Rewriting the Trujillato: Collective Trauma, Alternative History, and the Nature of Dictatorship

By Sonia Farid.

Published by The International Journal of Civic, Political, and Community Studies

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Article: Print $US10.00
Published online: August 29, 2016 $US5.00

The era of Rafael Leònidas Trujillo, also known as the “Trujillato,” is considered one of the bloodiest in the twentieth century, a fact that made the brutalities committed during his reign and the trauma sustained by his victims amongst the most recurring topics in Dominican novels and triggered the emergence of a separate subgenre under the name “novelas trujillistas.” The literary influence of Trujillo’s regime, which is arguably not comparable to that of any Latin American dictator, was not only confined to novels produced in Spanish, whether inside or outside the Dominican Republic, but also extended to texts written in English by exiles hailing from countries directly affected by the Trujillato. This article will examine a number of texts that can together be regarded as the actual chronicles of Dominican history between 1930 and 1961, thus representing the counter-narrative of the official Trujillato and rewriting this era from the victims’ point of view. This will be done through four novels that offer an alternative history of the Trujillato, with each focusing on a different aspect of not only Trujillo’s dictatorship, but also dictatorship in general: “Los que falsificaron la firma de dios” (“They Forged the Signature of God,” 1993) by Dominican writer Viriato Sención, “La fiesta del chivo” (“The Feast of the Goat,” 2000) by Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, “In the Time of the Butterflies” (1994) by Dominican-American writer Julia Alvarez, and “The Farming of Bones” (1998) by Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat. State-sponsored religious oppression through the role of the Catholic Church in suppressing dissent, the crushing of opposition through the brutal murder of the Mirabal sisters, and the persecution of minorities through the Parsley Massacre against Haitians are tackled in the texts by Senciòn, Alvarez, and Danticat, respectively, so that the three of them combined offer an expansive account of the different sorts of atrocities committed by Trujillo while Vargas Llosa’s text focuses on the revenge planned by several of Trujillo’s victims and the motives that drive each of them to take part in his assassination. The article will illustrate the way the four texts constitute a reconstruction not only of those years of Dominican history, but also of literature written about this era which evolved from a propaganda machine confined to the Dominican Republic to a cross-border exposure of a reign of terror. It will also examine the contribution of the selected texts to literary depictions of the Trujillato and the dictator novel in general and the role they played as chronicles of the machinations of dictatorial regimes in Latin America as well as regions that have suffered from similar forms of oppression.

Keywords: Dictator Novel, Trauma, Alternative History, Dictatorship, Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, Latin America, Latin America Literature

The International Journal of Civic, Political, and Community Studies, Volume 14, Issue 3, September 2016, pp.39-51. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published online: August 29, 2016 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 647.979KB)).

Sonia Farid

Assistant Professor, Department of English Language and Literature, Faculty of Arts, Cairo University, Cairo, Egypt