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martes, septiembre 25, 2007

The Dictator Novels

cross posted at dailyKos

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A real, nonfictional dictator (Stroessner)

This is a short reading list of Latin American novels (translated into English) that focus on dictators. These books are essential reads.

Why am I suggesting reading these books so few US readers have heard of, let alone read? What's their relevance? Why are they essential?

If you've been watching the descent of the US into authoritarianism, as I have, and you want to know something about what it might be like when a country hits bottom, there is no fiction more descriptive, more powerful than the following short list (not necessarily in order of merit) of Latin America dictator novels. These are all remarkable works of art, and can be read for that alone. That would be reason enough for reading them. But each of these books also has its dictator, and the way he acts and the way his country responds, is the essential political point in each.

*Miguel Angel Asturias, The President. The Times Literary Supplement:
"Asturias leaves no doubt about what it is like to be tortured, or what it is like to work for a man who is both omnipotent and depraved."

*Alejo Carpentier, Reasons of State
"Reflecting his deep commitment to revolutionary politics, his novels explore the irrational elements of the Latin American world, its rich variety of cultures, and the possibility of its magical transformation."

*Mario Vargas Llosa, Feast of the Goat. Publisher's Weekly:
"This wasn't an enemy he could defeat like the hundreds, the thousands he had confronted and conquered over the years, buying them, intimidating them, killing them." So thinks Rafael Trujillo, "the Goat," dictator of the Dominican Republic, on the morning of May 30, 1961 a day that will end in his assassination.

*Augusto Roa Bastos, I, The Supreme. Publisher's Weekly:
Power is the ruler's only interest and goal; he has neither family nor friends, only the constant presence of his secretary-confidant Patino. Bastos's relentless investigation of the depths of iniquitythat of both the "Supreme" and his antagonistsis an illuminating (and depressing) journey into the night.

*Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Autumn of the Patriarch. America:
"The Autumn of the Patriarch mines one of the darkest veins in Latin American political history. The central character is a composite of Trujillos, Batistas and Somozas. His is a genius at the barren politics of survival, capable and guilty of the most savage brutality, a lonely monster who shuffles through his palace every night, checking the locks, looking for assassins, lighting a lantern for a quick exit."

There are doubtless other books that might be added to this list. Please feel free to add them in the comments.

Note: the links are to Amazon, but if you can get these books in a local bookshop I would be far, far happier. Also, you can get most of these used on line at sites like

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