Mario Vargas Llosa, Translated by Edith Grossman
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 27.00, 358 pages
“You’ve had a very agitated life, my dear.”
In this fictionalized biography of the Irish humanitarian and nationalist Roger Casement, Peruvian author and Nobel Prize Laureate Vargas Llosa turns his considerable talents to the life and times of a young man who witnessed first-hand the innermost evil core of 19th century colonialism. After nearly 30 distinguished years in the British Foreign Service, Casement was knighted in 1911 by King George V for his tireless efforts of investigation and reporting on the inhuman treatment of indigenous populations in the Congo, and also in the Amazonia region between Peru and Brazil. He eventually came to see his native country as a further example of exploitation and abuse by unfeeling and cruel imperialists and became an important Irish political activist. In 1916, based on an ill-conceived insurgency plan and the release of damaging diaries that portrayed Casement as a homosexual, he was publicly disgraced, stripped of his title, tried for treason, executed and forgotten. Although this is not an easy book – the description of atrocities committed in the name of commerce and so-called civilization is relentlessly brutal – the author’s skill as a writer, and Edith Grossman’s excellent translation, should not be missed. Recommended.
Reviewed By Linda Frederiksen