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The War of the End of the World

by Mario Vargas Llosa

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1,873406,335 (4.14)2 / 251
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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English (31)  Spanish (5)  Danish (1)  Portuguese (1)  Dutch (1)  Portuguese (Brazil) (1)  All languages (40)
Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
A very good long read which has all the intensity of the most roasted Brazilian coffee you can imagine. There’s a lot of conflict here so steer clear if you’re not up for that.

Based on the true story of a hinterland rebellion in northeastern Brazil in the late 19th century known now as the War of Canudos. The coming millenium leads to the formation of a messianic cult formed almost entirely of peasants who form an early version of Occupy to form their own society building their own town of Canudos.

In the eyes of the government, doing anything they didn’t sanction invited the only solution governments understand: crush the people at all costs. And the cost is high, on both sides. This leads, ultimately to a major tragedy which should never have happened.

Vargas Llosa is, for me, unique in that he’s the only writer based south of San Diego that I can read with ease. For some reason, writers from South / Latin America seems to write in such a tortured enigmatic fashion that you wonder if they do this simply to obscure the fact that they really don’t have much of anything noteworthy to say.

Coelho, Allende, Bolano, Garcia Marquez, Paz – all of these have brought their offerings and received a Cain-like rebuke from me. Even Borges, while he may have much worthile to say, doesn’t half do a song and dance to get there.

But pick up this book and you are captivated from the start. The characterisation is vivid and vast and that includes the unforgiving landscape. The events that unfold are woven back and forth sometimes chronologically, sometimes not, like a baker kneading the dough of some fabulous bread.

But, as you discover early on, this bread will stick in the throat. As a reader you are disturbed throughout. The ending is particularly bitter.

The handling of the crisis shows that almost nothing has changed in the intervening century and a half. Aung San Suu Kyi, Assad, Mohammed bin Salman, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa have all led brutal acts of oppression against their own citizens which are very selectively condemned by our own governments. ( )
  arukiyomi | Oct 11, 2020 |
Mario Vargas Llosa's novel "The War of the End of the World" was certainly a challenging and slow read for me, but I found it mostly enjoyable and worthy of reputation.

This is historical fiction that tells the story of the War of Canudos in turn of the century Brazil. A wandering traveler named The Counselor picks up a growing horde of the poverty stricken believers -- many whom are also criminals-- who migrate with him to Canudos to start a new society. The society seems to work so well, it worries officials in Brazil who send a series of troops to quell what they view as a rebellion against the current order. Their alarm grows as the people of Canudos manage to fend off three attacks before finally succumbing during the fourth battle.

There is a huge cast of characters here and Llosa does an amazing job painting such vivid portraits of them that they become memorable in their own right. This is really masterfully written. ( )
  amerynth | Nov 14, 2019 |
Un livre magnifique, un récit riche: par ses personnages, par son écriture, par le déroulement de l'histoire. Un récit long, aussi, mais je n'y ai pas vu de longueur, au contraire.
Même si on connaît presque dès le début le dénouement, on est pris dans le récit, et on se prend à rêver.
Les personnages sont attachants, même les 'pires', mais qui sont les pires, finalement?
Ma note est un peu dans n'importe quel sens, difficile d'exprimer comme ça en quelques lignes ce que ce 'pavé', cette véritable saga peut m'inspirer, mais dans une première approche: j'aime!

Un peu de l'histoire quand même, car c'est d'histoire qu'il s'agit: une histoire vraie, au Brésil au XIXème, une guerre qui n'en est pas une, opposant un groupe d'illuminés(?) de pacifistes(?) de croyants, en tout cas, dont la foi pourrait presque déplacer des montagnes, et des militaires, ayant définitivement le mauvais rôle dans ce livre. Je n'ose donc pas donner le nom de guerre à cet évènement, les forces sont trop disproportionnées, c'est bien plutôt une bataille de répression... difficile cependant de prendre fait et cause pour le groupe "réprimé", dont je ne partage pas les opinions, et pourtant, leur bataille est belle, leur foi est impressionnante... j'ai encore du mal à croire que cette guerre a réellement eu lieu: c'est trop fort trop riche pour être vrai ; mais parallèlement, j'ai aussi du mal à penser que toute cette histoire sort de l'imagination d'un seul être: c'est trop complet, trop riche pour cela... trop beau peut-être aussi... ( )
  elisala | Feb 16, 2018 |
It’s not entirely clear if the War on Terrorism is actually a war when the enemy has neither government nor army, but if it is, presumably it can give rise to war crimes. So what is a war crime? The laws that deal with war crimes are the Geneva Conventions, the fourth one dealing with crimes against civilians. Both Ireland and the United States have ratified the Fourth Convention, though the US with its customary contempt for the individual was unable to bring itself to doing so whole-heartedly:

“The United States reserve the right to impose the death penalty in accordance with the provisions of Article 68, paragraph 2, without regard to whether the offences referred to therein are punishable by death under the law of the occupied territory at the time the occupation begins.”
official convention text 12 August 1949

The BBC have some good material on the subject and quoting the Fourth Geneva Convention, they describe as a war crime the:

“wilful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, including … wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement of a protected person, compelling a protected person to serve in the forces of a hostile power, or wilfully depriving a protected person of the rights of fair and regular trial, …taking of hostages and extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly”.

Rendition Map
In the light of the complicity of Ireland and ten other EU partners in the current practice of extraordinary rendition by the US authorities, I had assumed our leaders were guilty of war crimes, but not so, it seems. Nothing there about complicity, active or passive. So is justice indeed blind … and daft to boot? Apparently not. The Harvard Human Rights Journal claims that

Countries not directly committing acts of torture, but facilitating the practice by providing intelligence or material assistance, may violate Article 1’s prohibition on state “consent or acquiescence” to torture.

Dermot Ahern and Michael McDowell should not sleep so easily in their beds after their laughable defence that the US “assures” them they didn’t use Shannon for rendition.

All of which is a long way of saying I was reminded today of Mario Vargas Llosa’s The War of the End of the World which deals with the way a government (in this case Brazil in 1897) cruelly subdued a group of religious misfits that challenged its authority. It’s a cliché, but History cannot help but repeat itself. It’s some time since I read it and it’s now right back to the top of my reading list! ( )
  tchelyzt | Jul 15, 2017 |
Vargas Llosa’s famous eschatological novel, "The war of the end of the world”, recounts the bloody uprising of the poor that took place in the Brazilian badlands in the northern state of Bahia at the end of the 19th century.

It would have been a barely noticed hiccup in Brazilian history had this uprising not evolved into a full scale civil war featuring a rebellious community of 30.000 souls fighting back successfully the multiple attacks of the regular Brazilian army. This two year - conflict, known as the Guerra de Canudos, came to a bloody end in October 1897 when the Brazilian soldiers, despite suffering heavy losses, finally overran the rebellion’s stronghold and exterminated the insurgents, men, women and children to the last.

It remains an intriguing story, worth telling and certainly worth reading.

In the hostile Brazilian backlands known as the Sertao, a poor region plagued by drought, violence and political corruption, an enigmatic messianic figure known as the Conseilheiro ( the counselor), attracts followers through simple actions of faith : repairing decrepit churches, weeding bad herbs in abandoned cemeteries and enduring long praying sessions.

The people who join him in the early days of the crusade are those that have nothing to lose, the very poor, the excluded, the abused. Their motivation is fueled by an Apocalyptic mood that has appeared in the wake of a great drought that has decimated man and faun alike and a period of great national turmoil caused by the abolishment of slavery and the transition from Monarchy to a young and hesitating Republic.

In the following months, more and more believers inspired by the actions and sayings of the charismatic leader join the army of the destitute. Repentant criminals, people in need of a vision and religious searchers strengthen the ever-growing army.

The expanding group moves from village to village, camping in the open, living from the land and the gifts from sympathizing villagers. But soon enough the erring tribe has grown too large and a need for a permanent settlement is urgently felt. The counselor and his flock establish their own village on top of a hill. Their community is build on their own rules and organizations. They reject property, the use of money and they decide not to pay any taxes.

This of course attracts attention and the Bahia government sends a first small army detachment to quench this kernel of insurgence…

Llosa’s book is dedicated to the Brazilian writer Euclides da Cunha, the writer of Os Sertoes, an early account of the military expeditions against the rebellious village of the Canudos.

This is more than a detail. Da Cunha was a Brazilian journalist and sociologist whose book Os Sertoes, written a few years after the war, was the main source of information of what happened in the desert available to a larger public. It was also the inspiration and contemporary source for the writing of "The war of the end of the world”. Book and the persona of the writer might partly explain the two strange characters in Vargas Llosa’s book : the revolutionary Scot and the near-sighted journalist.

I haven’t read Os Sertoes, but according to the available information, da Cunha, although sympathizing with the rebellion tried to explain the insurgents’ backwardness, their racial degeneration and their ”objectified insanity" with outdated and debunked racial and psychiatric theories.

In the “War of the end of the World”, we follow two characters, two witnesses who, they too, try to make sense of the weird pilgrims and strange development of this pauper - revolution.

The first one is a foreigner, a devilish Scottish revolutionist and phrenologist ( an outdated physiological theory too ), complete with red curly hair and a red goatee, follower of Proudhon and Bakunin who is trying to join the revolutionaries in order to present them, we assume ,his blueprint of a new communist state. He claims to understand the revolutionary movement better than anyone else but his attempt to reach Canudos is hampered by the harshness of the backlands and the people. He will disappear in the desert, murdered or not, after having transgressed all his own social, moral and ethical standards.

The second character, who comes more to the foreground in the second part of the book, when the fall of Canudos needs to be recorded and explained, is an unnamed cynic reporter, traveling with the army. But this journalist is (oh irony ) very nearsighted and prone to sneezing fits when stressed or scared. As he is constantly stressed and scared, he is at the most a very unreliable narrator. When he gets into a fighting melee, before being captured by the revolting peasants, he brakes and looses his glasses and witnesses the last stand of the revolutionary village through a blurred image and through the information he gets from others.

The undoing of both characters seem to indicate that Vargas Llosa’s conclusions are that no theory, scientific or pseudo-scientific can satisfactorily explain what has happened at Canudos and second that no one really witnessed how the peasant revolt resisted so long to an adversary so outnumbered and extremely more powerful and finally that all historical interpretation and explanations in the aftermath are spoiled by political near-sightedness, unreliable information sources and biased mental blur.

So if we cannot explain Canudos, what is it then ?

Canudos is simply a miracle.

"The war of the end of the world” is a long and demanding read. It is a complex story, following many characters with a lot of developments happening at the same moment and crisscrossed by political and religious digressions. But Vargas Llosa is a master storyteller, he holds the narrative reins firm in hand, the novel is impeccably structured and organized. This for the benefit of the leisurely reader, who needs but a shortlist of characters to help him through the 600 or so pages.

It is also a gruesome read, the pages bulk of countless horrors men inflict on fellow men. It is a feast of self flagellation, of primitive religious extremes in sync with the bleakness of the Sertao. The reader is spared nothing.

The fighting chapters in the last part of the book however, come over at times as tedious, especially since we know the outcome of the war. But again Vargas Llosa, deploying all the tricks of the trade…analepses, prolepses, anecdotes keeps the reader with his eyes on the page.

The most intriguing and fascinating chapters are ( at least for me ) those that introduce the most loyal disciples of the Conseilheiro by telling their miserable life stories. It is a series of hagiographic cameos, not unlike those written by Athanasius of Alexandria in the early days of Christianity, often containing scenes of extreme religiosity and abject suffering : Pajeu the cangaceiro with the slashed face, the most evil man of the sertao, Pedrao the enormous brute , the nameless “little blessed one” who tortures himself to express his love for the Conseilheiro, A dwarf terrified of dying, big Jaoa, a runaway slave, Maria Quadrado, devoted Maria Magdalena to the Conseilheiro, the Lion of Natuba, a creature half man half animal saved in extremis from the stake…

There is all along the reading of the War, a sense of familiarity, a strange déjà - vu.

The last centuries have seen dozen of similar insurrections of the desperate, set in movement by a charismatic religious or social leader. All of them leaving an immense trail of blood and terror in their wake. They are the histories of the poor, easily forgotten or overlooked in our history books.

I think it is not too far fetched, if we even recognize in some elements of the Taliban, Isis and the new caliphates, other Canudos. Here too, a backward and violent movement fueled by the frustration and hopelessness of a whole army of poor, encourages lost individuals to sacrifice themselves for an ill-directed cause. Our fogged and damage Tv - glasses do not always let us see things that clearly.

The War of the end of the world is basically an alternative history of the world. In the development of the War of Canudos, a model appears that has been played out numerous times in the history of our civilizations. The fact that these insurrections keep repeating themselves, also in our Modern times, is proof enough that many states have grossly failed to care of their armies of poor and disadvantaged.

If you want to visit Canudos today, say for an innocent pilgrimage or a remembrance of those who suffered, you won’t find it. The ruins of the town are covered by a water reservoir of the Cocorobó Dam, built by the military regime in the 1960s.

What needs to be forgotten must disappear. ( )
5 vote Macumbeira | Apr 9, 2017 |
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» Add other authors (68 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Mario Vargas Llosaprimary authorall editionscalculated
Morino, AngeloTranslatorsecondary authorsome 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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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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