Monday, August 22, 2011


This could have been a juicy, rousing historical novel, but it's not. Instead, it flits among a zillion characters, most of whom are not sufficiently fleshed out to render them memorable. The only ones I could really keep up with were Franco Lopez, who becomes Paraguay's diabolical dictator in the mid-1800s, his Irish pseudo-wife Ella Lynch, Franco's fat sisters Rafaela and Inocencia, and Franco and Ella's son Pancho. Their other sons (four?) were as indistinguishable as Franco's brothers, various military personnel, diplomats, and Ella's ladies-in-waiting. Reading this book ranks right up there with watching paint dry. Blinded by the gold National Book Award sticker on the cover, I had high expectations. Plus, I thought it would augment my next-to-non-existent body of knowledge about Paraguay. Now I at least know that Paraguay was warring with Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay at the same time that the U.S. was engaged in civil war. However, that nugget of information does not nearly suffice to make this a worthwhile read. I might have enjoyed a more straightforward fictional portrait of Ella. She certainly invites comparisons with that other influential South American woman, Eva Peron, in that she's aligned herself with a powerful man and shows some pluck. At one point, Ella accompanies Franco and Pancho to the front, and, in the midst of sweltering heat and muddy, swamp terrain, asks herself why she doesn't just return to Europe. Good question.

No comments: