Mario Vargas Llosa: La guerra del fin del mundo (The War of the End of the World)
Vargas Llosa’s greatest novel is based on a true story. Antônio Vicente Mendes Maciel, known as Antônio Conselheiro (Anthony the Counselor) was a religious man who helped the poor and oppressed in North-East Brazil in the late 19th century. After considerable political upheaval in Brazil and lots of work to help the poor and former slaves by Antônio Conselheiro, he set up a retreat in Canudos. The powers that be were concerned and attacked and destroyed the settlement. Many of the inhabitants were brutally slaughtered. It was the subject of a brilliant film by Brazilian director, Glauber Rocha as well as a novel-like work by Euclides da Cunha.
Vargas Llosa takes this story and makes it into a superb epic. The character of Antônio Conselheiro – madman or prophet? – is incredibly powerful but he is not the sole focus of Vargas Llosa’s attention. As always with Vargas Llosa, we get other perspectives and, as always, the truth is not always clear-cut. Whether you know (or care) about this particular rebellion does not matter. Vargas Llosa tells a fantastic and gripping story and also exposes the suffering of the poor and exploited and the brutality of war – on both sides. But do read the da Cunha book and see the Rocha film to get a fuller picture.
First published in 1981 by Seix Barral
First published in English in 1984 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Translated by Helen Lane