“The Dream of the Celt” by Mario Vargas Llosa

This is a rather grim historical novel, very well written by the Nobel prize winner, Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa.

It tells the story of Roger Casement, a member of the British diplomatic corps, who spent his life revealing and trying to improve the desperate plight of oppressed peoples in countries such as the Congo and the Amazon. Born in Ireland in l864, in a Dublin suburb, he spent a number of years in Africa before being asked to report on the rubber plantations. Here he discovered the abuse and torture suffered by the Africans as they were forced to gather rubber for the big Belgian company.

His second assignment was to examine another big rubber company, this time in Amazonia and run by the British. If anything the conditions were worse. As he reported on these things, Casement often thought of his own country, Ireland, and what he considered the oppresssion of the British. It was the middle of the First World War when he decided to try to help with an uprising in Ireland, to push the British back. His activities were considered treason, and he was put in prison, refused pardon, and hanged. This book in fact is written from his prison cell, with his ruminations on a life dedicated to helping others and ruined by an unacceptable decision of his own.

Mario Vargas Llosa is Peru’s foremost writer and won the Nobel Prize in 20l0. This book is well translated by Edith Grossman. It brings a controversial man to life and also gives some insight into the troubles that still plague the Congo.

Review by Anne McDougall