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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unique...another 'must be read in one sitting' novel
Another impressive book from De Bernieres, though I don't believe anything can match the magnificence of Captain Corelli's Mandolin. Scenes of tender devotion between Dio' and Anica jostle for space among farcial Presidential memos, the letters forming the coca crusade and, finally; descriptions of truly stomach-churning torture, in a narrative that hares off in a...
Published on October 19, 1998

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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Way short of Marques
I greatly admire this author and his work, but this is not a very good novel. It draws its stylistic inspiration from Latin American writers, most importantly Gabriel Garcia Marques, but is not as successful. It relies too much on an alien imagination, and too little on the true culture, history and mythology of Latin America. The result, especially with its graphically...
Published on April 11, 1999


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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unique...another 'must be read in one sitting' novel, October 19, 1998
By A Customer
Another impressive book from De Bernieres, though I don't believe anything can match the magnificence of Captain Corelli's Mandolin. Scenes of tender devotion between Dio' and Anica jostle for space among farcial Presidential memos, the letters forming the coca crusade and, finally; descriptions of truly stomach-churning torture, in a narrative that hares off in a bewildering number of sub-plots. Initially rather bewildering, all threads are satisfactorily woven together and in the process, De Bernieres creates a host of engaging, if somewhat surreal, characters. Episodes of grisly violence alternate with teasing and banter and the novel succeeds as escapist entertainment as all works of fiction should. However, in the matter of fact accounts of Lazaro's death by fire and Anica's rape and mutiliation, De Bernieres reminds us that Latin America's drug wars are alive and well and exist outside of the pages of this first-rate novel.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant !!!, September 13, 2009
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.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Part 2 of a Wild Ride, January 26, 2008
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The hilarity continues. This trilogy starts with "The War of don Emmanuel's Nether Parts" and after Senor Vivo continues with "The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman". Be sure to read them in order! Oh how I love the cats, and I'm NOT a cat person! This blend of fact, fiction, magical realism and social commentary is marvelously mixed with larger than life characters.

The book's description above does a good job of introducing the book. This was extremely fun to read.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Challenging the new conquistadores, August 29, 2004
Latin America has spent decades struggling to break the chains of residual colonialism. While North Americans can rejoice in casting off hereditary monarchy, Latin America has been gripped by a far stronger and enduring set of bonds - culture and tradition. When Spain ruled these lands, great haciendas, usually built on royal land grants, were ruled by titled aristocrats using armed vaqueros and the Church to maintain social quiet. Today, it's drug lords and paramilitary squads but the structure has changed little. While an established anti-establishment stable of writers in Latin America have mildly flourished [those that have survived], de Bernieres intrudes as an outsider to bring a fresh, vivid and disturbing view of this society. His imagination is boundless and his capacity to impart his visions is peerless.

Vivo Dionisio is a philosophy teacher - young, vibrant and, of course, idealistic. He's also articulate, which leads him to pepper the great newspaper, La Prensa, with complaints about the drug lords. In particular, the local padrino, El Jerarca. An obtuse, obese, and overbearing man, he views Senor Vivo as a threat to his hegemony. Most powerful men in such societies can dominate the local police. Here, however El Jerarca must contend with a philosopher police chief, Ramon. While Ramon is powerless to deal with the drug czar, he is anything but submissive. He cheerfully retrieves the corpses El Jerarca's men leave in Dionisio's front yard, hoping to find a niche in the drug lord's armour. Dionisio may provide the key - if he survives.

Dionisio, however, has many interests. Among the most demanding is his new-found love, Anica. Anica is the epitome of the spirited Latin lover - intense in all her interests, devoted to the man she loves, tragic in her desire to preserve and protect Dionisio. His response to her is almost a cliche of Latin American writing, but with a humanity rarely seen in such literature.

De Bernieres portrayal of people and events is matchless. His novel approach, categorised by some as "magical realism", keeps this book lively, entertaining, but fraught with a need to expose injustice. His knowledge of Columbian society, with its many disparate elements, is vast. He weaves these many threads together in building a seamless tapestry of politics, magic, tradition and affection. Violence is a fundamental element, with all forced to contend with its pervasive role. Happiness is balanced by tragedy and grief in ways that leave the reader breathless. This is an admirable work, with black humour and deep ironies. Read it and enjoy the work of a writer of peerless prowess. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magical realism turned on its head, June 15, 1998
By A Customer
Witty, sardonic, sarcastic and yet romantic: Louis de Bernieres parodies the magical realism of the Latin American greats, transforming what Nick Joaquin, Filipino counterpart of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, has baptized "Tropical Gothic" into a P.G. Wodehousesianesque barrel of laughs; and yet Bernieres can horrify and move you to tears -all in the same novel. His books go from strength to strength; a master storyteller by any set of criteria.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars FUNNY, SAD, SICKENING . . . AND A TECHNICAL MASTERPIECE, January 30, 2002
By 
J. C. Bailey (East Sussex United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Since first reviewing "Senor Vivo and the Coca Lord" for Amazon my opinion has changed substantially, and it is only fair to pass this on.
I stand by my original thought that this book suffers from the post-modernity malaise: The author has brought together almost too many ideas, styles and techniques in the service of his agenda - at certain points these tend to obscure rather than clarify things. However, the depth of the message and the beauty of its expression have become clearer over time.
The message is simultaneously uplifting and painful: There is a grim symbiosis that unites corrupt and stupid governments with drugs and arms dealers in a feeding frenzy that destroys not just people but civilisation itself. Love and justice can be victorious, but only the kind of love that has more to do with self-sacrifice than romance, and only the kind of justice that is prepared to confront evil regardless of the cost. It's a profound but painful truth that only that strange hybrid of Marxism and Christianity called "Liberation Theology" has succeeded in developing systematically.
The book's principal stylistic flourish is "magical realism", a formula familiar to readers of Garcia Marquez and others. This piece of lit. crit. jargon means simply that magical events are an integral part of the plot, but, this being the world of po-mo, it only happens to make a point. In other words, the author does not require you to suspend disbelief as would be the case in a conventional magic story. This technique provides the opportunity for some of the book's most delicate and beautiful images, but on the downside it imposes a clumsy constraint on the author: He cannot narrate supernatural events directly and objectively - he has to do so in a subjective way from inside the head of one of his characters. This is not a criticism of the author - he executes this perceptual juggling with flawless technique. Rather, it is an indictment of the literary fashion that makes this sort of mannerism necessary. The self-distancing of the author from the world in which his characters live and move is unavoidably communicated to the reader, making it harder to engage with the characters or feel for them the way we would under the spell of a conventional narrative.
In this literary framework, only appalling suffering can draw us into the intensity of feeling for the characters that is necessary for the device to work. The story starts off in a light, satirical vain that will raise genuine rueful smiles and in its erotic moments even perhaps mildly titillate. The only searching question is whether he can reign the po-mo mannerisms in for long enough at a time to keep the story flowing, but Louis writes such beautiful prose that it is a pleasure to read. Nevertheless, the feelgood factor of the earlier chapters cannot last, and quite quickly the book descends into a nightmare of depraved violence. Louis narrates rape, torture, mutilation and so on with exactly the kind of elegant simplicity you would expect, and after the good humour of the early chapters the result is almost unbearably shocking.
I have some reservations as to whether even great literature should incorporate such graphic descriptions of sexual violence. I would certainly not wish to leave this book lying around the house where a young or impressionable person could be exposed to it. And in places Louis' literary technique almost gets the better of his artistic sensibility. Nevertheless, it stands as a remarkable achievement by a novelist of extraordinary gifts. If you are not afraid to laugh, cry and be sickened in one sitting, it is strongly recommended.
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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Way short of Marques, April 11, 1999
By A Customer
I greatly admire this author and his work, but this is not a very good novel. It draws its stylistic inspiration from Latin American writers, most importantly Gabriel Garcia Marques, but is not as successful. It relies too much on an alien imagination, and too little on the true culture, history and mythology of Latin America. The result, especially with its graphically violent portrayal of the sufferings of the Coca lords' victims, is almost voyeuristic. It's certainly gratuitous in places. I also think that the blend of 'magic' realism with a conventional contemporary story does not work here.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Magic Lost, September 10, 2009
By 
John Petralia (Fort Myers, FL United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
Magical Realism. Our book club was introduced to this new (for us) peculiarly Latin American literary form when we read Gabriel Garcia Marques's One Hundred Years of Solitude and later Saramago's The Cave. In the De Bernieres rendition, we get Magical Realism on steroids. The Result: Mixed Reviews. Love it or hate it, all of our readers agreed that the author rivals Rushdie in the use of "I'm smarter than you are" references. (I challenge anyone to understand half the references in this book without easy access to English and Spanish dictionaries, Wikepedia, and an eighty-year old shaman). Sure, when you get the inside joke, it can be really funny (I loved his calling the john an excusado), until you start thinking about all the stuff you are missing ( Do you know why he changes the character's name to Parmendies) . I'm sorry, but when I'm sitting on the beach with a paperback, I don't want to have stop at every other sentence to do Where's Waldo exercises on my laptop. After doing that more than a few times, the Reality for me was that the book lost much of its Magic.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Come fly with me..., May 23, 2000
By A Customer
This series is not about Captain Corelli - but it is about hope, love, and destiny. Believe and it will happen. Suspend your disbelief ... and anything can happen. Glorious reading - in any order.
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3.0 out of 5 stars I liked Birds Without Wings much better., June 20, 2013
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de Bernieres writing style in this novel is unlike that of "Birds Without Wings". I like the intricate storyline and characters in Birds much better. This story is a trite treatment of a serious problem in South America and I don't think it serves well. I was close to guessing the outcome, which is always disheartening. A good read should excite and surprise the reader and I was neither. The reviews of Birds were harsh and compared his style in this novel and most reviewers preferred this novel. This upsets me. I think the writing in Birds was far superior to Senor Vivo and won't purchase the other novels in this vein. I don't know what some of the reviewers are thinking. The plot of this novel was simplistic and the characters mere caricatures. It is unfortunate. Some people can't recognize great writing when they read it and prefer instead to enjoy the simple reads.
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