This is a historical fiction novel about Rafael Trujillo, powerful dictator of the Dominican Republic for thirty years, who singlehandedly brought his country into the 20th century with a rapid modernization program. I was first introduced to him in The Last Playboy, a memoir of Dominican playboy Porfirio Rubirosa.
The novel is told through three different timelines: (1) The conspirators who want to kill him, (2) The mysterious daughter of a political insider who returns to the country many years after Trujillo’s death, and (3) Trujillo himself in his twilight years. Through these angles we get a good view of the events that took place leading up to the end of his rule (much of which, of course, is fictionalized).
Because sooner or later Trujillo will call upon him to serve the regime, or his person, and when he calls, one is not permitted to say no. He was proof of this truth. It never occurred to him to put up the slightest resistance to his appointments. As Estrella Sadhala always said, the Goat [Trujillo] had taken from people the sacred attribute given to them by God: their free will.
Trujillio was brutal, like most dictators are, with a secret police force that made political opponents disappear off the edge of cliffs, but he had a peculiar sexual perversion in that he enjoyed fucking the wives of his cabinet members. He would arrive to their houses during the day when the husbands were busy at work for him. Thanks to the personality cult he built, it was seen as an honor to have Trujillo bone your wife. I doubt he used condoms.
What’s more impressive about the man is how he kept power for so long, especially in the face of international condemnation when he decided to exterminate 20,000 Haitians that he felt were creeping across the border.
The popular name for the massacre came from the shibboleth that the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo had his soldiers apply to determine whether or not those living on the border were native Dominicans or immigrant Haitians. Dominican soldiers would hold up a sprig of parsley to someone and ask “What is this?”; how the person would pronounce the Spanish word for parsley (perejil) would determine his/her fate. French and Haitian Creole pronounce the r as a uvular approximant; thus, their speakers can have great difficulties with the alveolar tap or trill of Spanish. The Dominicans realized that a Haitian would have difficulty pronouncing perejil, so if the person could pronounce perejil with a trill, the person was considered to be Dominican and allowed to live, but if the person pronounced perejil without the trill, the person was considered to be Haitian and executed.
Trujillo was as much a genius psychologist than a strong ruler, sniffing out plots like a hound dog before they could affect his rule. Not only does this book serve as a rudimentary guide on being a dictator, but also on how to work for them. For example, if you’re taking part on a secret mission, and that mission inadvertently becomes public, it’s best to disappear. Your dictator boss will want to dispose of you to eliminate any evidence linking him to a failed operation.
The book provided realistic dialogue that made it more of a psychological thriller than a history book. The story got me involved and even though I knew how it would end, I couldn’t wait to learn how it was done, with an episodic format that kept me in suspense. Overall the prose is smooth and the story is compelling—there’s not much more that you can ask for in a work of historical fiction. Recommended.
Read More: “The Feast Of The Goat” on Amazon