Rating: 3 Jacaranda Blossoms
Disclaimer: Author Lily Tuck is not from Paraguay. Unfortunately, I don’t speak much Spanish.
Tea again: Here, it’s the bitter (and I think nasty) Yerba Mate. With or without a gourd, I won’t be drinking any.
The News: In Paris in 1850, kept Irishwoman Ella Lynch loses her Russian lover when he decides to go fight in the Crimea. Along comes Franco Solano Lopez, son of the dictator of Paraguay. Ella sails for Paraguay to bear Franco numerous sons who are as selfish and cruel as he is. She turns a blind eye to everything evil Franco does: Affairs, torturing innocent people–even his two sisters and their husbands–killing on a whim, whipping horses, starting a war for vanity and arrogance that kills most of the population. When he’s finally deposed, she returns to France.
Differences between Paraguay and Uraguay: Para is landlocked (but with rivers), Ura is on the ocean. Paraguayans are a mix of Spanish and indigenous Guaranis; Uraguayans are mostly of Spanish descent. As you can imagine, Uraguay has a higher literacy rate, a lower birthrate, and a better standard of living. My world encyclopedia states there is hardly any ethic conflict in Paraguay because of the homogenous population–as a separate thought it states that most indigenous people have been robbed of their ancestral land and pushed into the barely inhabitable Gran Chaco. Hm. Cause and effect? Hello.
Biggest defects in the book: 1) Although Tuck helpfully included a map in the front of the book, I somehow missed it and was then very puzzled when the Brazilians, Argentines, Paraguayans and the “Banda Oriental” went to war. (What, I wondered, would Orientals be doing in Paraguay? What is this country? Have people from Asia settled here en masse?) Wiki said the word is Spanish for Eastern. So Uraguay, in the east of South America, is the “Banda Oriental”.
2) Tuck doesn’t translate the Spanish or the French in the story–in one case, a big chunk of French. While I can puzzle out the Spanish thanks to 2 years of it in high school, I had no idea what Ella was saying here.
3) The descriptions of the torture and the sex were too graphic for me. I felt dirty when I finished the book. I know the torture really happened; I know how awful the dictators in these “Banana Republics” are–from The War of Don Immanuel’s Nether Parts by Louis B., (Captain Corelli’s Violin)--but I could have done with more hints and less description. Loved the Suki Stackhouse books; hated the TV series–same reason.
4) I’m not sure that what she’s done with the pacing works. It’s super fast, yes; and she suggests rather than tells; but sometimes I wanted more story and less tiny sound bites. Too many questions.
Points to ponder: Q: Why did Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay hate Brazil so much? A: Portugal and Spain were bitter rivals, the countries they colonized were also. Q: Why were there black slaves fighting for Brazil? A: No idea. It’s interesting that there is an American Confederate soldier later in the book who flees to Paraguay after the American Civil War. Also, I would like to know more about the indigenous tribe of cannibals mentioned in the book.
Angostura comes up as a place name: Is this where Angostura bitters (used in cocktails) come from?
Summary: I liked the book; it taught me a lot about Paraguay. I didn’t love it, but I think I would still recommend reading it. And I would like to see the country’s plethora of fabulous parrots…some say it’s how the place got its name. River of bright feathers.