelings.

"No, it doesn't quench it," he agreed. "But it gives one strength to endure it. . ."
So Vargas literally admits that many of his events are illogical and make no sense, and then explains them with the power of love. Like I said, too romantic and totally unnecessary. Plus, just because you blatantly acknowledge that your story is completely unrealistic does not excuse or validate it. The story of Canudos is plenty captivating without having to stoop to sentimentality. Vargas either needed to make this as realistic as possible or run with his sentimental instincts and go full-blown magical realism.

Another minor detail that bothered me was the gratuitous use of violence and rape, which was effective up to a point but just seemed too much by the last couple hundred pages. At certain points the book almost reminded me of [b:The Stand|149267|The Stand|Stephen King|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1213131305s/149267.jpg|1742269] because of this, but not in a good way.

Ultimately, I really liked this book and almost loved it, but it didn't quite make my favorites; it would have been much better with less embellishment of the fact. ( )
  blake.rosser | Jul 28, 2013 |
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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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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:39:32 -0400)

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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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