Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Mario Vargas Llosa: The Dream of the Celt

Roberto Ignacio Díaz reviews Mario Vargas Llosa's The Dream of the Celt.

In the late '60s, at the height of Latin America's literary boom, Vargas Llosa was one of the region's new stars. He authored daringly experimental novels, such as "The Time of the Hero" and "The Green House," whose intricate narrative devices challenged readers even as they renewed the art of fiction. Decades later, "The Dream of the Celt" is quite traditional in form. Not surprisingly, Victor Hugo - to whose novel, "Les Misérables," he devoted a book - remains one of Vargas Llosa's heroes. What is lost in literary craft is gained in political clarity.

Like Hugo's characters, Casement too dreams of a better world, in this case one devoid of colonial rule. As it moves from continent to continent, "The Dream of the Celt" suggests a new literary cartography in which Ireland, despite its temperate climate, is not unlike the tropical lands exploited by empires. This spatial expansion has a historical dimension as well. As in Conrad's "Heart of Darkness," allusions to the Roman Empire abound in Vargas Llosa's text, whose hero imagines Roman legionnaires marching on the Caledonian Road outside his prison.

Curiously, though, the novel seems to have little to say about Ireland itself beyond the immediacy of politics and allusions to its fabled past. The text's most affecting words, in the epilogue, are by Yeats, not Vargas Llosa. Then again, given the novel's title, that's perhaps best. The ancient Celtic land, for Casement and Vargas Llosa's readers alike, remains an impossible dream.

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