The Dream of the Celt

The Dream of the Celt

3.6 3
by Mario Vargas Llosa
     
 

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A subtle and enlightening novel about a neglected human rights pioneer by the Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa

In 1916, the Irish nationalist Roger Casement was hanged by the British government for treason. Casement had dedicated his extraordinary life to improving plight of oppressed peoples around the world—especially the native populations in

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Overview

A subtle and enlightening novel about a neglected human rights pioneer by the Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa

In 1916, the Irish nationalist Roger Casement was hanged by the British government for treason. Casement had dedicated his extraordinary life to improving plight of oppressed peoples around the world—especially the native populations in the Belgian Congo and the Amazon—but when he dared to draw a parallel between the injustices he witnessed in African and American colonies and those committed by the British in Northern Ireland, he became involved in a cause that led to his imprisonment and execution. Ultimately, the scandals surrounding Casement’s trial and eventual hanging tainted his image to such a degree that his pioneering human rights work wasn’t fully reexamined until the 1960s.

Vargas Llosa, who has long been regarded as one of Latin America’s most vibrant, provocative, and necessary literary voices—a fact confirmed when the Peruvian writer was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2010—brings this complex character to life as no other writer can. This masterful work, sharply translated by Edith Grossman, tackles a controversial man whose story has long been neglected, and in so doing, pushes at the boundaries of historical novel.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A Nobel Prize for Literature winner (in 2010) and one-time Peruvian presidential candidate, Vargas Llosa chronicles the life of Roger Casement, an Irish patriot and human rights activist, or “specialist in atrocities,” who was executed by the British in 1916 after the Easter Rising, which heralded the beginning of Irish independence. This is a meticulously researched book about a deeply complex man; Vargas Llosa’s admirable powers as a writer of fiction are apparent when he slows the pace of the narrative to allow access to Casement’s thoughts as he languishes in prison, waiting to hear whether his stay of execution has been granted. Vargas Llosa (The Bad Girl) is at his best writing as a novelist rather than biographer, but the unnecessarily complex narrative structure in which Casement’s life story unfolds at a galloping pace achieves neither the best of biography nor the best of fiction. Readers will wish that the book was either one or the other. Agent: The Carmen Balcells Agency. (June 12)
Library Journal
Continuing his recent trend of writing historical novels, Vargas Llosa turns to Roger Casement, an Irish patriot knighted for exposing the greed and abuses of the rubber industry in the Belgian Congo and the Amazon. Casement was later tried and hanged for treason for his involvement in an insurrection in Ireland. True to Vargas Llosa's style, the narrative alternates between 1916, where Casement is in jail awaiting execution, and the historical background, beginning in 1903. The themes of greed and cover-up go all the way back to his first novel, The Time of the Hero; his fascination with the jungle was first evident in The Green House. Vargas Llosa also speculates about the authenticity of Casement's so-called black diaries, whose accounts of pederasty helped seal Casement's fate. VERDICT Though Vargas Llosa is on familiar ground in the two jungle settings, the section on the Irish rebellion sometimes feels like a journalistic tract. Still, any new novel by this popular, Nobel Prize—winning author will be in demand, and his gift for plot, character development, and dialog continue in this quickly paced read. [See Prepub Alert, 12/5/11.]—Lawrence Olszewski, OCLC Lib., Dublin, OH
Kirkus Reviews
The Celt in question is Sir Roger Casement, who advocated on behalf of oppressed natives of the Congo and of Amazonia, but when he turns his attention to the Irish Troubles in 1916, the British feel he's gone too far, so he's caught, tried and executed. Originally published in 2010 and now lyrically translated, the novel focuses on the three major stages in Casement's life. As a young man he travels to the Congo, and while at first he's enamored with the European "mission," he soon has a Conrad-ian epiphany about the exploitation of rubber workers, who are brutalized beyond belief. (Conrad, in fact, briefly appears in the novel.) Casement's report about this exploitation garners him much acclaim in England. Next he turns his compassionate vision toward Amazonia, that section of Peru in which the indigenous peoples are once again being savagely misused by a multinational corporation--in this case the Peruvian Amazon Company, whose board, Casement discovers, comprises a number of prominent Englishmen, but in his role of British consul he courageously speaks out against the atrocities he finds there and once again publishes a devastating report; this time his findings ironically lead to his being knighted by the British. In the final phase of his life--he died at the tragically young age of 51--he supports independence for his native Ireland, naively working with the Germans during World War I against an England he now hates. At the Easter Rising he's caught and four months later is executed at Pentonville Prison in London. Although politically and morally committed to his causes, Casement feels poor in love, for his "relationships" consist solely of fleeting and furtive homosexual liaisons. Vargas Llosa speculates that the so-called Black Diaries Casement left are authentic but that he uses them to record sexual fantasies as much as sexual reality. A dazzling novel of great intensity and power.
The Washington Post
…a delicate performance by Vargas Llosa…This vibrant reimagining of history is also a brilliant exploration of conflicting moral claims. Who are the oppressors? Who are the truth-tellers? As always, Vargas Llosa remains a fiendishly clever teacher.
—Luis Alberto Urrea
From the Publisher

“Mario Vargas Llosa has done an inestimable service to the memory of a great man.” —John Banville, The New York Review of Books

“This vibrant reimagining of history is also a brilliant exploration of conflicting moral claims. Who are the oppressors? Who are the truth-tellers? As always, Vargas Llosa remains a fiendishly clever teacher.” —The Washington Post

“At once a meticulously researched fictional biography and a clever psychological novel.” —The Economist

“Vargas Llosa is a masterful writer.” —The Miami Herald

The Dream of the Celt fully succeeds in capturing the complexity of the man....Vargas Llosa has produced an epic apologia for this most sympathetic of traitors.” —The Daily Beast

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780374143466
Publisher:
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
06/05/2012
Pages:
368
Sales rank:
780,356
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Dream of the Celt

A Novel
By Mario Vargas Llosa

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2012 Mario Vargas Llosa
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780374143466

Dream of the Celt, The
THE CONGOIWhen they opened the door to his cell, the street noise that the stone walls had muffled came in along with the stream of light and a blast of wind, and Roger woke in alarm. Blinking, still confused, struggling to calm down, he saw the shape of the sheriff leaning in the doorway. His flabby face, with its blond mustache and reproachful little eyes, contemplated Roger with a dislike he had never tried to hide. This was someone who would suffer if the British government granted his request for clemency."Visitor," muttered the sheriff, not taking his eyes off him.He stood, rubbing his arms. How long had he slept? Not knowing the time was one of the torments of Pentonville Prison. In Brixton Prison and the Tower of London he had heard the bells that marked the half hour and the hour; here, thick walls kept the clamor of the church bells along the Caledonian Road and the noise of the Islington market from reaching the prison interior, and the guards posted at the door strictly obeyed the order not to speak to him. The sheriff put handcuffs on him and indicated that he should walk behind. Was his lawyer bringing him good news? Had the cabinet met and reached a decision? Perhaps the sheriff's gaze was more filled than ever with the anger he inspired in him because his sentence had been commuted. He walked down the long passageway of red brick blackened by grime, past the metal doors of the cells and the discolored walls where every twenty or twenty-five paces a high barred window allowed him to glimpse a small piece of gray sky. Why was he so cold? It was July, the heart of summer, there was no reason for the icy cold that gave him goose bumps.When he entered the narrow visitors' room, his heart sank. Waiting for him was not his attorney, Maître George Gavan Duffy, but one of his assistants, a blond, sickly looking young man with prominent cheekbones who dressed like a fop and whom he had seen during the four days of his trial, carrying and fetching papers for the defense lawyers. Why, instead of coming in person, had Maître Gavan Duffy sent one of his clerks?The young man looked at him coldly. Anger and disgust were in his eyes. What was wrong with this imbecile? He looks at me as if I were vermin, thought Roger."Any news?"The young man shook his head. He inhaled before speaking:"Regarding the petition for pardon, not yet," he murmured drily, making a face that made him look even sicklier. "It is necessary to wait for the Council of Ministers to meet."The presence of the sheriff and another guard in the small room irritated Roger. Though they remained silent and motionless, he knew they were listening to everything. The idea oppressed his chest and made it difficult for him to breathe."But considering recent events," the blond young man added, blinking for the first time and opening and closing his mouth in an exaggerated way, "everything is more difficult now.""Outside news doesn't reach Pentonville. What happened?"What if the German admiralty had finally decided to attack Great Britain from the Irish coast? What if the dreamed-of invasion had taken place and the Kaiser's cannon were at this very moment avenging the Irish patriots shot by the British in the Easter Rising? If the war had taken that direction, his plans would be realized in spite of everything."Now it has become difficult, perhaps impossible, to succeed," the clerk repeated. He was pale, and Roger detected his skull beneath the whitish skin of his complexion. He sensed that behind him the sheriff was smiling."What are you talking about? Mr. Gavan Duffy was optimistic about the petition. What happened to make him change his mind?""Your diaries," the young man hissed, making another disgusted face. He had lowered his voice and it was difficult for Roger to hear him. "Scotland Yard found them in your house on Ebury Street."He paused for a long time, waiting for Roger to say something.But since he had fallen mute, the clerk gave free rein to his indignation and twisted his mouth:"My good man, how could you be so stupid?" He spoke slowly, making his rage more obvious. "How could you, my good man, put such things on paper? And if you did, how could you not take the basic precaution of destroying those diaries before embarking on a conspiracy against the British Empire?"It's an insult for this fellow to call me "my good man," Roger thought. Ill-mannered because Roger was at least twice the age of this affected boy."Portions of those diaries are circulating everywhere now," the clerk added, calmer, though his disgust was constant, not looking at him now. "In the admiralty, the minister's spokesman, Captain Reginald Hall himself, has given copies to dozens of reporters. They're all over London. In parliament, the House of Lords, Liberal and Conservative clubs, editorial offices, churches. It's the only topic of conversation in the city."Roger did not say anything. He did not move. Once again he had the strange sensation that had taken hold of him many times in recent months, ever since that gray, rainy April morning in 1916 when, numb with cold, he was arrested in the ruins of McKenna's Fort, in the south of Ireland: this did not have to do with him, they were talking about someone else, these things were happening to someone else."I know your private life is not my business, or Mr. Gavan Duffy's, or anyone's," added the young clerk, making an effort to lower the fury that saturated his voice. "This is a strictly professional matter. Mr. Gavan Duffy wanted to bring you up to date regarding the situation. And prepare you. The request for clemency may be compromised. This morning there are already protests in some newspapers, confidences betrayed, rumors regarding the content of your diaries. The favorable public response to the petition might be affected. Merely a supposition, of course. Mr. Gavan Duffy will keep you informed. Do you wish me to give him a message?"With an almost imperceptible movement of his head, the prisoner refused. He turned immediately afterward, facing the door of the visitors' room. With his chubby face the sheriff signaled the guard, who unbolted the door and opened it. The return to his cell seemed interminable. During his passage down the long hall withthe rocklike walls of blackened red brick, he had the feeling that at any moment he might trip and fall facedown on those damp stones and not get up again. When he reached the metal door of his cell, he remembered: on the day they brought him to Pentonville Prison, the sheriff had told him that, without exception, all the prisoners who occupied this cell had ended up on the gallows."Could I take a bath today?" he asked before he went in.The fat jailer shook his head, looking into his eyes with the same repugnance Roger had detected in the clerk's gaze."You cannot bathe until the day of your execution," said the sheriff, relishing each word. "And, on that day, only if it's your final wish. Others, instead of a bath, prefer a good meal. A bad business for Mr. Ellis, because then, when they feel the noose, they shit themselves. And leave the place like a pigsty. Mr. Ellis is the hangman, in case you didn't know."When he heard the door close behind him, he lay facedown on the narrow cot and closed his eyes. It would have been good to feel the cold water from that spout invigorating his skin and turning it blue with cold. In Pentonville the convicts, except for those condemned to death, could bathe with soap once a week in that stream of cold water. And the conditions in the cells were passable. On the other hand, he recalled with a shudder the filth in Brixton, where he had been covered with lice and fleas that swarmed in the mattress on his cot and covered his back, legs, and arms with bites. He attempted to think about that, but over and over he kept remembering the disgusted face and hateful voice of the blond clerk decked out like a dandy whom Maître Gavan Duffy had sent instead of coming in person to give him the bad news.Copyright © 2010 by Mario Vargas Llosa

Continues...

Excerpted from The Dream of the Celt by Mario Vargas Llosa Copyright © 2012 by Mario Vargas Llosa. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Mario Vargas Llosa was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2010. Peru's foremost writer, he has been awarded the Cervantes Prize, the Spanish-speaking world's most distinguished literary honor, and the Jerusalem Prize. His many works include The Feast of the Goat, The Bad Girl, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, The War of the End of the World, and The Storyteller. He lives in London.

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