The War of the End of the World

The War of the End of the World

by Mario Vargas Llosa, Helen Lane

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429921985
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 03/04/2011
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 576
Sales rank: 278,124
File size: 834 KB

About the Author

MARIO VARGAS LLOSA was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2010 "for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual's resistance, revolt, and defeat." 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.

Mario Vargas Llosa is Peru's foremost author and the winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature. In 1994 he was awarded the Cervantes Prize, the Spanish-speaking world's most distinguished literary honor, and in 1995 he won the Jerusalem Prize. His many distinguished works include The Storyteller, The Feast of the Goat, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, Death in the Andes, In Praise of the Stepmother, The Bad Girl, Conversation in the Cathedral, The Way to Paradise, and The War of the End of the World. He lives in London.
Helen Lane contributed to In Praise of the Stepmother from Picador.

Read an Excerpt

The War of the End of the World

By Mario Vargas Llosa, Helen R. Lane

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 1981 Mario Vargas Llosa
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-2198-5


The man was tall and so thin he seemed to be always in profile. He was dark-skinned and rawboned, and his eyes burned with perpetual fire. He wore shepherd's sandals and the dark purple tunic draped over his body called to mind the cassocks of those missionaries who every so often visited the villages of the backlands, baptizing hordes of children and marrying men and women who were cohabiting. It was impossible to learn what his age, his background, his life story were, but there was something about his quiet manner, his frugal habits, his imperturbable gravity that attracted people even before he offered counsel.

He would appear all of a sudden, alone in the beginning, invariably on foot, covered with the dust of the road, every so many weeks, every so many months. His tall figure was silhouetted against the light of dusk or dawn as he walked down the one street of the town, in great strides, with a sort of urgency. He would make his way along determinedly, amid nanny goats with tinkling bells, amid dogs and children who stepped aside and stared at him inquisitively, not returning the greetings of the women who already knew him and were nodding to him and hastening to bring him jugs of goat's milk and dishes of manioc and black beans. But he neither ate nor drank until he had gone as far as the church of the town and seen, once more, a hundred times over, that it was dilapidated, its paint faded, its towers unfinished and its walls full of holes and its floors buckling and its altars worm-eaten. A sad look would come over his face, with all the grief of a migrant from the Northeast whose children and animals have been killed by the drought, who has nothing left and must abandon his house, the bones of his dead, and flee, flee somewhere, not knowing where. Sometimes he would weep, and as he did so the black fire in his eyes would flare up in awesome flashes. He would immediately begin to pray. But not the way other men or women pray: he would stretch out face downward on the ground or the stones or the chipped tiles, in front of where the altar was or had been or would be, and would lie there praying, at times in silence, at times aloud, for an hour, two hours, observed with respect and admiration by the townspeople. He recited the Credo, the Our Father, and the Hail Marys that everyone was familiar with, and also other prayers that nobody had heard before but that, as the days, the months, the years went by, people gradually learned by heart. Where is the parish priest? they would hear him ask. Why isn't there a pastor for the flock here? And each time he discovered that there was no priest in the village it made him as sad at heart as the ruin of the Lord's dwelling places.

Only after having asked the Blessed Jesus' pardon for the state in which they had allowed His house to fall did he agree to eat and drink something, barely a sample of what the villagers hastened to offer him even in years of scarcity. He was willing to sleep indoors with a roof over his head, in one or another of the dwellings where the people of the backlands offered him hospitality, but those who gave him lodging rarely saw him take his rest in the hammock or makeshift bed or on the mattress placed at his disposal. He would lie down on the floor, without even a blanket, and, leaning his head with its wild mane of jet-black hair on one arm, would sleep for a few hours. Always so few that he was the last one to retire at night and yet when the cowherds and shepherds who were up earliest left for the fields they would catch sight of him, already at work mending the walls and roof of the church.

He gave his counsel when dusk was falling, when the men had come back from the fields and the women had finished their household tasks and the children were already asleep. He gave it in those stony, treeless, open spots to be found in all the villages of the backlands at the main crossroads, which might have been called public squares if they had had benches, tree-lined walks, gardens, or had kept those that they had once had and that little by little had been destroyed by drought, pestilence, indolence. He gave it at that hour when the sky of the North of Brazil, before becoming completely dark and studded with stars, blazes amid tufted white, gray, or bluish clouds and there is a sort of vast fireworks display overhead, above the vastness of the world. He gave it at that hour when fires are lighted to chase away the insects and prepare the evening meal, when the steamy air grows less stifling and a breeze rises that puts people in better spirits to endure the sickness, the hunger, and the sufferings of life.

He spoke of simple and important things, not looking at any person in particular among those who surrounded him, or rather looking with his incandescent eyes beyond the circle of oldsters, men and women, children, at something or someone only he could see. Things that were understandable because they had been vaguely known since time immemorial, things taken in along with the milk of one's mother's breast. Present, tangible, everyday, inevitable things, such as the end of the world and the Last Judgment, which might well occur before the time it would take for the town to set the chapel with drooping wings upright again. What would happen when the Blessed Jesus looked down upon the sorry state in which they had left His house? What would He say of the behavior of pastors who, instead of helping the poor, emptied their pockets by charging them money for the succor of religion? Could the words of God be sold? Shouldn't they be given freely, with no price tag attached? What excuse would be offered to the Father by priests who fornicated, despite their vows of chastity? Could they invent lies that would be believed by a God who can read a person's thoughts as easily as the tracker on earth reads the trail left by a jaguar? Practical, everyday, familiar things, such as death, which leads to happiness if one comes to it with a pure and joyous soul, as to a fiesta. Were men animals? If they were not, they should pass through that door dressed in their very best, as a sign of reverence for Him whom they were about to meet. He spoke to them of heaven, and of hell as well, the domain of the Dog, paved with burning-hot coals and infested with rattlesnakes, and of how Satan could manifest himself by way of seemingly harmless innovations.

The cowherds and peons of the backlands listened to him in silence, intrigued, terrified, moved, and he was listened to in the same way by the slaves and the freedmen of the sugarcane plantations on the seacoast and the wives and the mothers and fathers and the children of one and all. Occasionally someone interrupted him — though this occurred rarely, since his gravity, his cavernous voice, or his wisdom intimidated them — in order to dispel a doubt. Was the world about to end? Would it last till 1900? He would answer immediately, with no need to reflect, with quiet assurance, and very often with enigmatic prophecies. In 1900 the sources of light would be extinguished and stars would rain down. But, before that, extraordinary things would happen. A silence ensued after he had spoken, in which the crackling of open fires could be heard, and the buzzing of insects that the flames devoured, as the villagers, holding their breath, strained their memories before the fact in order to be certain to remember the future. In 1896 countless flocks would flee inland from the seacoast and the sea would turn into the backlands and the backlands turn into the sea. In 1897 the desert would be covered with grass, shepherds and flocks would intermingle, and from that date on there would be but a single flock and a single shepherd. In 1898 hats would increase in size and heads grow smaller, and in 1899 the rivers would turn red and a new planet would circle through space.

It was necessary, therefore, to be prepared. The church must be restored, and the cemetery as well, the most important construction after the House of the Lord since it was the antechamber of heaven or hell, and the time that remained must be devoted to what was most essential: the soul. Would men or women leave for the next world in skirts, dresses, felt hats, rope sandals, and all that luxurious attire of wool and silk that the Good Lord Jesus had never known?

His counsel was practical, simple. When the man left, there was a great deal of talk about him: that he was a saint, that he had worked miracles, that he had seen the burning bush in the desert, like Moses, that a voice had revealed to him the unutterable name of God. And his counsel was widely discussed. Thus, before the Empire had come to an end and after the Republic had begun, the inhabitants of Tucano, Soure, Amparo, and Pombal had heard his words; and from one month to another, from one year to another, the churches of Bom Conselho, of Jeremoabo, of Massacará, and of Inhambupe were gradually springing up from their ruins; and in accordance with his teachings, adobe walls and vaulted niches were constructed in the cemeteries of Monte Santo, Entre Rios, Abadia, and Barracão, and death was celebrated with respectful funeral ceremonies in Itapicuru, Cumbe, Natuba, Mocambo. Month by month, year by year, the nights of Alagoinhas, Uauá, Jacobina, Itabaiana, Campos, Itabaianinha, Geru, Riachão, Lagarto, Simão Dias were peopled with his counsel. In the eyes of everyone, his teachings appeared to be good ones and therefore, first in one and then in another and finally in all the towns of the North, the man who gave such counsel began to be known as the Counselor, despite the fact that his Christian name was Antônio Vicente and his last name Mendes Maciel.

* * *

A wooden grille separates the copywriters and the other employees of the Jornal de Notícias — whose name is written large, in Gothic characters, above the entrance — from the people who come to its offices to place an advertisement in its pages or bring in a news item. There are no more than four or five reporters on its staff. One of them is checking out information in a filing cabinet built into the wall; two of them are engaged in an animated conversation, having divested themselves of their suit jackets but not their stiff shirt collars and string ties, alongside a calendar that shows the date — Friday, October 2, 1896 — and another one, young and gangling, with the thick glasses of someone suffering from acute nearsightedness, is sitting at a desk writing with a quill pen, paying no attention to what is going on about him. At the far end of the room, behind a glass door, is the office of the editor-in-chief. A man wearing a visor and celluloid cuffs is waiting on a line of customers at the Classified Advertisements counter. A woman has just handed him an ad. The cashier wets his index finger and counts the words — Giffoni Clysters Cure Gonorrhea, Hemorrhoids, White Flowers and all ailments of the Urinary Tract Prepared by Madame A. de Carvalho Number 8, Rua Primero de Março — and tells her the price. The lady pays, pockets the change, and as she leaves the counter, the person waiting behind her moves forward and hands the cashier a piece of paper. He is dressed in a black frock coat and bowler that show signs of wear. Curly red locks cover his ears. He is a full-grown man, on the tall side, solidly built, with broad shoulders. The cashier counts the number of words in the ad, running his finger across the paper. Suddenly he frowns, raises his finger, and brings the text up close to his eyes, as though fearing that he has misread it. Finally he looks in bewilderment at the customer, who stands there as motionless as a statue. The cashier blinks uneasily and then motions to the man to wait. He shuffles across the room with the paper dangling from his hand, taps with his knuckles on the glass door of the office of the editor-in-chief, and goes inside. He reappears a few seconds later, motions to the customer to go inside, and goes back to work.

The man dressed in black crosses the front office of the Jornal de Notícias, his heels resounding as though he were shod in horseshoes. As he enters the small office in the rear, full of papers, periodicals, and propaganda of the Progressivist Republican Party — a United Brazil, a Strong Nation — he finds waiting for him a man who looks at him with friendly curiosity, as though he were some sort of rare animal. Dressed in a gray suit and wearing boots, the man is sitting behind the only desk in the room; he is young, dark-haired, with a dynamic air about him.

"I am Epaminondas Gonçalves, the editor and publisher of this paper," he says. "Come in."

The man dressed in black bows slightly and raises his hand to his hat, but he does not take it off or say a word.

"You want us to print this, is that right?" the editor asks, waving the little piece of paper.

The man in black nods. He has a little beard as red as his hair, and piercing bright blue eyes; his broad mouth is firmly set, and his flaring nostrils seem to be breathing in more air than his body requires. "Provided it doesn't cost more than two milreis," he murmurs in broken Portuguese. "That's my entire capital."

Epaminondas Gonçalves sits there as though not quite certain whether to laugh or fall into a rage. The man simply stands there, looking very serious, observing him. The editor resolves his dilemma by raising the piece of paper to his eyes.

"All lovers of justice are invited to attend a public demonstration of solidarity with the idealists of Canudos and with all rebels the world over, to be held in the Praça da Liberdade on the fourth of October at 6 p.m.," he reads aloud slowly. "May I ask who is calling this meeting?"

"For the moment, I am," the man answers forthwith. "If the Jornal de Notícias wants to lend its support, wonderful." (The last word is spoken in English.)

"Do you know what those people up there in Canudos have done?" Epaminondas Gonçalves murmurs, banging on the desk. "They're occupying land that doesn't belong to them and living promiscuously, like animals."

"Two things worthy of admiration," the man in black asserts, nodding his head in approval. "That's the reason why I've decided to spend my money on this public announcement."

The editor sits there in silence for a moment. Before speaking again, he clears his throat. "May I ask who you are, sir?"

Without braggadocio, without arrogance, with the merest trace of solemnity, the man introduces himself in these words: "A freedom fighter, sir. Will you publish the announcement?"

"Impossible, sir," Epaminondas Gonçalves, master of the situation now, replies. "The authorities in Bahia are merely waiting for an excuse to close down my paper. Though they've paid lip service to the Republic, they're still monarchists. I take it you've realized that we're the only true republican daily in this entire state."

The man in black gestures disdainfully and mutters between his teeth: "So I thought."

"I advise you not to take this announcement to the Diário da Bahia," the editor adds, handing him back the piece of paper. "It belongs to the Baron de Canabrava, the rightful owner of Canudos. You'll end up in jail."

Without one word of farewell, the man in black turns round and leaves the office, pocketing the announcement. He crosses the outer office of the paper without looking at anyone, without so much as a nod as he takes his leave, his footfalls resounding, merely casting a glance out of the corner of his eye — a funereal silhouette, fiery-red wavy hair — at the journalists and the customers placing paid advertisements. The young journalist with the thick eyeglasses of someone who is very nearsighted gets up from his desk after he has walked past, and with a sheet of yellow paper in his hand walks over to the office of the editor-in-chief, where Epaminondas Gonçalves is sitting, still watching the stranger's every move as he departs.

"By order of the Governor of the State of Bahia, His Excellency Senhor Luiz Viana, a company of the Ninth Infantry Battalion, under the command of Lieutenant Pires Ferreira, left Salvador today, charged with the mission of wresting control of Canudos from the bandits who have occupied the estate and of capturing their leader, the Sebastianist Antônio Conselheiro," he reads aloud as he stands in the doorway. "Page one or inside, sir?"


Excerpted from The War of the End of the World by Mario Vargas Llosa, Helen R. Lane. Copyright © 1981 Mario Vargas Llosa. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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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The War of the End of the World 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So much garbage out there these days. This was an intricate story full of characters. Actual characters. Loved the story, the prose and the ideas about our transition from old to new and where that is leading us. Brilliant.
Selah_Moon More than 1 year ago
I'm reading this book right now and it is so rich.  The characters are complex and authentic.  The writing breathes beyond traditional collegiate writing structures which is so refreshing.  It's raw, real and eloquent. It takes the first 100 or so pages to set up the story and catch the groove, but it's well worth hanging in there.  If you're interested in Central/South American political and religious struggle, this book is like poetry.  
jveezer on LibraryThing 11 months ago
When Mario Vargas Llosa was announced as this year¿s winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, I decided I should read another of his books in honor of his selection. I¿ve read a few, but none of the ones he is best known for. The War at the End of the World has been in my ¿to be read¿ queue ever since finding it¿s way into my library from the shelves a used bookstore. That¿s the quirky way of it for me; an author¿s books usually find their way onto my shelf and into my queue in the order I find them in a hardback edition. What a book to be reading right now. My own country is fighting two wars at what seems to be at the end of the world, geographically at least. As in Vargas Llosa¿s book, we¿re not sure we can trust our leaders about the reasons they say we are fighting or what is happening over there or whether the people being killed are good or evil. And the perceptions are manipulated through the media to keep the real story from the patriotic public. As the dust jacket says, ¿In Canudos, history and civilization are turned on their ears. There is no money, property, marriage, no income tax, decimal system, or census. Canudos is the revolutionary spirit in its purest and most apocalyptic form¿a state which promises to be a libertarian paradise but which the forces of the modern world and of the nation-state cannot tolerate¿. Vargas Llosa¿s fictional book is based on Euclides de Cunha¿s earlier non-fiction book Rebellion in the Backlands that documented the story of real Canudos. An academician, Alvim Horcades, would thus describe the massacre that ended the dream of Canudos: "I saw and witnessed the sacrifice of all those poor people (...) and I say with all sincerity: in Canudos almost all the prisoners were beheaded (...) To take the life of a little child (...) is the greatest of cruelties and crimes man can commit." Heavy stuff¿but masterfully handled by Vargas Llosa.
jasonlf on LibraryThing 11 months ago
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.
technodiabla on LibraryThing 11 months ago
O-Kayyyy. I finally finished The War at the End of the World. I'm a 3-book/month person usually, but this took me nearly 7 weeks. That was annoying, but the book is really good. It's dense, complex, graphic, and by then end you are very into it-- into the war, the characters, the geography, everything. It's about many things-- fanaticism, hopelessness, finding the meaning of life, good versus evil, retribution, love, belonging-- the plot centers on the true story of the Brazilian civil war between the new Republic's government and a rebellious religious cult of sorts (circa 1890s).The writing style varies- some parts were a bit dry, though maybe necessary, and others were so compelling I could hardly breathe while reading (the last 20% was the best). Having recently read The Way to Paradise, I can't say I could even tell they were written by the same author. Very different novels. I'm looking forward to more of Llosa's work.**SPOILER**This book has the most awful disgusting scene I have yet to encounter (so I kinda of collect the scenes, mentally, not sure why): the taking of communion with a dying saint's diarrhea. That really did me in. Yuck-o.
deebee1 on LibraryThing 11 months ago
An epic read, this tale is based on an actual rebellion in the Brazilian backlands in the late 19th century by a large group of fanatics who refused to submit to the authority of the central government, and everything it represented (they rejected civil laws and institutions including marriage, the use of money, census, among others). Led by a deeply devout, charismatic man, the motley group of social misfits, criminals, and the extremely poor was able to draw entire villages to them, with thousands abandoning what little they had to join them in establishing their "holy city", their stronghold for when the Evil One comes. They wage their battle against the government by expropriating for themselves properties and landholdings, and creating an autonomous existence. The government decides this "independence" is a threat that may lead to a disintegration of the young republic, and calls for military suppression. An all-out war was waged after several failed military expeditions, which ended in carnage in both sides with the community practically annihilated despite its heroic defense. For the community, this was the war of the end of the world, the war with the Beast. Vargas Llosa illustrates in vivid prose the complex political backdrop, the wretchedness of the harsh hinterlands and its even more pathetic inhabitants, the blind devotion of the followers, and the battles fought. He is able to masterfully weave the web of sub-plots into the main storyline, although I think he was sometimes repetitive and dragged somewhere in the middle. But he tells a powerful story of political conflicts and self-interest, of conviction (here, shown by both sides), the tenacity of underdogs, and the danger of fundamentalism. The book is quite dense, but well worth the read.
TomChicago on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
For as painful and sad a story as this is, it is completely un-put-downable. It is a very long tale, but it never lets up, and the characters stand out from beginning to end.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This is Latin American Magical realism with discipline.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Never read this kinda says alot when only 1 person got it Just sayen