Monday, June 13, 2011


By Mario Vargas Llosa

A confrontation between government forces and a small group of religious fanatics leads to bloodshed and mass death. No, it’s not the story of Mt. Carmel, it is Canudos, a settlement in the backwoods of Brazil where the wretched of the earth came to build a Godly life.

Mario Vargas Llosa, one of Latin America’s best known playwrights and novelists, chose this as the subject of his epic novel. In outward facts it is outrageous enough. Antonio Conselheiro was a charismatic backwoods preacher who drew together escaped slaves, starving farmers, reformed bandits, cripples and all the rejects of Brazilian society in a giant squatter city at Canudos. The Brazilian backwoods was as bleak as the American Southwest, as lawless as Dodge City, and as prey to political extremism as, well, Latin America. When Conselheiro began denouncing the republic that replaced the Brazilian monarchy, the authorities decided to take him down.

Llosa brings this all to life with great urgency. He employs any number of point of view characters, and has a disconcerting tendency to terminate their points of view abruptly. First he follows Galileo Gall, a Scottish anarchist who proves to be quite a creep, then a journalist from Rio who finds himself a prisoner in Canudos. But there are dozens of others, from Jurema, a backwoods woman, to the Lion of Natuba, a man with a deformed face who is a pillar of spiritual strength, to the Baron of Canebrava, a monarchist who finds himself being scapegoated for the anti-republicanism of the Canudenses.

Llosa doesn’t miss the big picture. The people of Canudos smashed wave after wave of Brazilian police and army assaults. The scene is often more like All Quiet on the Western Front than a shoot out in a Latin American backwater.

The War of the End of the World is an epic, it is brutal and tragic, but unforgettable and heroic. Just like the people of Canudos.
-Dave  Hardy

No comments: