Writing in the mystical style of South American novelists, Louis de Bernieres creates a story that is hilarious and horrific, sadistic and sad, colorful, fantastic, illuminating, beautiful, mythical and brutal, tragi-comedy and allegorical love story of Columbia.
Senor Vivo, professor of philosophy, unlikely adversary, and Everyman, finds himself the target of retaliation by the brutish drug lord, El Jerarca, who has moved into the area. Vivo's audacious acts of heroism, in the form of anonymous letters to the editor of the newspaper calling for the expulsion of the drug trade, have been exposed--by his own father. Such is life in this lawless South American country.
His friend, policeman Ramon Dario, who invokes an ongoing series of philosophical commentaries on Dionisio's quest, urges him to save himself, but to no avail. Infused with myth and magic, the story of Lazaro moves in parallel toward each man's confrontation with El Jerarca.
In this imaginary country, inept, corrupt government, debauched leaders, tangled bureaucracy, and ridiculous laws all fail the People. Women are routinely violated and gangsters lauded for their "good works." Within the descriptive narration de Bernieres also comments on: the impact of American trash on ocean pollution, the vagaries of direct translation of slang, the corruption of Catholicism, patterns of promiscuity, and the impact of language on the social history of a country.
Can this nation be saved? Dionisio and his female followers believe it can. If, as a reporter quotes at the end of the book, "Journalism is to a large extent responsible for the formation of our National Being," then de Bernieres' is writing to us all.