You could dismiss it as a biography of a failed revolutionary. Roger Casement was executed by the British government for conspiring in Ireland's Easter Rising in 1916. Once knighted by the Queen of England for his extraordinary humanitarian work in the Congo, Casement was condemned to the gallows for his activities against the crown. Through his life, Llosa has told the story of many men. This one narrative encompasses many struggles, personal, political and ideological. And therein lies the genius of the author.
Roger Casement was a contemporary of Joseph Conrad, whom, in the words of the author, he'd "Deflowered. About Leopold II, about the Congo Free State. Perhaps even about life and the human beast." But unlike Conrad, Casement was relegated to obscurity and ignominy.
He went to Africa with a strong innocent faith in Europe's mission to spread Christianity, commerce and civilization. But the horrors the Congolese people were subjected to left him disillusioned and miserable. As a representative of the British government, he travelled to the heart of the jungles, unraveling the depths of human greed and cruelty, and in the process rediscovering his own country. Wasn't Ireland a colony too, losing its culture and language under British oppression? So, as England celebrated his brave efforts in the quest for truth and justice, Casement embarked on the path to try and free his motherland from the shackles of British subjugation. He was arrested for trying to enlist German support to raise an Irish brigade against the Empire.
The reader finds casement in a dark, dingy cell in London's Pentonville Prison, hoping for his clemency petition to be heard, and deep down in his heart, waiting for the hangman. The story is a series of flashbacks. The young man you met on the last page, hungry for adventure, challenging mighty businessmen, a King and nature's fury is now sitting in a prison cell holding a Catholic chaplain's hand, sobbing and confessing he is scared of death. It is delicate and moving. The man who did not want money or fame all his life, now wonders if he will only be remembered for the scandalous reports being printed about him in the press. Casement's private diary with salacious details of his gay relations with many powerful people was leaked in the press. Llosa deals with complicated subjects like passion, ego and fear with the dexterity of a master.
He understands and depicts human failings and weaknesses with the sympathy they deserve.
The dream of the Celt is an epic, just as the cover promises.