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.
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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
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Although most facts are presented accurately, the tone and perspective given in this book are negative and critical of human beings living in this country. Read morePublished 16 days ago by Pedro D. Luzko
Loved it- I read it and felt I was right there - its funny sad but the history is presented in a way that you would like to be there. A very good read. Well donePublished 4 months ago by Boerseun
I tried to read this several times . It just never grabbed me . The narrative jumps all over the place and although there is a lot of historical information it wasn't an... Read morePublished 5 months ago by James Kerr
My favourite book ever. I've read about six times. Also read 'The theatre of Fish' and 'Wild Coast' by the same authors. They are equally brilliant.Published 6 months ago by Colin Thompson
Beautifully and written. I love the author's irreverent and snarky style. He has obvious affection for many of the characters he meets, but is clearly saddened by much of what he... Read morePublished 15 months ago by Alexa Herrington