The world is so big and try as I do to have a picture of it and some knowledge of its history, I will always discover new things. Some discoveries are accidental. In a Goodwill store I found an ugly, fat book, the cover so tabloid lurid I was almost ashamed to purchase it for the going price of fifty cents. The pages are yellowed but I will finish the 658 pages tonight. I bought it because the author, Mario Vargas Llosa [in the picture] is the preeminent Peruvian writer of our time. I've read many of his books and admire him.
South America is almost invisible to most Americans. In school we learn a little bit about Cortez destroying the Inca empire, and later, if we read travel material, we learn about Machu Pichu's discovery by Hiram Bingham. The continent almost doesn't exist in our minds. I have read what I could find, Marquesz and Allende, Bruce Chatwim's Patagonia and others. When I began reading this vast novel I thought it was entirely fiction -- the charismatic preacher, the Counselor, who gathers the poorest of the poor peasants and builds a city in a desolate, desert in western Brazil. But part way through the book I went to Wikipedia and discovered the Counselor's stronghold, a city called Canudos, which eventually had a population of 30,000 was real and the war of the title was an horrific one where, after the believers destroyed two forces, enormous armies were sent to destroy Canudos. The people fought hard and fiercely and inflicted great losses on the Army but were eventually destroyed, men,women and children, 30,000 of them, as their leader had predicted "at the end of the world."
As Llosa writes of it, using many historical persons and military actions, we see a great political travesty, the usual iron hand of authority crushing the most helpless of citizens. And we see why these people needed to believe the end time preachings of the Counselor and why they fought to destroy the Antichrist as they saw the Army.
I have only the last 60 pages to read this evening and I am steeling myself for the final tragedy. Like any good novelist -- and he's a very good novelist -- Llosa has created many characters the reader identifies with, even though many were bandits, murders, some are freaks of nature, and there are figures from the nobility too, all suffer from this war that I never knew existed until I accidentally found this physically ugly book and bought it on the strength of the author's name.
I think it's sad so few people read to be educated and most read only to entertained, to pass time -- what a waste of our precious, limited life time. This book is emotionally painful, but intellectually exciting both for what I'm learning and for the skill of the author.
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