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The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts Paperback – July 29, 1997
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Louis de Bernières's sardonic pen has concocted a spicy olla podrida of a novel, set in a fictitious Latin American country, with all the tragedy, ribaldry, and humor Bernières can muster from a debauched military, a clueless oligarchy, and an unconventional band of guerrillas. There's a plague of laughing, a flood of magical cats, and a torture-happy colonel. The cities, villages, politics, and discourse are an inspired amalgam of Latin Americana, but the comedy, horror, adventure, and vibrant individuals are pure de Bernières. This masterpiece, the first of a trilogy, is followed by Señor Vivo and the Coca Lord, and The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman.
From Publishers Weekly
A blend of scathing political satire and magic realism, De Bernieres's furiously sardonic, intensely lyrical first novel portrays an imaginary, impoverished Latin American country run by an oligarchy, terrorized by fascist army officers and propped up by U.S. support while Yanqui corporations suck its economy dry. No better than the rapacious and murderous military, the revolutionaries loot and kill in the name of an abstract ideal. The motley cast includes Dona Costanza Evans, an upper-class housewife kidnapped by guerrillas, who actively joins the revolution; Olaf Olsen, a Norwegian industrialist whose innocent daughter becomes one of the "disappeared"; Aurelio, a jungle Indian versed in magic, and Don Emmanuel, oddball son of a progressive English educator. About halfway through, friendly, charming cats, which grow to the size of pumas, invade the narrative and do magical things that confound even fascist generals. De Bernieres, who taught in Colombia, captures the beauty, hope and desperation of Latin America as few other writers have done.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top customer reviews
I’m reading Bernieres backward. I started with Birds Without Wings and I’ve been working my way backward through his publication history. This book (which must be a contender for “Best Title of the 20th century”) was published in 1990. It was a very ambitious first novel. In an author’s note, Bernieres states that he has created an imaginary Latin American country with history, topography and language jumbled up from various sources. There are nearly 40 characters whose lives intersect in a story that includes guerilla war, military corruption, paranormal intervention, brutality, passion, outrageous humor and biting satire.
I was mildly disappointed that Don Emmanuel’s nether parts play a very minor role in the story. In a very round about way, it is essentially the story of an impoverished, insignificant village and its hilariously devious victory over the corrupt and brutal military establishment. It is a temporary victory. I found the surreal salvation of the village to be the weakest part of the story. The best parts concern individual characters who are drawn realistically, but with great affection and humor. As in his later books, Bernieres has an underlying social agenda. He touches on the implications of United States covert military intervention, drug trafficking, the Falklands Island conflict, and international pressure concerning ‘Los Deseparecidos”.
There are a great many similarities between this book and the later Birds Without Wings. It even begins with the death of a bird, in this case, a vulture. The later book is stronger and I’ve tried to define why I think so. The biggest difference is the use of first person narrative. Bernieres allowed the many characters of Eskibahce to speak for themselves. The characters in Don Emmanuel’s fictional country did not speak up in their own voices. They are wonderful characters, but they stayed in the book and did not come alive for me in the same way.
There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments (the extended - I think it is 4 pages - sex scene between two revolutionaries is the funniest I've ever read) and a lot of light insults and humour. There is also a solid storyline - or rather, a number of them - that kept me captivated throughout. Best of all, all that complexity comes together to multiple satisfying resolutions by the end.
I've bought this book for others as it feels like the kind of book that you can pick up anywhere and enjoy - Good Omens was also a little like that for me. Even now I do like to pick it up and read bits of it again from time to time - I think, the best sign that it's an enduring and entertaining tale.