Review: 'The Dream Of The Celt'

Jul 4, 2012
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa has a new novel out. It's a biographical work of fiction called "The Dream of the Celt." Our reviewer Alan Cheuse says the book is about Roger Casement, a turn-of-the-century Irish radical.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: The conventional wisdom has Casement as the man hanged by the British for treason after he plotted with the German government to secure arms for the Irish rebels' 1916 Easter uprising. Vargas Llosa helps us to see Casement as a complex historical figure with a broader mission in life. In this novel, thick with carefully researched detail, the reader may find the going sometimes as tough as Casement's own trek across the difficult terrain of the Belgian Congo. But the portrait of this neurotic homosexual human rights investigator rewards you for every page you push through. Casement left Ireland for Africa, at first to work for the king of Belgium's business enterprise there. His mind enflamed by the atrocities the Europeans inflicted on the Africans, he wrote a report that forced great changes in that part of the world. And then he went on to do similar research among the Putumayo Indians in Peru, who had been enslaved by a rubber plantation baron. From Latin America, Casement returned to Ireland, and recognizing the Irish as a people oppressed by England, he worked tirelessly for Irish independence. After they hanged Casement, the British leaked the contents of his private journals, hoping to discredit his reputation by releasing details of his erotic liaisons. Vargas Llosa simply takes these in stride. In the epilogue, the novelist describes making a pilgrimage to a Guano-stained monument on an Irish peach, put up by the Sinn Fein and smashed to pieces by radical northern Irish unionists. In his novel, "The Dream of the Celt," Mario Vargas Llosa pieces those broken stones together.

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SIEGEL: That was reviewer Alan Cheuse recommending "The Dream of the Celt" by Mario Vargas Llosa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.