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The News from Paraguay: A Novel Paperback – November 30, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Beautiful Ella Lynch left her native Ireland at 10 and married a French officer at 15; by 19, she is divorced, living with a Russian count and struggling to pay her embittered maid. Thus she's in prime shape to appreciate the quick and ardent attentions of Francisco Solano Lopez, aka Franco, the future dictator of Paraguay, when he spies her on horseback in a Paris park in 1854. Rich, generous and not unhandsome, he makes an appealing lover, and soon Ella is off with him to Paraguay, which he vows to make "a country exactly like France." The story unfolds through Tuck's elegant narration (she flits from one character's point-of-view to another in short segments) and Ella's impassioned diaries. The author's research is impressive (Ella was a real 19th-century courtesan) but never overbearing as she explores the life of a spoiled kept woman in a foreign land, as well as the lives, both high and low, of those around her. Established as Franco's mistress in Asunción, Ella bears Franco many sons, while Franco succeeds his father as ruler and acquires mistress after mistress. Tuck (Siam; Limbo, and Other Places I Have Lived) weaves in the stories of Franco's fat, jealous sisters; a disgraced Philadelphia doctor; Ella's wet nurses; and a righteous U.S. minister, among many others, in a richly layered evocation of a complicated world. When Paraguay finds itself at odds with neighboring countries, the novel chronicles the various tragedies and defeats with a cool and unswerving eye. Tuck's novel may not be for the faint of heart, but it is a rich and rewarding read.
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 The New Yorker

Tuck's historical novel of nineteenth-century Paraguay is told largely through (and sometimes in the voice of) Ella Lynch, a blond, fair-skinned Irishwoman who, while a courtesan in Paris, met Francisco Solano Lopez, the son of Paraguay's dictator. She became his mistress and, after Lopez (known as Franco) succeeded his father, she was the most powerful woman in the country. As an Irishwoman in Paraguay, Tuck's Ella is an outsider. But so, in a way, is Franco, a megalomaniac who builds a theatre modelled on La Scala and wages a disastrous war against Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina. Paraguay's malarial swamps and faux-European high society are the perfect setting for Tuck's dark wit, and her novel is quickened by such details as Ella's pink marble palace and her son's "necklace" made from the ears of enemy soldiers on a rawhide string.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: HarperPerennial; Reprint edition (2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0739451596
  • ISBN-13: 978-0739451595
  • ASIN: 0060934867
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #854,230 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 43 people found the following review helpful By I. Fernandez on January 18, 2006
Format: Hardcover
From about the second page of this book, I was shaking my head in disbelief that anyone would publish it. The characters and their relationships are so poorly developed you are left with a blur of images lacking connection to one another. Add to that the stereotypical characters (the men are all violent and lusting either for girls or boys, the women are all "large-assed" or fat with the exception of Ella). And the gratuitous sentence or two at the end of each section about various characters' sexual proclivities was so completely dumb, not to mention kind of repulsive (I like a good sex scene as much as the next person, but Tuck's descriptions are completely banal).

Oh wait, there's more. The Spanish is ATROCIOUS. It's hard to believe that Tuck had a translator for this book. It's pretty clear that whoever copy edited it neither reads nor writes nor speaks Spanish. Half the names are grammatically incorrect. Many of the words are just plain wrong ("vita" means life in Italian, not Spanish, for starters). I felt embarrased for the author. Does she know that her book is full of errors?

The one word that comes to mind when thinking about this book is: SHALLOW. I sincerely hope that readers don't mistake this book for historical fiction. The author clearly knows little about Paraguay and its people and history, and clearly doesn't care, from her superficial treatment of it.
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42 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Wendy A on July 20, 2005
Format: Paperback
This book focuses primarily upon two real-life characters: Ella Lynch, an attractive Irish courtesan, and Franco, a Paraguayan dictactor-in-the-making. The story begans with Ella in Paris as she is dumped by her Russian count lover. Franco, also in Paris, admires her from afar as he first views her adeptly riding a horse. He then unrelentingly courts her. After seemingly one night with Franco, she packs up with him and goes to Paraguay.

In the beginning, I admit that I liked it because there was a sense of foreboding and danger as she follows Franco, who is showing signs of brutality, to Paraguay, an isolated country unfriendly to outsiders which Franco's family runs. I thought- how will this turn out? Will there be conflict between them? Will she get homesick? Will he beat her, trap her, or kill her? Will she escape back to Paris?

None of those things. In fact, the moment she steps onto Paraguayan soil, the plot stops. Ella becomes a shallow, superficial character who cares more about her fancy clothes even though she seems to recognize what a brutal tyrant her care-giver is. Franco wages wars that were never explained or fully realized, except to provide you with snippets of battles here and there. The author chooses to present Ella one-dimensionally and Franco, even more so. Thus, you never really attach yourself to either one.

In the "end" (if you can call it that), I thought, what was the point? Were you supposed to like Ella and sympathize with her? Were you supposed to think, "that's what she gets because she's so shallow?"

Overall, while the author exhibits some writing talent (i.e., she can cobble together some beautiful sentences), she cannot tell a story.

Avoid at all costs. I say that rarely disliking any book I read.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Luan Gaines HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on November 20, 2004
Format: Hardcover
By the time she is nineteen in 1854, Ella Lynch, an Irish beauty, is divorced and living in Paris, ready for a new romance. She finds her next paramour in the unlikely person of Francisco Solano Lopez, better known as the infamous Franco, the future dictator of Paraguay. Stout, dark and hirsute, Franco is immediately attracted to the blonde-haired Ella and determined to win her affections, showering her with expensive gifts. When Franco leaves Paris to return to his native Paraguay, Ella is by his side, where she will remain for many years. Although they never marry, she bears him five sons, an extraordinary fecund consort for the dictator.

Ella is a product of the Paris she so enjoyed, where she resided in elegant surroundings, spending her days at parties and royal fetes. For much of their time together, Franco is able to offer her much of the same, their days a continuous romantic adventure; never does she see him as the Emperor who has no clothes. Ella lives in a world of her own imagination, one of servants and plenty, her needs constantly attended, until Franco's war turns bad. Even then she follows him to the countryside until forced to flee for her safety.

The author approaches her subject with an eye to historical possibilities, filling in the lapses with vivid imagination, recreating a place and time long lost to memory. There is no question that Franco is a greatly flawed leader, a despot who deprives his citizens of their livelihood in an effort to establish Paraguay as a military power. His hubris costs the lives of many young men; torture and starvation descend upon the survivors, while Franco skirmishes to the bitter end, his decimated troops dwindling before the advancing swords of the Brazilians.
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54 of 63 people found the following review helpful By K. L. Cotugno VINE VOICE on January 12, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I expected so much from this book and purposely did not read any other customer reviews before picking it up. This was highly disappointing. The descriptions of life in 19th century Paraguay could have been gleaned from surfing the Internet, the characters were one-dimensional. The style, episodic and random, was distracting, not original, if originality was the purpose. I so wanted to like this book since I've been puzzled by the finalists the National Book Award has chosen lately. But it did not deliver.
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