Saturday, May 16, 2020

Ep 9 - Christina Hoag & The Feast of the Goat


Life-Changing Book 

by Mario Vargas Llosa

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Aerio Ingram Spark



Christina Hoag is the author of two novels Girl on the Brink, which was named to Suspense Magazine’s Best YA list, and Skin of Tattoos, finalist for the Silver Falchion Award for suspense, and co-author of the nonfiction book Peace in the Hood: Working with Gang Members to End the Violence (Turner, 2014). A former journalist for the Miami Herald and Associated Press, she reported from Latin America for Time, Business Week, Financial Times, and other media.

Aerio Ingram Spark
Shop your local indie bookstore

Shop your local indie bookstore
Aerio Ingram Spark




The Tudors
The Borgias
The Crown
Peaky Blinders
Out of Africa


Warning: The book itself does have some graphic depictions of torture and sexual assault, but we tread pretty lightly over those.

Denise: This book was dark, which was okay. It was definitely different than the other books from people I've interviewed so far. But that's good. Change of pace. It was good for me to also break out of my comfort zone. I've been reading a lot of comfort reads lately, so this took me to a new place I haven't been in a while. I always think that's good and that's kind of why I do the podcast is so that I can read stuff I might not normally have read on my own. I had not heard of this book. I think I had heard of Mario Vargas Llosa.

Christina:  Llosa.

Denise: And, I thought I had heard of him, but I haven't actually read anything by him, so, so that's all good.

Christina: That's what I figured. Yeah. I figured probably no one was going to propose this book or even this author or a Latin American author, and that's why I sort of switched. I thought, huh? You know, I had Steinback at the beginning and I was like, Oh, it's so high school, you know? And I was just thought, let me go with something a little bit different.

But then it also impacted me, you know?

Denise:  Yeah, absolutely.

I know that there's multiple books that can impact a person in a lifetime. I think some of the trends in the other books were coming of age stories. I don't think this is a coming of age story, but no less impactful.

Christina: Yeah.

Denise:  So how did you find this book?

Christina:  Well, I'm sort of a Latin Americanist. I was a foreign correspondent and I covered Latin America for about 10 years. I lived in Guatemala and in Caracas, Venezuela, and I traveled all over Latin America covering stories for different outlets like, Time Magazine, Business Week, Financial Times, New York Times, Houston Chronicle and Miami Herald and a bunch of other smaller business publications. I covered the shipping industry, the advertising industry, anything that would basically pay me. I would write.  So I was well acquainted with Latin American authors and read quite a few of them.

And this, I think of all the books, of Latin America, you know, there aren't a huge number of Latin American authors, but of all, this one's the one have impacted me the most, The Feast of the Goat.

Denise:  I liked reading a little bit more about it and how the title has a lot of different meanings, and then the intro, there's a epigraph of the Dominican merengue the people celebrate and go all the way for the Feast of the Goat, the 30th of May.  That was interesting.  What was your life like right before you found this particular book?

Christina:  When I read this book, I think I read it actually in Spanish first when it first came out. I guess that was the late nineties or maybe around 2000 I can't remember what exact a year it was, and I had read other stuff by Mario Vargas Llosa. He's actually from Peru, and he was a presidential candidate in Peru, and I think he's won the Nobel prize. He's very awarded. So, I'd read other things.

I picked this up and what's interesting that he's a Peruvian author, but he wrote about the Dominican Republic, and I didn't really know anything about the Dominican. I had been to the Dominican Republic twice, but I didn't know a ton about the history and whatnot. I just sort of pick this up, book up and read it, and I was just like, wow.

So at the time, I was a young mother living in Caracas and working as a journalist.  It tells the story, dramatizes the assassination of the dictator, Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, who ruled the Dominican Republic for about 30 years with a very iron fist and his final demise.

It just really impacted me cause I was covering a lot of Latin America at the time and could see how different styles of government, there's a lot of autocrats that get into government. They're very sort of very strong leaders that just say, this is the way it is, and that's it. The president is sort of the big cheese, the legislature doesn't do a whole lot, it's whatever the president wants. So this really impacted me and just how he impacted the life of every single Dominican. His control and power over the country was so absolute.  It came at a time when I was into that, cause I was also covering the rise of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, who was a leftist, a president, very socialist. And he was sort of the same style, not nearly as bad as Trujillo, and so these kinds of presidents had cropped up a lot in Latin American history.

So to me it was just like a story of power run amuck, how power corrupts. And it's just a prime example of that. So I was just blown away by this, and I just thought the way that the story was presented was just really well done. And I was like, Oh, I want to write something like that myself, that just inspired me to write.

Denise:  He's interesting in his style that he took because he took a very personal level story for Urania and also explored the whole regime in several different ways with several different perspectives. And one of the things I kept noticing was in Urania's chapters, it's not just third person, it's suddenly second person. Somebody is talking to her. Well, I don't even know if it's second person because it's not talking to us, but someone's talking to her, so I don't know if it's her talking to herself or the narrator just talking to her. Do you have an idea about who's talking to her?

Christina: He sort of, with the chapters, with her, it's told through her. She's a fictional character. And so in the book, she's at the age of 14. Her father is a politician, a member of Trujillo's cabinet and falls out of favor. And Trujillo has this insatiable appetite for young girls, and basically he would go around the Island, just point his finger and that whoever the father or the husband or whoever had to give, the woman had to sleep with him.

So the father sort of offers up Urania as the peace offering, his virginal daughter who was 14 or 15 at the time to Trujillo, as an appeasement to try and get back in his good graces. That was a fictional character, but he chose this because obviously this was just a horrific aspect of the regime.

And so he expertly does this weaving in the past and the present. So you're almost in the past without even a double space, it just went straight in and all of a sudden you were back in the past. You had to really pay attention to where you were in the story, and just say, Oh, okay, now we're back, in 1962 or something.

Yeah, it was very, very finely done, but it generally seemed to work, but you did have to pay a lot of attention to the story, the movement, and sometimes you didn't get to a couple scenes, oh, okay, now we're in the past, or now we're in the present.

Denise:  So when you were saying you wanted to write a story like that, are you talking about an epic like where it's multiple perspective, or the examination of power? What about the story specifically?

Christina:  Yeah, I think the examination of power. I was covering the rise of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and I just. Oh, it'd be great. And then in 2002, there was a coup attempt against him, and it failed, ultimately failed. But it was a pretty rocky time. Three days there was no government, I mean, it was just crazy. And I just wanted to write something like that. And that was actually the first novel that I attempted, but it didn't really work. You know, as many first novels, don't work. And that's still the novel that I have in the proverbial drawer is that novel that I sort of said, Oh, I want to write a Feast of the Goat, a sort of fictionalization of a real political happening. So some point I want to resurrect that some, some stage, I don't know. But you know, maybe it's only a Vargas Llosa can carry that off. I don't know.

Denise: Definitely not. But it did sound a little ambitious for a first book.


I actually wrote quite a lot of it, and it just sounded like a reporter writing a book. But that's sort of inspired me to write my first novel, I guess, this book. So I sort of took that as a model. And it's got these multi perspectives. So you've got the fictional Urania, then you've got the true dictator himself, Trujillo, and you're in his mind and in his head, and then you've got, the guys, I think there were six of them sitting in a car or two cars along a highway waiting to kill him. They were going to carry out the assassination, and their stories.

So it kind of weaves between these, these three parties as we go through. And, we get a good sense of how the regime was and real figures, those were real people.

Denise:  It was very interesting to jump into each person's head, see their experience with the regime, how it was okay at first for some of them, and became not okay. It was also interesting just to see the different ways that they felt wronged by Trujillo. I think the most interesting perspective for me was the President Balaguer.

Christina: Balaguer. Yes. And he is a real-life guy. And then he went on to, take over and he was president for, again, another 30 years or 35 years or something, but elected. But yeah, he's a very interesting character and everybody thought he was weird. Who is this little man? And he didn't drink, he didn't womanize. Never lost his temper or composure. Just fascinating. And yeah, you're right he really was a fascinating character.

Denise:  I definitely, after reading the book, I was like I want to know more about this guy. I also wanted to know more about the U S perspective of this whole regime cause I haven't looked into that that much. Actually, I knew a little bit about Trujillo just because I had read The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Junot Diaz talks a little bit about that. I almost wished briefly for footnotes, like he has in his book, so I can understand some of the historical references, although I don't think you needed them on this story, but I just kind of was curious. But I also was like, okay, but you're going to just deviate and you're never going to get back to the core story if you start chasing all these rabbits cause you want to know more about it.

So just get through this story, then you can go back and look at the most interesting things. So there's so much stuff and I think in a way that almost only a based on true life story could be with a lot of documentation. Like there's so much that he just drops and doesn't actually pursue. But you know that a lot of it's based on the facts,

Christina: Right, on history. Yeah. There's so much in there. And as I was reading, I'm like, Oh, you know, she probably doesn't know that much about the Dominican Republic., maybe this'll lose her. But as you say, you can skip over it and you still are in the story.

But yes, there are a lot of historical references. The stuff with Haiti, for example, and the massacre, the Dominicans and the Haitians don't get along. They share a border on their Island. And there was a huge massacre, I forget what year it was. So that's mentioned in there massacre of Haitians by the Dominicans, and different other things.

But, but it's funny when I, I've been to the Dominican twice and, and people still, when you drive along that highway with a taxi driver, they still, "Over here. That's where Trujillo was shot." They still point that out. At least they did when I went there.

It's a while ago now. A good 15-20 years ago. But it still lives very much in the Dominican mind. So that's why like writers like Junot Diaz still refer to it because I think it's still very much present. Cause he was in recent history, in the 1960s.

Denise: And the scars that he left behind, this is going to impact a few generations really, so you can see how that might be the case. I studied a lot of Spanish in high school and college, but not so much the history of any of the Spanish speaking countries. But I did get some, but this is not something that I studied, like the only real reason I heard about it, like I said, was that book. So, so I knew a little bit.

You would think, as far as dictators go, you would hear more about him too. We seem to rely on just the standard Hitler, Stalin. You know, you don't always hear about the others.

Christina: Well these are little tiny countries, nobody pays too much attention to them. They've got a bunch of sugar and banana trees. But, yeah, there are a lot of pretty interesting dictators, Tito in Yugoslavia is another one, Ceaușescu in Romania. I mean, there's a lot of them in history and they're all really interesting.

Denise:  So that's why I was thinking. Yeah, I think people have fascination with dictators for sure.

Christina:  It's sort of a weird type of personality, I guess. A certain charisma. You have to have this ability to get people to follow you, in some way.

Denise: Yeah. And then you wonder, why didn't anybody say stop or no, or-

Christina:  Right. I know. Or stand up to him. And then they start with the fear. Anyone who opposed him as it was referenced in the book a couple of times , they just bundle them in a car, drive them out to a cliff and throw them off where the sharks were waiting in the sea below. They'd just disappear. So it was a rule by torture and fear kind of a thing.

Denise: And it starts small, which is why it happens. It starts with little decisions that you make and suddenly you're in so deep, there is no going back. So besides making you want to really write a book like this or about power, what other ideas or new perspectives did it give you?

Christina:  Just again, how human nature and just how power really corrupts people. and how people, if you don't stand up to them, just get away with it and it just builds. And Trujillo, I mean, it lists there one point in the book all the companies he basically controlled, the whole Dominican economy with all these companies. And then he would, you know, build the followings, cause he would put all these people in charge of these companies. And so everybody had a stake in seeing him continue. And, he controlled like everything in the economy. So that was pretty, pretty interesting. That really was an eye opener. And then these personal predilections of going after young girls or sleeping with other men's wives and, sort of added this little really weird element to it, like the character study. So again, it just struck me as how lucky we are to live in a democracy where this hopefully won't happen.  Power just runs amuck, gets out of control.

Denise:  Yeah. And being on such a small island, even with another country next to you, but who's basically most people's enemy in a lot of ways, there weren't a lot of escapes I imagine either. It wouldn't have been easy to get out of there if they wanted to, if they had the funds or means to do so as well. I'm sure that all the transportation was under his control on top of everything else. Military, businesses, farms, you just couldn't exist without his blessing.

Christina: Yeah. I mean he just controlled everything, and at one point when Urania after she has the incident with Trujillo she gets whisked off to the United States. The nuns ask somebody, I think it was Balaguer actually, for permission for her to leave the country. Trujillo finds out and he's like, what he shouldn't have let her go? Or something like that. So, I mean, even to leave the country to go study at a school, a teenager, they had to get his permission and government permission to leave. I mean to us, it's just mind-boggling, how that could happen. How so much control could be concentrated in one man. It just struck me as a political lesson of control and power. And, democracy may be messy at some point, but there are checks and balances. There were no checks and balances on this dictator. He was completely, out of control, wild.  It's just like kind of a lesson of looking at some horrendous piece of history that, as you say, isn't well known.

Denise:  Have there been times in your life where you've gone back and reread the book or thought long and hard about it? Like something came up and you're like, Oh, this feels like something happening now.

Christina:  Not really. The other thing that really struck me was the, the courage in both the six guys who ended up assassinating, they formed this plot to assassinate him, and also in the book it references the Mirabal sisters. Julia Alvarez, who's another, a Dominican American writer. She wrote a book called In the Time of Butterflies that's a story fictionalization of these three sisters who were against the regime.

And just the courage of them to stand up and do the right, to get the Goat, as they called him the goat and, and how the, you know, incredible sacrifice obviously. Cause there was a huge witch hunt at the end of the book to find them and they were tortured and just, that was the other thing. I mean, the torture methods were just like, Oh my God, you know? It's pretty dark.

Denise:  I had to slightly skim over. I'm like, skip a couple sentences. Ok skip a couple more.

Christina:  It's pretty rough. People sit around thinking about how to intentionally inflict cruelty on someone, what else can we do to this guy as punishment or to make them talk and that kind of thing. So that was another thing that I thought, the cruelty of human nature, it just that to me it was a sort of a lesson.

Denise:  Part of me definitely appreciates the unflinching realistic look at it, because I think it's also a warning and a reminder like, Hey, these kinds of things can happen if we let them.

I do appreciate that to a certain extent, but part of me is like, but I know this. And then it's like, no. Do you really know? I don't think you do. That's kind of what he's telling me.

Christina: Right. And it's just, yeah, it's just sort of, we live in a time where you can't let one person have too much power, kind of a thing.

And so you always, it's just sort of a lesson. 

But it's written in a very realistic, very, like, you're right, sort of there way. And the detail is just incredible too.

Denise:  So were there any characters that you identified with?

Christina:  Mostly I would say Urania and in the book, she never got over her father sort of giving her to Trujillo and she never talked to him again. And, she comes back to the Island because he's dying and he has had a stroke, so he can't talk. So he's got to sit there and kind of, she's talking at him and, and I just thought, wow.

You know, it's just how things can happen in our childhood and adolescence that we never really recover from, and I just thought, wow, you've gotta be able to move on. Cause obviously this had impact. She became a very well-respected, I don't know, I forget what she did. Lawyer a professor.

It was a lawyer, was it? Yeah. But she never married she never had children or anything like that. And I just thought, if she had dealt with it more, she could've had a more, a happier life. So I just thought, wow, it's just a kind of a lesson in, you have to deal with stuff, not just let it fester.

Denise:  Yeah. That's true.

Christina:  Ghosts of childhood or adolescence and stuff. And so to move on, cause it seemed like she never moved on. She was just stuck. And then she came back and everybody wondered, why did you never come back? Why don't you want to talk to your father. And then she starts telling the story to her aunt and cousin.

At the beginning, we don't really know what happened to her. We were aware something happened to her. And as the story progresses, finally, towards the end, like two thirds of the way in, we discover what happened.

You know, the whole incident with Trujillo. And I thought that was really well done too, this sort of dropping little hints through her story and then we find out, okay, that's why she never, married. Why she hates her father with a vengeance. I thought that was well done, but yeah.

So I just identify with that and I just thought, we've all had to deal with stuff from childhood in order to move on. But I think also in previous generations, people didn't do that as much. They just sort of, you know, sucked it up and carried on.

Denise: Yeah, so there's a part of her that moves on and became this other person and boxed up all the stuff in the past, but then at the same time  that box is always sitting there present because she didn't let herself have any relationships with anybody really, or anything intimate.

And even her family, she almost doesn't want anything to even do with them because it's all related to her home, her home life, the Island. All of that is, is tainted because of that memory and everything that happened there. So I, I felt like on the one hand, I appreciated that the author did not make it, Oh, it's okay. It's fine. That whole episode was fine. She was fine, and just gloss over it. Those things don't usually let us be fine. We have to work through them like you said, and so I appreciate that, but I did want a little more hope at the end. He only gave us a very small glimmer I felt like, of where she might write back to her niece if she writes her. I was like. Okay. Kind of wanted a little bit more than that, but that's just me as a person and as a reader.

Christina: It would've been nice that she sort of felt like a little more resolution or a little more, she was through it after going back and retelling the story and reliving it . Yeah, you're right. I mean, it would've been nicer, more satisfying to the reader to have a little more hope or something good came out of the whole thing.

Denise: She didn't have to have full closure. That's tough to get. But I just wanted a little, maybe it was more hope for not just her, because there wasn't a whole lot of hope for... Well, there were two assassins that survived and weren't really brutalized so much, but you don't really know what happens to them. You assume that they get to live okay. A nd the president pretty much gets away with his part, whatever that might've been. And I'm all, he has to work for it really hard and you just see him manipulating and trying to weed out the presences that are going to make it hard for the country and also for him to rule the country basically. So now when you tell me he was president for another 30 years, I'm like, Oh, wow.

Christina:  Yeah. Right. And he was sort of the antithesis of Trujillo, you know what I mean?

Again, he was very straight-laced. He didn't drink or womanize. He never married, very Catholic, devout, so I guess, you know, they went from one to the other, but again, he just stayed in power until he was like, I don't know well, into his eighties. I think he went blind and he was still in power. And then finally when he stepped down, they could move their economy further on and stuff.

Denise:  You said you'd been to the Dominican Republic. How'd you feel about the setting? Did it feel like when you were there, did it feel like the same place in the book?

Christina:  Yeah, it did. I mean, he doesn't go too much into description say, but yes, it did. The tropical setting, the heat, the highway where the assassins are waiting goes along the border of the sea along the Island and just of course, the immense poverty.  People are just living in desperate poverty Yeah, it was pretty realistic. The author must've spent a good deal of time there too, to research.

Denise: This is kind of a strange question. Would you be friends with anyone in the book?

Christina:  You know who I kind of liked her was the aunt who was a secondary character, but she seemed like a really nice woman and the cousin, and they meant well to Urania. Urania herself doesn't seem that nice. You know? 

Denise:  Very closed off.

Christina:  Yeah. And incapable of forgiveness or whatever. She just didn't seem very giving. And then some of the assassins, they, they seemed okay, you know, pretty nice men in other circumstances if they hadn't been harmed by Trujillo. But I liked the aunt, you know, she seemed like she meant well.

Denise:  I liked her but part of me was like, stop excusing people's behavior.

Christina:  Yeah. She did do that. Yeah. She was trying to find some kind of justification and excuse for, for,

Denise: Her brother. Yeah. Part of her was trying to give her brother the benefit of the doubt, especially since the brother couldn't say his side of things and he had never told his sister anything about it. So she, and they had no idea.

And then he never really got to talk to his daughter. She didn't read anything, any letters he sent. And when she did see him face to face, of course he was, it was after the stroke and he couldn't really talk to her. She wasn't even sure he was listening. They all said, Oh no, he hears you, we know. And I thought, okay, that's interesting.

In a way, she got to say her thing, but we don't really know what he did to help. He made a really bad decision, but did he also try to help her out of it? I dunno. Like it's really unclear if he helped pull strings to get her to the U.S. I mean, he must've agreed with the nuns in order for the nuns to have been able to send her.

And then what was the president's part in that? Did he lose that note to Trujillo or did somebody else lose that note to Trujillo about her leaving? You know, like it felt very much like it was a concerted effort by multiple people to help her get out of there. So. I just keep wondering, but I also don't want to just let her father off the hook if he did, you know, like I'm like, okay, what really happened? But you never really know. And then just like in real life, you might never know.

Christina:  Right. And the other thing, I mean, why didn't he just get his daughter and both of them leave?

Denise: Yeah.

Christina: I mean, he had means. He seemed to obviously have means, I don't know. He was running out of money or something, but it seems like he had some friends or he could've gotten out of the country somehow.

Denise:  I don't know about that. I mean, I think it might've drawn more attention to it and to his daughter. So maybe he was sacrificing himself cause he knew he couldn't, or maybe he was just like, no, I'm gonna to fix this. This is going to be fine. It'll just take a little more effort.

Christina:  Yeah. He seems sort of resigned to this. He was going to have to do it because, el Jefe wanted it or something, but yeah, it's not well explained. I would have liked that.

That would've been a really good thing to know what, how the father felt and why he did that exactly. And did he consider other options or-

Denise: And since Urania and Agustin Cabral were both not real people, we could have found out, but I think that the author's really kind of like, ah, there's too much. I want to make it more unclear, or I'm not sure. But it was definitely very interesting to see all the motivations. Or the different reasons or ways people try to protect themselves, including him and his daughter. There were many parts where I did feel like he did care about his daughter, so I don't know.

Christina:  Yeah. He seemed very sort of like ineffectual as a father, and let me see, the mother had died. But, it's an interesting choice to make him have a stroke so we couldn't speak or defend himself. And it would have been interesting if he had been able to speak or even write messages or whatever to see what he would have said. So we, he, he kind of is let off the hook a little bit cause we don't know.

Denise:  Well, I think that's a storytelling device. Cause how else was Mario going to be able to put her there to tell her story. You know? And in a lot of ways, I definitely think that was the reason why it was straight up storytelling device. To craft the story he didn't want to give away too much either. So, he's not going to let him respond cause then that tells us the answers.

Christina:  Right. I'll have to, I'll have to remember that. You know, have someone have a stroke and they can't speak back, but yeah, exactly. Just sort of X them out, make them a sort of a presence, a non-presence.

But it would've been the really interesting thing to have heard his side of the story or if the aunt had known and presented his side of the story a little more or something, you know? Yeah.

Denise:  Like it was going to be the lesser evil to let you get sexually assaulted by Trujillo.

You would have, sure. You would have had to deal with that. You would have been alive. They both would have been alive. I mean, I think somebody could try and make that case .

Christina:Right, exactly. So that would've been an interesting, added an interesting twist to have that. But yeah, as you said, that there was so much else going on and so many other characters speaking maybe that was it. But that was kind of the framework again, for the whole story was framed around this Urania coming back, coming home and confronting this. And so then we go into the whole thing.

Denise:  So he couldn't kill him off. He had to bring her back home in some way and what else would have pulled her back home? That would have been the hard part to do to get her to talk to her, her family. So I think that's part of it, is he had to be alive because, Oh, I guess it could have been his funeral, but why would she have gone. No she wouldn't have gone to his funeral. 

I was just going to say if even if he had been dead, but he was sort of half, half dead, you know, he's half alive and he's in this vegetative state, so she could still talk to him and vent her anger, but he couldn't defend himself kind of thing.

Christina:  Although he seemed to, as you know, some points, his eyes widen and he seemed to understand what she was saying or something like that. And if he'd been alive, maybe she wouldn't have had the guts to say anything, you know, she never said anything to him about this.

Denise:  Did you have a favorite part of the book? It's a dark book. It's kind of hard to-

Christina:  I know it's such a dark book. When they go on the run and after the assassination and they're hiding, and again, it amazed me too, that so many people did give them shelter. A couple of them were hidden by, this one couple hid one of them for quite some time. And again, the courage that they showed to hide someone. So that was kind of exciting because you knew that some of them were going to get caught in some not. I didn't know which ones. What else? I, you know, the other interesting characters are Trujillo's sons who just seem like, Oh, just the most awful people. Really horrible people. Even Trujillo didn't like them. He would be like, oh those good for nothings and, but they were just terrible. As I said, there's not a lot of likable people out of all the cast of characters, but they were just terrible. And apparently Radhames and Ramfis or something. These two sons that were just Playboys, I mean, they just looted the treasury. They would say, I need, $15,000 , it would just come out of the government, the treasury, the main central bank.

Denise:  Oh, and the parts where they're like, Oh, they slept with this actress and this actress. I was like, wait, really? He gave Zsa Zsa Gabor some kind of expensive gift. Oh my God.

Christina:  I know. I know. It's just amazing. And yeah they got around. I mean, they were just the quintessential Playboys,

Denise:  But they weren't just, cause man, they were torturers too. And they seemed to really enjoy it.

Christina: Yeah. They were just, again, just completely corrupted by the way they were brought up.  They don't go into the mother, the wife that much, Trujillo's actual wife. They don't, she's just a sort of this bystander there.

Denise:  There's no love lost there.

Christina:  Yeah.

Denise:  She just wants all the money. She doesn't even tell her kids about it. I wouldn't either if I, my kids turned out that way.

Christina: Hmm. Yeah. Just horrible.  I think when the assassination finally happens and then you see some goodness sort of come out with other people, hiding them and, giving them shelter, the assassins. I think that was some like redemptive qualities of human nature finally come out cause it's been pretty dark the whole way through.

Denise:  I liked that Urania tells her story and doesn't let her aunt tell her to stop or let her aunt stop her. Well, doesn't let her aunt twist it from the way that she wants to say it.

I also really just enjoyed that whole really big chapter, just from the president's point of view, because he just fascinated me. I'm like, okay, I don't know what it is about manipulation or getting people to do your bidding. And he didn't do it in a cruel way that I could see, you know, just calculated and calm.

And I was like, I want to see this on the big screen. I want to see an actor do this so I can like picture it a little bit more. I know this was made into movie. Did you see the movie?

Christina:  No. No, I didn't.

Denise: Yeah, I guess, I want to say Isabella Rossellini was in it.

Christina:  No, I wasn't even aware of a movie, actually. I'll have to look that up. Yeah, it would be interesting to see that.

Denise:  Well, she's described as very, very pretty, which is why she got the attention of Manuel and Trujillo.

So, aside from what I had said about the ending, needing a little more hope, how did you feel about the ending?

Christina:  I mean I kind of wanted to know a little bit more like a, like an epilogue, like what happened. Like they have at the end of the movie or something cause these were real people, I wanted to know a little bit more what happened.

Also, how Balaguer I know got into power, but obviously they must've been going back and forth. Johnny Abbes the head of the secret service and this really dark character. What happened to some of these people? So I would have liked more of a wrap up at the end, just like a little synopsis of what happened after, and what happened to some of these people.

Denise:  So in my copy of the ebook, right after the last few words, it says Morgana Vargas Llosa, which is Mario's daughter's name. Why? Do you know why? I'm so curious about this. It's not, it doesn't say dedication doesn't say anything like that. It just has her name right after the, after the chapter.

Christina:  That is odd. I don't know what that means then. Yeah, it wasn't in the copy I had, so I don't know what that is.

Denise:  It could just be a formatting issue, I suppose, since it's an ebook.

Christina: Yeah. A lot of eBooks have different little glitches in them.

Denise:  So that's probably what it is. Maybe it was a dedication, just got moved to the wrong place. I don't know. It makes sense that he would write a book for his daughter, I guess. I don't know why he would dedicate this one.

Christina:  This particular book. Seems a bit of an odd dedication.

Denise:  Yeah. Hopefully, there's a message just to her that she's like, it's cool. One of the other things I thought was really interesting. There were a couple of moments where they kept talking about Peron and how that's what brought him down and the church and that don't let the church bring you down. And he kept talking about, what should I do with these bishops and should I kill them, should I not kill them? What should I do? And there's a lot of political stuff with that because the U.S. Was like, don't touch them. One of them was an American, and I think the other was a Spaniard. And they will bring the U.S. military to your door if you do that, but then it was like, well, do we send them back? Do we imprison them? But you know, like, what do we do? And I just kept thinking about that. Is that, is that what brought down Peron? I don't remember if I actually ever heard that. All I can think of is Eva Peron. She's bigger in my life than he is. The musical Evita.

Christina:  Right. Don't Cry for Me, Argentina and all that. Yeah, yeah, exactly. They, yeah, they were, I mean, he was another example of these larger than life, kind of a leader in Latin America was Juan Peron. Yeah. And, but it also underscores the Catholic church had a very checkered career in Latin American.

You know, at some points they were supporting the regime, these totalitarian regimes. Then in the 60s, they started to, with the liberation theology, some of them were involved in sort of the start of Marxist guerrilla movements in Columbia in different other areas as well.

And again, because the church had such a sway over the people, so that was the threat to his power and to leader's power. So, the church needed to be on their side, but sometimes they weren't, you know?

Denise:  The Church has a huge history, the Catholic church has a huge history of being in the power squabbles and exerting their power or not exerting their power and making sure that they have a say in who is in power when they want it.

So I definitely had a lot of curiosity about this. I think it's also because it's history, historicallly based, that there, these are real things that happened where I might not have some of the curiosity if it was just a completely fictional book. I'd be like, yeah, well that's happens in our history too.

So you said epilogue. Normally in fiction I would say, what's the epilogue and I think we can still do that because Urania was not a real person. What would you say is going to happen to her in the next 10 years or so after this book and does she, she get better at like relationship?

Christina:  I don't know. I, you know, cause he's, she's pretty old. She's in her forties when she's comes back or fifties maybe, I forget.

Denise: No, I think she was like 46.

Christina:  I would say she stays unmarried and then just, continues on with her career and, and has this brilliant career working in New York or whatever. Yeah, that's what I would say. I don't see her as a character getting married or as a family, as a mother, motherly type.

Denise:  Yeah. I wonder if, well, I think she's still going to live in New York, but maybe she comes back and she becomes a doting aunt or grand aunt to her niece's family or something like that.

Like I see her being more involved with them, especially the women in her family, and maybe maybe she can open up to them a little bit even more. I agree though. I don't necessarily see her having a romantic relationship with anybody. I don't, not even just to get married, but even just at, you know what a, we'll be together, but not all the way.

Christina:  So, yeah. I just wondered if she would go back more, you know, if he felt like she had reestablished the connection. Cause I thought that was kind of sad too, that she just left her Homeland and never gone back in 40 years or whatever. It was, 34 years, 30 years I guess. And so I always thought that was kind of, Sad to me.

Denise:  Yeah. But she wanted that connection cause she kept reading all the books and had that whole library and stuff. That's like what she did as a hobby.

Christina: I could see her now going back more often.  Being now that she's with the aunt and niece and that kind of thing.

Denise:  Yeah. She really seems to connect with the niece, especially since the niece had a little bit of, she wasn't involved at all. She wasn't even born yet, so she was a complete innocent.

Christina:Right, exactly. She couldn't hold anything against her.

Denise: Yeah. Not that her cousin knew or did anything either, but even her aunt didn't, she was just oblivious, blind eye. I kind of think maybe.

So do you know very much about Mario Vargas Llosa?

Christina: He's one of these super intellectuals of Latin America, Peruvian. He ran for president, I don't know, a number of years ago, and he lost. A number of writers in Latin America tend to be very big political figures as well.

They make a lot of political statements and whether it's Gabriel Garcia Marquez in Columbia and some Mexican writers, Carlos Fuentes.  Cause there's not too many of them, they tend to become very venerated intellectuals whereas writers here don't really get too politically involved, and they do, they become a little more politicized.

So he's been very outspoken on political things and has written political columns and that kind of thing. so that's, that's, yeah. I don't know much more about him. I don't know where he lives. I wonder if he still lives in Peru or. He lives in New York, or where.

Denise:  I saw his daughter when I was looking up Morgana, she was born in Spain. So he must've done some traveling.

Christina: When you get to that point and if you're politically outspoken, you get enemies and they usually end up moving somewhere, Europe or the United States

Denise:  A little safer.

Christina:  Right, right. Yeah.

Denise: Okay, that makes sense.

So who would you recommend this book to?

Christina: I would say anyone who's interested in history, especially, contemporary history, anybody who's interested in Latin America, the Caribbean, the Americas in general, and just, anybody who's interested in literary books

But I think mainly history fans, people who like historical fiction.  I just love historical dramas on TV. So I guess it makes sense that I would love this book. Yeah. I think, you know, historical fiction fans where if you have any kind of interest in Latin America, Caribbean history, that kind of thing.

Denise:  What's your favorite historical drama. Or what's one you would recommend?

Christina: Hmm. Wow. I love The Tudors and The Borgias. Vikings is great too. I've been watching every season of that. I think that's really a well done show. The Crown on Netflix has been great. I've been following that.

Outlander's fine.  It's a little bit, a little lighter of fare . I liked the stuff in Scotland better than now it's moved to North Carolina, Claire and Jaime in North Carolina. So I liked the Scottish stuff better. Peaky Blinders is sort of a crime, historical crime drama in Northern England in the 1920s or 19-teens. I guess that's kind of a fun .

Denise:  I have only watched out of all those Outlander, but I've been meaning to watch The Crown, and, not so much The Tudors. Cillian Murphy, who's in Peaky Blinders. I haven't watched yet and I'm a fan of his and I kept going, Oh, I should probably try to find that and check it out. Cause especially since it sounds like he's complicated, dangerous kind of character and that intrigues me, so.

Christina:  Yeah, he's really good. He's the lead guy. The first season I think is the best season. I think it's on Netflix. So, yeah, I love the British, you know, sort of historical dramas and things like Out of Africa

Denise:  What are you reading right now?

Christina:  Right now I'm reading My Dark Vanessa, and it's a new book and another dark book... I've just started, it's just been published. Just came out a couple months ago, and it's about a woman who had an affair with her teacher when she was in high school. Anyway, it's got a lot of buzz about it.

And I just finished American Dirt, which has been very controversial. I wanted to read it because it was set in Mexico, cause I'm interested in Latin America. And that's the story of a mother who has to flee the drug cartel from Mexico and trying to get into the United States.

Denise:  Do you listen to podcasts at all?

Christina:  Yeah, I listen to a number of different podcasts, whether it's TED Talks or a meditation, sometimes Oprah has interviews on, or sometimes writing podcasts.  True crime podcasts have been good.

Denise:  Do you have any recommendations for us?

Christina:  What was it called? The Vanishing? It was a story of a woman, and it's, it's told from the, the daughter of a serial killer who tries to track down her father, who had moved around the country under assumed names, and he was actually a serial killer. And it's, so it's a daughter trying to come to terms with, her father, what's it called...

Denise:  interesting!

Christina: Yeah. It was pretty interesting. It was, it was a little different of an angle than the usual.

Denise:  This is fictional or based on-

Christina: No, it's a true thing. This one's called, The Clearing. Yeah. And it's about April Balascio, daughter of American serial killer Edward Wayne Edwards. That was really good cause I liked the different angle of it and cause of his daughter and how was it to have a serial killer as your father.

Denise:  I know!

Christina: He goes off and starts killing all these women all over the country.  That was one that, I stay up listening, you know?

Denise:  Yeah. That sounds fascinating.

So let's talk about you more. Tell us about your books.

Christina:  I have two novels, and I'm working on a third, which is more of a mystery. But my two novels, one's called Girl on the Brink, and that's about, it's a YA book, although adult women buy it and read it, and it's about a girl who gets involved with the wrong guy.  The girl in question is 17 and she meets this guy and he seems perfect, and they just had this mad summer romance, and then he gradually starts turning, very smothering. He's very jealous and possessive and controlling. It escalates to some physical violence and then she's got to break away from him. Finally, she breaks away from him and then he doesn't let her go so easily. So, it's kind of based on an abusive relationship that I was in, not as a teenager, but, later on in life.

So it's loosely based on that. But I wanted to write something in an entertaining way that would show teen girls as they're starting their dating lives what an abuser looks like. Cause then you can mistake the signs very easily. So, yeah, and that one's done pretty well. It was named best of YA by Suspense Magazine and got some pretty good reviews.

And then my other one is called Skin of Tattoos. That's also kind of a dark story. I covered a lot of gang issues in El Salvador and here in Los Angeles where I live. , And I wanted to tell the other side of sort of the gang guys,  when you talk to them in person, they're covered in tattoos and they look pretty menacing and real tough guys, but they're often just kind of lost,  they just need jobs. They just seem like regular people when you talk to them in person when you get to know what's under the skin of tattoos. And that book was a finalist in the suspense category for the Silver Falchion Awards at Killer Nashville a crime writing festival. So those are my two books, and I've written a bunch of short stories and essays and some poems and different things.

Denise:  And what are you working on right now?

Christina: It's a mystery and it's got a podcast in it, actually. There's a true crime podcast kind of woven into it. And then a girl coming to terms with things. I'm about two thirds of the way, or maybe halfway through the first draft, so I've got a while to go, but it's coming along. I feel pretty good about it.

Denise:  You seem pretty firmly in the mystery suspense area.  Was that also your first one that you trunked kind of a mystery? You were an exploring the power, but you didn't-

Christina: Yeah, that would be more of a suspense thriller, I guess. But I meant it more as a literary novel of what happened with the coup, leading up to this coup. So, one of these days I'll find a way to get it finished. I don't know. The great thing about fiction is it doesn't go out of date ?

Denise: That's true.

Christina:  And you can pick it up at any time. Yeah. 

Denise: Anything you're excited about besides finishing that third book?

Christina:  I was awarded a writers' residency on the Island of Jersey in the English channel. It's an English Island, but it's right off the coast of France. And I was set to go there, but the Coronavirus pandemic has kind of ruined that put a little monkey wrench into those plans.

So I'm hoping to do that later in the year. We'll see how this whole pandemic thing goes.  But that was cool. I haven't done a writer's residency, so I was kind of excited about that.

Denise:  Me neither. That does sound like a really good experience and it's interesting to think of how you would write when you're away from your norm and in a place dedicated to that.

So I hope you get to do it after all, and it's just a little delayed.

Christina:  Everything's kind of on hold, until we see how we get through this. this thing.

Denise: [ Yeah. It's a first for all of us.

Christina:  Whether it'll spawn a whole new generation, a whole new genre of books, coronavirus pandemic books or something.

Denise:  Yeah. Apparently pandemic movies are all the rage right now and I don't understand, and I just want to avoid it.  

Do you think you'll use anything that we're going through right now in a future book, or is it too soon to tell?

Christina: Yeah, too soon to tell. Probably not I, I dunno, I tend to be more in that mystery crime scene but you never know. Things kind of work themselves into plots or characters. Maybe somebody could be an epidemiologist, for example, studying viruses or something.

Denise: I could see that.

And if people wanted to find you online, how would they do that?

Christina:  You can go to my website, I'm also on Facebook and Instagram and LinkedIn and all of the social media. Twitter. And the whole nine yards. You can sign up for my newsletter, which is very infrequent, on my website. Or like my author page on Facebook. Then send me a note there.

Denise:  Well, thank you for your time. Thanks for being on The Heart-Shaped Books Podcast.

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