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At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig: Travels Through Paraguay Paperback – March 8, 2005

3.7 out of 5 stars 68 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Over the past 500 years, Paraguay has been invaded by successive waves of conquistadors, missionaries, Mennonites, Australian socialists, fugitive Nazis and, perhaps most improbably, Islamic extremists. "An island surrounded by land," bordered by vast deserts and impenetrable jungles, Paraguay is a country uniquely suited for those seeking to drop out of sight or, like Gimlette, find themselves. The author was 18 when he first traveled to Paraguay more than two decades ago; return visits only deepened his appreciation for the nation and its tragicomic past. Gimlette seems to have gone everywhere and talked to everyone. He boats down piranha-infested rivers, hobnobs with Anglo-Paraguayan socialites and hunts down the former hiding place of notorious Auschwitz doctor Josef Mengele. Gimlette, a travel writer and lawyer in London, proves a chatty, amiable guide to local institutions like the national railway (which has no running trains) and native wildlife, like the fierce, raccoon-like coatimundis (who, Gimlette writes, "make up for their absence of pity with fistfuls of dagger-like claws"). Yet he doesn't shirk from the nastier aspects of Paraguay's bloody history. Gimlette describes in horrific detail, for example, the rape and conquest of the Guarani Indians as well as the brutally repressive regime of Don Alfredo Stroessner (whose U.S.-backed dictatorship lasted longer than any other in the Western Hemisphere). Gimlette could have used some judicious editing-the narrative drags in parts, and its scattered chronology can be confusing-but he never fails to impress with his ingenuity, sincerity and sense of humor. 16 pages of color and b&w photos, not seen by PW.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

If some Americans can't locate Canada on a map, it's likely many haven't even heard of Paraguay. Yet this California-sized South American country has endured an astonishing run of totalitarianism, instability, and war. Travel writer and attorney Gimlette shares that chilling history, drawing anecdotes from survivors and descendants as he explores the country. While his own doings seem unavoidably flat compared to the outrages he relates (one war killed four-fifths of the country's population, and 9 out of 10 men), it is interesting to glimpse the country today, which is happier yet still a place where the black market dwarfs the gross national product. Gimlette's prose has an almost cartoonish cast at times (a past ruler of "the hookwormed rabble" is "rutting, greasy-pawed"), yet sometimes he turns a perfect phrase ("They already had chimneys and now they wanted fireplaces"). Moreover, he conveys, though he can't explain, a national character that it doesn't seem cliched to call inscrutable. Fascinating and compulsively readable. Keir Graff
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (March 8, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400078520
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400078523
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #517,196 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
John Gimlette's book is a good book that wanders between social travelogue and anecdotal history. He moves very easily through a very insular segment of Paraguayan society [mostly upper-class and foreign ex pats]. His writing, while tending toward florid prose, is spot on for his subject. The narrative keeps you on your toes as it And he has a critical eye for the absurdities of the situations he finds himself in. It is travel writing focused on some of the people of a place, rather than the place itself.

It all makes for an extremely entertaining read. I found myself laughing out loud several times. He has a wonderful knack for illustrative storytelling. He can make you feel like you know someone with a few sentences. His accounts of the Mennonites and other separatist "foreign" groups in Paraguay are hilarious. And he obviously moves comfortably within the other world that is Asuncion's upper class. But I also wished that he had applied his wit to the regular mestizo Paraguayans who make up the vast majority of the populous.

I have lived off and on in rural Central Paraguay for 10 years and I for one would have loved to read something that includes their experiences and history. But Gimlette remains exclusively focused on the upper echelons of Paraguayan society and the ex pat pretenders to such status. He seems to view ordinary Paraguayans as the inscrutable heirs of the strange savages his countrymen encountered centuries ago. Maybe he doesn't speak Guarani, but I've yet to encounter a Paraguayan who wouldn't turn themselves inside out to try to share their stories with a foreigner, even if they have to do it in Spanish.
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Format: Hardcover
As an American resident of Paraguay for over a year, I found At The Tomb a compelling, essential read. A bit over the top, but probably the only truly comprehensive history of Paraguay in any language, and chock full of insights into what makes this place tick - or not. That said, the reader must bear in mind that Mr. Gimlette is not a professional historian and tends to take liberties with facts that would never pass an academic review. The most questionable example is his assertion that of a total population of 1.3M at the beginning of the War with Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay in 1864,only 221,079 survived when it ended in 1870 - an impossibly high number even for that horrific war - a number with origins more in Paraguayan national myth than solid research. In most aspects though, Gimlette does a remarkabel job of revealing the layers of historical and cultural paradox that produced Paraguay. Having lived over 20 of my 48 years outside the US in Europe, Asia and Latin America, Paraguay is undoubtedly the most bizarre place I have ever been to and many thanks to John for helping me to understand it.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
All in all, this is a very interesting book. I have learned more about my country's history from this book than I did in all my years in Paraguayan schools. It is a must read for all Paraguayans and everyone in general, why for everyone in general? Well, it has many historical facts about Americans, Germans, Australians, Italians, English, Indians, Jesuits, South Americans, the Nazis, etc. and their relationship to Paraguay. It has been wonderfully researched and is full of awesome facts and numbers. I can only recommend this book; it also has lots of old pictures and funny passages. The book is not perfect, it contains lots of misspelled Spanish and Guarani words and proper names, something that doesn't belong to any book. What I personally dislike the most is the fact that the author gave the book the weirdest title. I have never met anyone that has ever heard of those inflatable pigs, it was probably some kind of Pokemon/Tamaguchi wave that lasted for a few days, and he dedicated the book's title to it... What I also didn't like are some of his generalizations and comments about him being home sick or missing the UK when he couldn't find a real English Bar in Paraguay.
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Format: Hardcover
One of the most fascinating books on one of the most fascinating
countries in South America.John Gimlette has tremendous knowledge
of his subject. He conveys his impressions as a traveller,he gives historical background and he is sarcastic and funny.This book is a pleasure to read, it is captivating.
It might not be " politically correct" at times, but describing
a brutal dictator who devastated his country in " politically correct" terms, I'd like to know what they are...
Having been to Paraguay, it re-awakend an interest in that country again.I have adopted Paraguay as my special subject and
pursue it with a passion. I stop short only on Guarani as a
language, but even that language fascinates me.
John Gimlette must be congratulated on this book, as an avid traveller and reader of travel books, this book is outstanding.
It is almost a measure as to how travel books should be written,
but then, we all have our special tastes and likes.
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Format: Hardcover
Perhaps it was the author's choice not to try to master Guarani (though he may be surprised to learn that moat Paraguayans can handle Castellano), but 99% of his conversations were with expatriots and the upper crust of Asuncion. Without spending time sipping terere with campesinos he never had a chance to find out what the Paraguayan character was all about. He just misses the whole point of the country. His blow-by-blow accounts of the Chaco and Triple Alliance Wars were fascinating, but why did he completely ignore the devestating Civil War of the late 1940's and the rise of the Febristas. He also takes little note of the amazing explosion of media and personal freedoms, the obvious defanging of the military, and the advance of women's rights that have taken place since Rodriguez siezed power. His painting of all of Paraguay's leadership and citizenry is wholly cynical. It makes for good reading but is singularly unfair to a country that is trying its best.
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