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The War of the End of the World (1981)

by Mario Vargas Llosa

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2,237476,610 (4.16)2 / 260
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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» See also 260 mentions

English (36)  Spanish (7)  Catalan (1)  Dutch (1)  Portuguese (Brazil) (1)  Portuguese (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (48)
Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
  archivomorero | Feb 13, 2023 |
I enjoyed it though it took me around 2.5 months. It's a thick volume with multiple characters, foreign landscape, unknown history, untranslatable and untranslated words - in short, not a fast read, but definitely worth the effort. I was also a bit intimidated by it being classified "magical realism", but it's not, in my opinion. It's a solid, impressively researched piece of historical fiction. ( )
  dacejav | Nov 21, 2022 |
  archivomorero | Jun 27, 2022 |
  archivomorero | Jun 25, 2022 |
Sometimes a really long book only elicits a very short summary from me, either because I don't have much to say, or because I don't think my reaction would fit well in a review. This book is one of the latter cases. First of all, it's huge, and not merely in size but in all the other aspects too - cast, range, and its scope. That epic quality is probably why it's been analogized to Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace, but I think the plot is also somewhat similar to Victor Hugo's Ninety-Three. It's a novelistic take on the War of Canudos, a small attempt to quiet a small rebellious village that grew into the deadliest civil war in Brazilian history. In Llosa's hands, the town's dedication to an obscure charismatic religious figure becomes a stand-in for the massive changes Brazil was experiencing at the time: abolition of slavery, transition from monarchy to a republic, and attempts to secularize a deeply religious people in the name of Brazil's new motto: Order and Progress. Some of the scenes with jungle warfare also reminded me of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (or at least Apocalypse Now).

One thing that helped keep it readable was that Llosa is a master of tempo, interspersing the epic battles with the stories of these people whose lives are entwined with the ideals of the age. If ever a book deserved the adjective "apocalyptic", it would be this one. I've never read "Rebellion in the Backlands" by Euclides da Cunha, which is supposedly the primary source material, but the exact fidelity to events is almost besides the point here - the increasing attempts by the central government to conquer the rebels in the town build to a fever pitch amid the kind of hysterical millennialism that feels as real as anything. The constant doom-laden tension is only enhanced by the scenes of analepsis and prolepsis, as characters reflect on their past actions and what they meant, if mere mortals could ever attempt to understand the true magnitude of the action. I don't usually pay a lot of attention to introductions, but I wish my copy of the book had discussed the contrast in the view of politics as presented here and Llosa's real-life, somewhat neoliberal political career. It seems like quite a contrast.

Anyway, it was a remarkable book with some truly indelible scenes of faith, war, and death. Many of the book's brief scenes are as well-drawn as anything you'll read in those more famous books it's compared to. This short extract only begins to hint at its qualities:

"It's easier to imagine the death of one person than those of a hundred or a thousand," the baron murmured. "When multiplied, suffering becomes abstract. It is not easy to be moved by abstract things."
"Unless one has seen first one, then ten, a hundred, a thousand, thousands suffer," the nearsighted journalist answered. "If the death of Gentil de Castro was absurd, many of those in Canudos died for reasons no less absurd."
"How many?" the baron said in a low voice. He knew that the number would never be known, that, as with all the rest of history, the figure would be one that historians and politicians would increase and decrease in accordance with their doctrines and the advantage they could extract from it. ( )
  aaronarnold | May 11, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (67 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Mario Vargas Llosaprimary authorall editionscalculated
Helen R. LaneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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