Llosa takes the huge, horrible story of the reign of Trujillo and distills it into two intense events. One is very public, involving a large cast of characters: the day of Trujillo's assassination and its immediate aftermath. The other is intensely personal for one fictional woman and her family: Trujillo's rape of a 14-year-old girl a couple weeks before his assassination, and that woman is returning to the D.R. for the first time many years later and telling her story. So with these two different depths of narration going on, both fictional in details but plausible (Urania is fictional, but this happened to many young girls), he outlines the effects of Trujillo's rule.
This is one of those Important Stories that Americans should probably be more aware of, given our history of involvement in the Dominican Republic. And Llosa is a great writer. All of that makes this an Important Book. That being said, it really wasn't a pleasant read -- it couldn't be, with the subject matter it covers, of course. But it also is more or less kept at the level of a documentary narration. Even the intense personal feelings of Urania feel removed from us (there is the distance of time, but it's more than that). The sections about Trujillo felt like they took a great deal of personal discipline for the author to get through them, sticking to just the facts, ma'am, as much as he could. Maybe that's the best way to do this. Maybe not. But this is one of those books that I'm really glad I read, and I would recommend to others, but I'm glad I never have to do that again. Whew.
And this is a very, very masculine take on the story. Llosa has what feels like an unhealthy obsession with Trujillo's failing prostate. As if his incontinence and impotence are tops on the list of why he deserves our scorn. Really? It's just one of those stereo-typical D.R. cultural things, super-masculinity. Anyway, it was bothering me. But read it for the history.