This semi fictional semi realistic novel recaptures the dictatorship of Trujjilo (the ‘Goat’) who was the brutal dictator of the Dominician Republic from 1930 until his assassination in 1961. The novel unfolds with the visit of Urania Cabral, a successful New York lawyer and the daughter of one of the chief lackeys of the Goat. Her unbridled hatred of her father and the recounting of crucial events during the dictatorship, the assassination, the reprisals and the political machinations post the assassination make for a fascinating and insightful study into the ‘mind’ of a dictatorship.
This novel works on several levels – it’s a powerful subject, handled with intensity. Inspite of being written as a series of flashbacks, the story never loses its fluidity and keeps you involved to the very end. The most important takeaway from the book, for me, is more on a micro level. While many books deal with the effect of dictatorship on the country at large, this is the first novel that I have read dealing with the shattering effect of a dictatorship on the people closest to the dictator and their families. Also Trujjilo’s skilful handling of the people around him - keeping them on tenterhooks and playing one off another - is a classic lesson for politicians of all hues. The language is taut and the description of the events leading to the assassination and the actual deed inspire a rush of adrenalin and literally explode on the pages. The torture and reprisals of the population, complete with the mock trials, is brutal and eerily reminds me of the various riots and atrocities that have taken place in India over the last few decades.
This novel is a must read for all people living in democracies who sometimes lament about the bumbling nature of progress in a democratic system and pine for dictatorial rule. Dictatorships and authoritarian rule of any sort breed pure evil. Denying dissent is but a mere step away from denying the right to a life itself.