The war of the end of the world

by Mario Vargas Llosa

Hardcover, 1984

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

New York : Farrar Straus Giroux, 1984.

Description

An apocalyptic prophet in the Brazilian backlands creates the state of Canudos. In it there is no money, property, marriage, income tax, decimal system, or census.

User reviews

LibraryThing member EBT1002
The War of the End of the World by Mario Vargas Llosa is an amazing, epic tale of war, but not in any sense is this a "war novel." Set in the final years of the 19th Century in Brazil, it's the story of at least three "causes" in the fight for political power in the state of Bahia. The novel involves the battles (literal and figurative) between political philosophies, religious convictions, and the desperate effort to control precious natural resources. The charismatic Counselor teaches that the end of the world is near and that the political chaos (and perhaps the drought) is the result of the fall of the Brazilian Empire and the installation of a Republic. He earns a steadily-growing group of followers who apparently frightens the new government, who send the military to oust the followers from Canudos, where they have occupied a hacienda. Against all odds, the ragtag band of religious faithful manage to thwart the military's assaults, until finally an entire army is sent in. With each side becoming steadily more violent, one hardly expects a happy ending. And as the nearsighted journalist reflects with the baron whose hacienda was hijacked by the religious "cult" on how the war will be remembered and understood, we consider that such understanding is impossible. "'They were dying and killing on both sides,' the baron murmured, gazing at him with pity. 'Are impassivity and objectivity possible in a war?'" Um, no.

The War of the End of the World is peopled with characters whom I know I'll never forget, including "the nearsighted journalist," who is never named and is yet one of the primary storytellers through the novel, and who is as complex and interesting as any character I've encountered in literature. We experience the terrifying and horrifying war from different perspectives: Mario Vargas Llosa does a masterful job of allowing us into each character's personal investment in the war ---- into their deep conviction that their stance is right, and that the righteousness of their reason for fighting (or just trying to survive) is self-evident and deeply true.

There were times when my heart literally raced as I read this novel, so anxious was I to know what would happen next. At other times I could hardly "look" because Vargas Llosa is unflinching in describing the brutalities of war. His narrative is not prurient, but neither is it timid.
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LibraryThing member deebee1
An epic read, this tale is based on an actual rebellion in the Brazilian backlands in the late 19th century by a large group of fanatics who refused to submit to the authority of the central government, and everything it represented (they rejected civil laws and institutions including marriage, the use of money, census, among others). Led by a deeply devout, charismatic man, the motley group of social misfits, criminals, and the extremely poor was able to draw entire villages to them, with thousands abandoning what little they had to join them in establishing their "holy city", their stronghold for when the Evil One comes. They wage their battle against the government by expropriating for themselves properties and landholdings, and creating an autonomous existence. The government decides this "independence" is a threat that may lead to a disintegration of the young republic, and calls for military suppression. An all-out war was waged after several failed military expeditions, which ended in carnage in both sides with the community practically annihilated despite its heroic defense. For the community, this was the war of the end of the world, the war with the Beast.

Vargas Llosa illustrates in vivid prose the complex political backdrop, the wretchedness of the harsh hinterlands and its even more pathetic inhabitants, the blind devotion of the followers, and the battles fought. He is able to masterfully weave the web of sub-plots into the main storyline, although I think he was sometimes repetitive and dragged somewhere in the middle. But he tells a powerful story of political conflicts and self-interest, of conviction (here, shown by both sides), the tenacity of underdogs, and the danger of fundamentalism.

The book is quite dense, but well worth the read.
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LibraryThing member jveezer
When Mario Vargas Llosa was announced as this year’s winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, I decided I should read another of his books in honor of his selection. I’ve read a few, but none of the ones he is best known for. The War at the End of the World has been in my “to be read” queue ever since finding it’s way into my library from the shelves a used bookstore. That’s the quirky way of it for me; an author’s books usually find their way onto my shelf and into my queue in the order I find them in a hardback edition.

What a book to be reading right now. My own country is fighting two wars at what seems to be at the end of the world, geographically at least. As in Vargas Llosa’s book, we’re not sure we can trust our leaders about the reasons they say we are fighting or what is happening over there or whether the people being killed are good or evil. And the perceptions are manipulated through the media to keep the real story from the patriotic public. As the dust jacket says, “In Canudos, history and civilization are turned on their ears. There is no money, property, marriage, no income tax, decimal system, or census. Canudos is the revolutionary spirit in its purest and most apocalyptic form—a state which promises to be a libertarian paradise but which the forces of the modern world and of the nation-state cannot tolerate”.

Vargas Llosa’s fictional book is based on Euclides de Cunha’s earlier non-fiction book Rebellion in the Backlands that documented the story of real Canudos. An academician, Alvim Horcades, would thus describe the massacre that ended the dream of Canudos: "I saw and witnessed the sacrifice of all those poor people (...) and I say with all sincerity: in Canudos almost all the prisoners were beheaded (...) To take the life of a little child (...) is the greatest of cruelties and crimes man can commit." Heavy stuff…but masterfully handled by Vargas Llosa.
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LibraryThing member William345
3.5 stars — What an elephantine statement. I began the novel with the impression that it was kind of a Christian millenarian Germinal in terms of the bleakness of its storyline. By the end, however, it was clear to me that Vargas Llosa's model was predominantly Russian. When AC says here that "there is a certain archaism and hieratic nature in the writing," I think this is in part what he means, though the limited third-person voice never widens to full God-like omniscience.

The novel is based on the Canudos or backlands rebellion in Brazil of the late 1890s, which is known to us primarily from Euclides Da Cunha’s pioneering Sertões (available in translation from Penguin as Backlands: The Canudos Campaign), which has been called the starting point of Brazilian letters. Brazil has deposed its monarchy and established a young, unstable republic. The disenfranchised monarchists want to hang on to their property rights and are in a political fight with the republicans. This conflict forms the novel’s lethal backstory. In the foreground is the messianic figure, Antonio Conselhiero (the Counselor), who, over thirty years of preaching in the backlands has assembled a flock of congregants, including many notorious bandits, but made up largely of poor farming families forced off the land by devastating drought.

The Counselor views the new republic as the Anti-christ because of a constitution that separates church and state. The republic's transgressions include the institution of civil marriage, when, as the Counselor knows from direct contact with his deity, a perfectly valid form of religious marriage already exists. Also cited as fodder for rebellion is the collection of taxes, viewed as an encroachment on Church tithing; and a census, which is seen as a way to both reinstitute the slave trade, abolished under the monarchy, and provide the Antichrist republic with the information it needs to undertake a pogrom of all declared Catholics. An entirely baseless claim yet one that is not without irony given the story's genocidal conclusion.

In time the dispossessed pilgrims settle on one of the landholdings, Canudos, of the Baron Canabrava. The pro-republican propagandist, Epaminondas Gonçalves -- a man whose murderous PR would make even Joey Goebbels burst with admiration -- paints the squatters as recidivist monarchists in league with the elderly baron. This is false. It is true, however, that the squatters have rejected the republic. When Gonçalves arranges for a shipment of English rifles and ammunition to Canudos he conveniently exposes the "monarchists" as traitors to the fledgling republic and publishes accordingly. Because of this deft bit of disinformation, the republicans and their armies and most of the public do not know that Canudos is in fact a religious settlement with eschatological leanings. Even during the last prolonged campaign against Canudos the commanding general still believes that the jagunços have monarchist tendencies and English officers advising them. Three times the republic sends the army against Canudos and loses ignominiously, thanks to the insurgents' ruthless guerrilla tactics. The fourth campaign succeeds.

Vargas Llosa spends the first 200 pages alone establishing his characters. They are a rogue’s gallery, too, and include the “nearsighted journalist,” a character based on Euclides Da Cunha himself; the elderly Baron Canabrava, head of the (real) ousted monarchists; the newspaper owner and lethal republican, Gonçalves; Galileo Gall, a Scottish socialist, whose over-zealousness and lack of self-examination bring him to an ugly pass; the ex-slave, Big João, who ruthlessly slices his mistress to bits during a backlands excursion; Abbot João, formerly Satan João, Pajeú, Pedrão, and other murderous bandits turned upstanding Christians; the Vilanova brothers, itinerant merchants; the filicide Maria Quadrado; the Lion of Natuba, a literate, deformed young man who serves as the Counselor's scribe; and the entire Brazilian army -- a Dostoyevskian dramatis personae if ever there was one.

On the whole, the novel is an admirable endeavor. The narration is straightforward, the diction very flat. There's no fancy vocabulary, except for the occasional Portuguese word, and no structural sleight-of-hand. The writing strives to stay out of its own way, and largely succeeds. But neither does the prose exhibit any real nicety of style, to use E.M. Forster’s phrase. The idiom did not inordinately excite or please this reader. In other words, it doesn't sing. The book’s achievement is in its structure and its length (580 pages). A bit too long for me, the battle scenes especially. As we hurtle toward the end, increasingly there's a tendency toward melodrama. Cliches start popping up: "A chill ran down his spine." Then again there are many beautifully vivid renderings of action and space: the sere landscape, the streets of the impoverished squatter town. Recommended with reservations.
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LibraryThing member jasonlf
The upsides of this novel are so stunning it seems ungrateful to dwell on the downsides. But I'll start there. The first is Mario Vargas Llosa's almost disturbing pleasure in debauchery. The second is that the structure of the book seems a little off. The second half is entirely military campaigns and killing, which related to the first, can sometimes be tedious and feel unnecessary. The book is more War and War than War and Peace. Also, as the book shifts perspectives from the rebels to the government troops to the capital, it also shifts in time. As a result, the end of the Canudos military campaign is told more than a hundred pages before the end which adds to the occasional tedium. Also, as a result, the ending of the book did not seem to satisfyingly tie together the various pieces and a number of the more interesting characters disappeared.

All of that said, it is a monumental and for the most part thoroughly absorbing novel that effectively shifts perspectives and sympathies, telling what is ultimately portrayed as a tragic but morally ambiguous story. It shifts between the two parties in Bahia (the monarchists led by a Baron and the Republicans led by a newspaper editor), the army/federal government, and the breakaway Christian/communist/utopians of Canudos. Some of the creations, like the Baron de Canabrava, the nearsighted journalist, and several of the followers of the Counselor, are stunningly rendered and as real as any fictional figures. Many of the others are more stock characters, or not fully developed, or a little wooden (e.g., the cuckolded guide who spends a substantial portion of the book trying to hunt down his wife and kill her).

Feast of the Goat was better, but in many ways this book is literally bigger and also very much worth reading.
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LibraryThing member anglophile65
Oh lord. I remember reading this in a literature class in college - it was summer term. Was so excited to read something about Brasil, having been there just a few years previously. I HATED this book. It took every fiber in my body to force read it. It was nevertheless, ~600 pages. Agony. Wonder if I would enjoy it now? There are way too many books I want to read to give it another chance :)… (more)
LibraryThing member pajarita
This book is not for everyone. If you are easily offended, or your stomach is weak; you will not like this book.

But, having said that, I can only describe this book as a masterpiece--that is not easily described.

"The War of the End of the World" is a work of historical fiction, set among particular events that occurred in the very late nineteenth century in northeastern Brazil. Wikipedia provides a simplified background Here. This background is sketchy. But I have found it very, very difficult to get related and historically-informative background in English. (This is a result of a cultural, self-inflicted, arrogant disability infecting us gringos, IMHO.) This information fog has made it difficult for me to separate the actual historical events from those fictionalized by the author. So I am assuming that the larger-scale contextual events are actual; while many of the more immediate characters and character traits are fictionalized.

"The War of the End of the World" is an unflinching and very painful retelling of an immense historical tragedy. The fictionalized and historical experiences of the important historical characters, and the fictional characters, are very immediate--and frequently amoral. But these characterizations are so well conceived and described that I, at least, found myself sympathizing with many people whose actions I would later find appalling.

These characters are numerous, frequently grotesque, sometimes despicable, sometimes tragic, sometimes heroic, and always flesh-and-blood human. The reader finds these characters within a sprawling narrative that transports us across the landscapes and cityscapes of nineteenth century Bahia, Brazil. The historical context that they all share irreversibly drives them, and the reader, towards the inevitable cataclysm.

For me, the importance of the actual historical story, the tenaciously powerful narrative style, and the countless tragically-flawed characters are what makes this experience in re-created history so emotionally moving and so devastating.

Mario Vargas Llosa does not flinch once describing both with loving intimacy or in blunt horror all of the necessary elements of this unforgettable story. This is the first book of his that I have read. It will not be the last.
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LibraryThing member gbill
Whew. This is a lotta book. Too much really.

‘The War of the End of the World’ is Mario Vargas Llosa’s version of events well known to Brazilians (at least to one I talked to anyway :), as it’s taught in history classes there. It takes place in the 1890’s in the northeastern state (then province) of Bahia, where a bunch of religious idealists built a community in Canudos and flouted the new Brazilian Republic, which had formed after Emperor Dom Pedro II was deposed.

The Republic is fragile, and it’s a period of change, slavery having just been abolished in 1888, so there is unrest and competing factions in the country. The main political parties are the Progressive Republicans, who are in power, and the Autonomists, which includes the richer landowners who were more inclined to favor the monarchy. There are also a few idealistic groups floating about: one advocating a dictatorial republic, another communism, and still another composed of religious fundamentalists who, upset with the change to the status quo, fight the republic and its ‘evil ways’, e.g. civil marriage, the separation of church and state, the census, and yes, the metric system. It’s this last group, led by the messianic Antônio the Counselor, who convinces the faithful to follow him through the wilderness, converting the downtrodden of Bahia along the way, including its bandits, murderers, and rapists. These outcasts are critical to his success in turning back several waves of the Brazilian Army, including one led by a Colonel and Republican hero with the nickname ‘Throat Slitter’.

As it may be apparent, this is a masculine book, with regular images of the horrors of war, and none of the groups or characters is particularly likeable. Vargas Llosa is successful in setting the stage to this story: the various motivations of the political groups, and how enemies turn into allies at times, are brought to life in ways that are comprehensible and interesting, surprisingly enough.

However, even though I love his writing, I think he’s less successful in other ways. This is like a South American ‘War and Peace’, or an attempt at one anyway, without being as well-rounded. There are a few human interest subplots, but not enough, and the book becomes laborious and particularly tedious in its descriptions of troop movements and the battles themselves. Put another way, it’s far too long. It’s as if Vargas Llosa accumulated a tremendous amount of knowledge in doing research for the novel, and then tried to get all of that detail included. He errs too much on the side of presenting history, to the detriment of his art as a novelist.

The book started off in 3-star country for me, being hard to get into at the outset (which was all the more concerning given its length), climbed a bit but never truly flirted with 4-stars, and ended up dropping back down to 3 stars, as I was relieved to finish it. That’s not much of a recommendation is it? It’s for you only if you are really interested in this time period or the historical events.
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LibraryThing member AlCracka
Good God, this book is amazing. It has the massive cast and sprawl of War & Peace, and an apocalyptic feel that reminded me of - oh shut up - The Stand. It´s longer than it looks; Llosa has a terse style, so things happen at a rapid clip. It took me longer to read than I thought it would. But not like I was bored! This was one of those cases where I felt anxious as the end of the book neared, bummed out that it was going to be over soon.

It taught me that I need to pick books based on more than geographical location. I thought it would be fun to read a Latin American author while on vacation in Mexico, but reading these epic scenes of slaughter and carnage in front of a pool with men in starched uniforms offering me daquiris and Bob Marley blaring tinnily behind me felt frankly gross.

Which reminds me, I should warn you: this isn´t for the faint of heart. The final 300 pages or so are absolutely nothing but death. Also: for several reasons, do not make a drinking game where you have to do a shot every time someone gets his penis cut off and shoved into his mouth.

Postscript: I've done some research; the book is almost entirely true. It's about the War of Canudos in the late 19th century in Brazil - so that's just around when HG Wells was writing, just before Edith Wharton, for perspective.
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LibraryThing member technodiabla
O-Kayyyy. I finally finished The War at the End of the World. I'm a 3-book/month person usually, but this took me nearly 7 weeks. That was annoying, but the book is really good. It's dense, complex, graphic, and by then end you are very into it-- into the war, the characters, the geography, everything. It's about many things-- fanaticism, hopelessness, finding the meaning of life, good versus evil, retribution, love, belonging-- the plot centers on the true story of the Brazilian civil war between the new Republic's government and a rebellious religious cult of sorts (circa 1890s).

The writing style varies- some parts were a bit dry, though maybe necessary, and others were so compelling I could hardly breathe while reading (the last 20% was the best). Having recently read The Way to Paradise, I can't say I could even tell they were written by the same author. Very different novels. I'm looking forward to more of Llosa's work.

**SPOILER**
This book has the most awful disgusting scene I have yet to encounter (so I kinda of collect the scenes, mentally, not sure why): the taking of communion with a dying saint's diarrhea. That really did me in. Yuck-o.
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LibraryThing member HadriantheBlind
Long sprawling book about war and chaos and survival and independence. Brilliant.
LibraryThing member mlbelize
I find it very difficult to put into words my thoughts on this book. This is a historical novel based on the peasant revolt that took place in Brazil in the late 19th century when a renegade priest and his followers took over an abandoned estate in Canudos and established a community that refused to recognize the authority of the newly established republic, the old catholic church or civil marriages. Money was outlawed. There could be no taxation, census taking, marriage or ownership of property in this new community. With the exception of former tax collectors, Freemasons or men who had worn the uniform of the republic all were welcomed, given a plot of land for their home and to farm. Thousands of former bandits, slaves, prostitutes, beggars and misfits of society flocked to Canudos where they were not only welcomed but made to feel human for the first time in many of their lives. This priest who they called The Counselor, talked to all with dignity and in the eyes of the peasants became a saint that they loved, protected and followed as he led.

This was a time when the new republic was still on shaky footing with the large landowners, who were mostly Monarchists, still in opposition to the new government. Agents for the new government see Canudos as the perfect rallying cry for the country and accuse them of being agents of a foreign power in league with the Monarchists. As can be readily imagined, the government of the republic decided to wipe this community out before this type of revolt took root in other parts of Brazil and seriously undermined their central control. What followed was an epic battle where tens of thousands of republic soldiers fought the renegades of Canudos, losing thousands of their soldiers to a ragtag group of defenders of Canudos before finally prevailing.

The story is told from the perspective of several points of view, residents of Canudos, believers and people with nothing making the pilgrimage to this haven, the landowners who were seeing their rich haciendas burned down and their workers leaving for Canudos, newspaper writers who followed the soldiers, government leaders and various other voices. We hear the resident of Canudos talk of their plans to defend themselves, to waylay supplies on their way to the republic soldiers, the co-operation of all and the love and respect they exhibited to one another. We hear from the soldiers about the humiliation of losing so many, the mutilations performed on the soldiers and the despair in the souls of the soldiers.

This was an enormous undertaking and the writer to his credit wrote an epic masterpiece that left me in awe and wanting to find out more from this period of Brazil’s history. This is not a book for everyone, many will give up within the first 100 pages, but if you stay with it you’ll be rewarded richly. I highly recommend.
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LibraryThing member TomChicago
For as painful and sad a story as this is, it is completely un-put-downable. It is a very long tale, but it never lets up, and the characters stand out from beginning to end.
LibraryThing member roblong
In late 19th century Brazil, a fanatical religious group take control of part of the remote inlands of the newly inaugurated Brazilian Republic. The Republic, wary of its survival, paints them as monarchist traitors and sends the army in to destroy them.

This is a brilliant book, a real epic. As well as the clash between the believers and the Republic, the group have seized the land of the real monarchists whose world is being washed away by modernity, and act as a magnet for all sorts of fanatics and lost souls, drawing a whole world into the carnage. Big ideas, great characters, grisly battles...all present and correct.… (more)
LibraryThing member nicktingle
Mario Vargas Llosa won the Nobel Prize for literature, and a friend told me that The War of the End of the World is one of his best books. So I read it, and am wondering, if this the best the guy can do, why he won the prize. Well, he won it probably for the very reasons I don't like it. He's a Peruvian writing about Brazil, and I am not (Peruvian or from Brazil). So the events that occurred at Canudos probably resonate for him in an entirely different way than they do for me, especially since I had never heard of the place. So it's about war, a changing Brazil, fanatics, and whole much of other stuff that would have been of much greater interest to me had it happened in the USA, say Waco, TX as a rough parallel. Still I read the whole thing and can say that it was not a complete waste of time....though I would say that having read the whole thing...… (more)
LibraryThing member tchelyzt
It’s not entirely clear if the War on Terrorism is actually a war when the enemy has neither government nor army, but if it is, presumably it can give rise to war crimes. So what is a war crime? The laws that deal with war crimes are the Geneva Conventions, the fourth one dealing with crimes against civilians. Both Ireland and the United States have ratified the Fourth Convention, though the US with its customary contempt for the individual was unable to bring itself to doing so whole-heartedly:

“The United States reserve the right to impose the death penalty in accordance with the provisions of Article 68, paragraph 2, without regard to whether the offences referred to therein are punishable by death under the law of the occupied territory at the time the occupation begins.”
official convention text 12 August 1949

The BBC have some good material on the subject and quoting the Fourth Geneva Convention, they describe as a war crime the:

“wilful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, including … wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement of a protected person, compelling a protected person to serve in the forces of a hostile power, or wilfully depriving a protected person of the rights of fair and regular trial, …taking of hostages and extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly”.

Rendition Map
In the light of the complicity of Ireland and ten other EU partners in the current practice of extraordinary rendition by the US authorities, I had assumed our leaders were guilty of war crimes, but not so, it seems. Nothing there about complicity, active or passive. So is justice indeed blind … and daft to boot? Apparently not. The Harvard Human Rights Journal claims that

Countries not directly committing acts of torture, but facilitating the practice by providing intelligence or material assistance, may violate Article 1’s prohibition on state “consent or acquiescence” to torture.

Dermot Ahern and Michael McDowell should not sleep so easily in their beds after their laughable defence that the US “assures” them they didn’t use Shannon for rendition.

All of which is a long way of saying I was reminded today of Mario Vargas Llosa’s The War of the End of the World which deals with the way a government (in this case Brazil in 1897) cruelly subdued a group of religious misfits that challenged its authority. It’s a cliché, but History cannot help but repeat itself. It’s some time since I read it and it’s now right back to the top of my reading list!
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LibraryThing member nosajeel
The upsides of this novel are so stunning it seems ungrateful to dwell on the downsides. But I'll start there. The first is Mario Vargas Llosa's almost disturbing pleasure in debauchery. The second is that the structure of the book seems a little off. The second half is entirely military campaigns and killing, which related to the first, can sometimes be tedious and feel unnecessary. The book is more War and War than War and Peace. Also, as the book shifts perspectives from the rebels to the government troops to the capital, it also shifts in time. As a result, the end of the Canudos military campaign is told more than a hundred pages before the end which adds to the occasional tedium. Also, as a result, the ending of the book did not seem to satisfyingly tie together the various pieces and a number of the more interesting characters disappeared.

All of that said, it is a monumental and for the most part thoroughly absorbing novel that effectively shifts perspectives and sympathies, telling what is ultimately portrayed as a tragic but morally ambiguous story. It shifts between the two parties in Bahia (the monarchists led by a Baron and the Republicans led by a newspaper editor), the army/federal government, and the breakaway Christian/communist/utopians of Canudos. Some of the creations, like the Baron de Canabrava, the nearsighted journalist, and several of the followers of the Counselor, are stunningly rendered and as real as any fictional figures. Many of the others are more stock characters, or not fully developed, or a little wooden (e.g., the cuckolded guide who spends a substantial portion of the book trying to hunt down his wife and kill her).

Feast of the Goat was better, but in many ways this book is literally bigger and also very much worth reading.
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LibraryThing member debrakeogh
I read this book many years ago and loved it
LibraryThing member amerynth
Mario Vargas Llosa's novel "The War of the End of the World" was certainly a challenging and slow read for me, but I found it mostly enjoyable and worthy of reputation.

This is historical fiction that tells the story of the War of Canudos in turn of the century Brazil. A wandering traveler named The Counselor picks up a growing horde of the poverty stricken believers -- many whom are also criminals-- who migrate with him to Canudos to start a new society. The society seems to work so well, it worries officials in Brazil who send a series of troops to quell what they view as a rebellion against the current order. Their alarm grows as the people of Canudos manage to fend off three attacks before finally succumbing during the fourth battle.

There is a huge cast of characters here and Llosa does an amazing job painting such vivid portraits of them that they become memorable in their own right. This is really masterfully written.
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LibraryThing member arubabookwoman
This is one of the best, if not the best, books I've read this year. Based on real life events that occurred in the late 19th century, it is a tragedy of epic proportions, and I will not soon forget it.

A charismatic holy man, the Counselor, wanders among the poor, dusty villages of Bahia. Wherever he stops, he repairs the chapel, weeds the cemetery, or makes similar improvements, and in return the villagers feed him. Along the way, he picks up followers: the rag-tag poor, the homeless, the orphaned, the deformed, as well as some of the worst dregs of society--the murderers and bandits. After years of wandering, he and his followers settle and begin to build their own society at Canudos. The town is based on Utopian principles--everyone has a home and food, and everyone works and worships communally. New followers continually flow in, and the society is constantly growing.

The people of Canudos do not view themselves as accountable to the outside world, including the government. The town becomes endangered when the machinations of two opposing political movements create an incident which make it appear as though Canudos is arming itself (with help from the British government) for a revolution. The Brazilian government feels it must assert control over Canudos, and when the initial group of soldiers it sends is soundly repelled, increasingly larger waves of soldiers are sent to quell the people of Canudos, with catastrophic results.

The plot of this book is non-linear, and not told in strict chronological order. The narration frequently and abruptly shifts points of view among various characters. The writing is compelling and vivid. Vargas Llosa has created dozens of rich characters, intricate subplots, and a panoramic background against which to tell the story. While we see the people of Canudos as the tragic victims of these events, Vargas Llosa does not sugar coat their religious fanaticism. He also ably, and sometimes sympathetically, portrays the other factions: the aristocratic landowners, the military, the government officials. The result is a morally complex and challenging read. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member dalexander
This war epic about a religious leader and other ruling parties in Brazil was very hard to get through for me. I found there to be too many characters to follow and at times the Spanish vocabulary would slow down my reading. A very tough read. My first novel by an author from Peru.
LibraryThing member dalexander
Very hard to get through. Hard to follow all the characters. Spanish vocabulary also complicate things. As well.

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