In 1996, 49-year-old Urania Cabral returns to her native Dominican Republic from New York after 35 years of exile. She escaped in 1961 at the age of 14, shortly after her father's fall from grace with the government of dictator Trujillo, and two weeks before the Generalissimo himself was assassinated. Vargas Llosa weaves together the narratives of Urania's confrontation with her now-vegetable father, the pre-attack activities of the assassins in 1961 and their brutal hunting down and torture after Trujillo's death, and the final days of the dictator himself. At first, the novel reads disappointingly like a political essay or tract (perhaps because the author necessarily has to fill in the background for what was once a burning concern for U.S. President Kennedy and the CIA, but for most readers is now ancient history). Eventually the confusing, time-jumping narrative mimics the shifting loyalties and multiple lies of life under a tyrannical regime, as well as grab the reader's interest. It's hard to get to know or sympathize with any of the large cast of characters, but their predicaments and fortunes make for a gripping read.
This report prepared by David Loftus