The Dream of the Celt

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The Dream of the Celt
El sueño del celta.jpg
1st edition
Author Mario Vargas Llosa
Original title El sueño del celta
Translator Edith Grossman
Country Peru/Spain
Language Spanish
Genre Historical novel
Publisher Alfaguara (Spanish)
Faber and Faber (UK) and Farrar, Straus and Giroux (US)
Publication date
November 3, 2010
Published in English
Media type Print (Hardcover and Paperback)
Pages 464 pages
ISBN 978-1-61605-246-1 (Spanish)

The Dream of the Celt (Spanish: El sueño del celta) is a novel by Mario Vargas Llosa, a Peruvian writer and 2010 Nobel laureate in literature. It portrays the life of Sir Roger Casement (1864-1916), an Anglo-Irish man who became a British diplomat, known for investigating human rights abuses of indigenous peoples in the Congo and the Putumayo District of Peru. He came to support the nationalist cause for Irish independence, soliciting German armed aid against Britain during World War I. The title of the novel is from one of Casement's poems.[1]

The novel was presented on November 3, 2010 in a special ceremony held in the Casa de América museum and cultural center in Madrid, the same day as it appeared in bookstores.[2] It was a bestseller in Spain and the most popular title at the XXIV Feria Internacional del Libro de Guadalajara.[3][4] When the book was first published in Spanish, it was announced that the novel would appear in English in 2012;[5] it was translated by Edith Grossman, who has won major awards for her work.

In 2010, the Nobel Prize committee announced Vargas Llosa's selection in the following fashion: "[it is] for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual's resistance, revolt, and defeat." This seemed to simultaneously anticipate and chart the author's course in his latest novel, while referring to some of his most acclaimed earlier novels.[6][7]

Theme and structure[edit]

The Dream of the Celt combines elements of the historical novel with those of the journalistic chronicle; the main human and historical themes explored are those relating Casement's investigation into the colonial subjugation and enslavement (via a process of systematic terror and torture) of the native inhabitants of the Congo Basin by the Belgian king and of the Putumayo in the Peruvian Amazon by private business during the latter part of the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries. The novel invites comparison with Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (1899) (Casement met and befriended Conrad in the Congo, before he wrote his novel.)[1][8]

It is within this larger context that the complex and ultimately tragic story of British consul Roger Casement unfolds. He was strongly affected by his investigation of and first-hand accounts of the systematic tortures inflicted on the native inhabitants of the Congo and Peru to satisfy European commercial demand; he was awarded a British knighthood for his work on these same humanitarian endeavors; and he began to see Ireland as suffering from similar colonial repression, becoming a radical nationalist fighter for Irish independence. This led him to propose collaboration with the German military during the Great War, and participate in the Easter Rising, for which he was arrested, tried and convicted of treason by the British. His homosexuality, then illegal, was revealed by the government by publicizing his secret diaries, which likely defeated a movement for clemency. He was executed at prison by hanging.[1][8]

The story is told in alternating chapters: the odd chapters explore the last three months of Casement's life (in 1916), and the even chapters encompass the protagonist's experiences up to that time. His life is portrayed in three parts, each named after a specific colonial geography, the first two which Casement investigated in the course of official duties, which influenced his taking on a nationalist role in the last; there are "Congo," "Amazonia," "Ireland." Ultimately, odd and even chapters converge on the final structural and dramatic point, the final day of Casement's life.

Excerpt from The Dream of the Celt: Today I began the return to Boma. I had planned to remain on the Upper Congo for a couple of weeks longer. But, in truth, I have more than enough material to show what is taking place here. I am afraid that if I continue to examine the depths to which human infamy and shamefulness can descend I will simply not be able to write my Report. I am on the shores of madness. A normal human being cannot submerge himself for so many months in this hell without losing his mind, without succumbing to some mental derangement. Sleepless, some nights, I feel it happening to me. Something is breaking in my mind. I live in constant anguish. If I keep brushing elbows with what goes on here I too will find myself laying the lash, chopping off hands, and murdering Congo natives between lunch and dinner without feeling the slightest pangs of conscience or loss of appetite; for this is what happens to Europeans in this God-forsaken country. [pp. 108-109, Editorial Alfaguara, 2010]


The novel was well received and noted for its deeply gripping engagement with Casement's discovery of harrowing conditions under colonial rule of indigenous peoples.


Casement travels widely and mentions numerous locations in the book. The following lists are organized roughly by order of mention of each place:


External links[edit]