What was Vargas Llosa intending for this novel? Even though it is surely sympathetic to the Counselor and Canudos, and it is not overbearingly so. Did he intend to serve justice to a piece of Brazilian history that is little known to the rest of the world?
I understand why many readers compare this novel with War and Peace. The War of the End of the World is lengthy and is detailed in battle scenes. However, the characters in this aren't two-dimensional props to allow the author to glorify his favorite underrated Russian general. The characters are the spotlight and they are not the typical rich families or devious politicians, there are the outcasts - the poor, sinful, ugly, and ignored ones. Each is unique, and each has a different motivation but ultimately the same reason to follow the Counselor.
I think Vargas Llosa does excellent in keeping the story on the brink of surrealism. There is just enough religious mysticism and fanaticism it becomes truly believable. It is hard for me to understand what Vargas Llosa is trying to accomplish, but I think this is a story of devotion. Not necessarily a religious devotion, but a devotion to rid oneself of what is untrue.
As other reviewers have pointed out, it is difficult to know what is historical fact and what is elaborated. Yet, I don't think this detracts from the novel. I never got the impression Vargas Llosa was straying far from the truth.
I do think the novel was a bit long-winded, which keeps me from giving it a full 5 stars. Although I was interested in the characters, I never got attached to them - maybe because their world and view is so different from my own. In that way, I didn't connect to the book as much as I thought I would.