Mario Vargas Llosa is pure genius when it comes to the writing business. His sentences, his words, the plot of his books are beyond stupendous. The reason I praise him the way I do is apparent in his writing and he proves it yet again with his new book, “The Dream of the Celt”.
The Dream of the Celt is the fictionalized biography of Roger Casement (a failed revolutionary) – who was instrumental in Ireland’s struggle for Independence (after he served the British Government and was rewarded by them in more than one way), which culminated in the Easter uprising in 1916. That is just the basic plot of the book, which appears only in the third part. The first two parts of the book are about Casement’s struggle to expose the exploitation of natives in the Congo and the Amazon by rubber barons.
“The Dream of the Celt” is spot on with reference to not only the Peruvian scenery (but obviously he would) but also Irish culture and history, which is evident not only from the story, but also in the manner in which it is narrated. The other angle that Llosa explores is that of Casement being homosexual (and involved with powerful people in the system) as seen through his letters and journals. This propels the story beside the revolution.
I have read Vargas in the past and immensely enjoyed what he has written. Most of his novels center on a political theme or so. The historical novels explore the human toll taken by political idealism. This novel however explores somewhat the lighter side of Casement, which is quite a relief. At the same time, there are a lot of political issues seething at the core of this novel, due to which I had to read up a lot on the side, not only about Casement, but also about his revolution, its cause and thereby the effects.
Edith Grossman has done a wonderful job of the translation, considering that all elements of the book (I am assuming from the authors’ point of view) have been tied eloquently. The story moves back and forth from prisons to Roger’s outside-of-prison experiences, his ideologies and values, giving us a glimpse of the man he was.
The only problem that I had while reading this novel, like I mentioned earlier, was the political scope. It left me confused in places (especially when it came to the dates and which ship did Casement ride) but then it was alright after a while. Vargas can write anything and some of us will love all that he writes. That’s the power of his words.
This book is not for everyone though. It is a challenging read and you might not want to make this your first Llosa read. Try starting with, “Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter” or “In Praise of the Stepmother”, which is ideal to an introduction to this fabulous writer.