Category: Travel & Holiday / Travel Writing
Publication date: 5 February 2004
Number of pages: 400
Paraguay - the name conjures up everything most exotic and extreme in South America. It's a place of hellish jungles, dictators, fraudsters and Nazis, utopian experiments, missionaries and lurid coups. It's not a place for the timid tourist. It doesn't even have its own guidebook. But Paraguay, as revealed in this outstanding new travel book, is among the most beautiful and captivating countries in the world. The beguiling Paraguayans, despised and feared by their neighbours, are unfathomable. They adore Diana, Princess of Wales, as if she were still alive and hundreds volunteered to fight for Britain in the Falklands War. Their politics are Byzantine but when the Vice-President is murdered, they call in Scotland Yard. Discover more about the unique traditions of South American culture through this fascinating piece of travel journalism.
One of the most isolated countries on the planet, Paraguay is never going to be top of anybody's holiday list, existing in a near-permanent state of surreal chaos and Napoleonic tyranny since being violently 'discovered' by the Conquistadors in the 16th century. A favoured destination for Nazi war criminals, Paraguay's political history is a complicated series of dictatorships, coups and shocking brutality, while their barely functional train network and the distinctive character of the people make it feel like another universe. No official guidebooks exist, and first-time author John Gimlette has responded by crafting a strange and sometimes fascinating mixture of travelogue and history, intercutting his various journeys around Paraguay with an in-depth and well-researched look at the history of this eclectic and peculiar nation. The lurid cover gives the impression of a light-hearted travelogue romp, but what Gimlette has delivered is a somewhat gruelling read that tackles head-on the appalling atrocities perpetrated throughout Paraguay's history. Keeping up an urbanely witty prose style throughout, the seemingly endless list of bizarre horrors and catastrophes finally becomes rather wearing, particularly when phrased in such a deliberately jaunty manner. Dividing the book into 131 short, staccato chapters hardly helps, resulting in a frequently bitty and unsatisfying tone, while Gimlette's style is better suited to the Paraguayan past than involving the readers in his meandering travels. Without a specific route or journey to follow, it feels more like a compendium of anecdotes, but the immense factual and historical detail keeps the book readable and interesting, while there's also a number of photographs (both colour and black-and-white), as well as maps and reproductions of period drawings. Anyone wanting to find out more about the strange, vibrant and bloody history of South America will find this a useful and informative read. (Kirkus UK)
What the papers say:
"A glorious travel book - Edward Marriot" The Sunday Times "[Gimlette's] account is so rich in anecdotes, so suffused in color and dialect that we are left with a sense of having somehow inhaled all this Paraguayan history and then experienced it through a nightmare or a dream. Gimlette has given us a cast of characters as vivid as any by Dickens or Waugh" New York Times "Full of surprises, this is a riveting read" Sunday Telegraph 20040116 "Off the wall title, and a great off centre enjoyment, with a smashing, entertaining piece of writing..." Manchester Evening News 20040130 "John Gimlette's extraordinary book, part history, part travelogue, is so vivid that nobody reading it is ever likely to forget the country. - Max Davidson" Daily Telegraph
Although this is his first book, John Gimlette is already well established as a travel journalist, having won the Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize for an essay which has led to this book, and the Wanderlust Travel Writing Award. He writes regularly for the Telegraph. When not deep in the jungles of Paraguay he practises as a barrister in London. He is currently writing his second book, Theatre of Fish: Travels through Newfoundland and Labrador.
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