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At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig: Travels Through Paraguay

di John Gimlette

UtentiRecensioniPopolaritàMedia votiCitazioni
2801574,196 (3.7)15
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. It doesn't even have its own guidebook. But Paraguay, as revealed in this outstanding new 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...… (altro)
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56/2021. At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig by John Gimlette is a travel and history book focussing on Paraguay in South America. I found the author an unlikeable character and his often crude attempts to explain the, frankly, inexplicable history and society of Paraguay are an uphill struggle, although presumably less for the reader than the writer. Gimlette's not especially observant and his writing style is basic journalistic but one does feel he was trying his best. Of the 355 pages the first 115 are exclusively set within the capital city Asuncion and only feature interactions inside the mainstream urban middle to upper class, with not so much as a taxi driver, bartender, or retailer for variety. Gimlette does later attempt to wander further afield but appears handicapped by his limited Spanish and non-existent Guarani or Plattdeutsch.

There are all the atrocities one might expect: massacres of indigenous people; destruction of the environment (although as the environment includes horrors such as piranha fish one can sympathise to some extent); endless torturing and mass murdering dictators from 16th century Conquistadors onwards into the 20th century; pointless wars leaving up to 66% of the general population and 90% of the male population dead; long term extreme poverty and lack of healthcare. There are also less predictable outrages: the Jesuits who claimed for 160 years that they were protecting and educating indigenous people but who were responsible for many thousands of deaths while failing to produce even one indigenous Catholic priest; or the pacifist Mennonites resorting to fistfights with nazis on the streets of Mennonite colonies (readers will be heartened to know that even the avowedly right-wing Paraguayan army sided with the Mennonites and made the nazis leave for their own colony).

There's a single page map at the beginning, a double page chronology at the end, and a surprising four page Further Reading with fourteen sections that handily sum up the history of what European and US influences have inflicted on Paraguay without much addressing the cultures and people who were already there: Jesuits; Dr Francia; The War of the Triple Alliance; Eliza Lynch; The Mennonites; Utopians, Immigrants and Colonists; Chaco War; The Stroessner Years; Nazis; Natural History (three books all written by Englishmen before 1959); Travel and Exploration (only three books written after 1945, with the most recent from 1972); Paraguayan Literature (two books by Augusto Roa Bastos); English Literature (five books, with Graham Greene's two being the latest); General (only two specifically about Paraguay although they're both 1997 so that's something).

Quote

After the trains stopped: "The railway carried on. It carried on swallowing up eleven billion guaranis a year. Not a ticket was sold nor an ounce of freight moved. Once, these magnificent trains had rumbled all the way across the country and connected with others for Buenos Aires, for Brazil and the sea. They'd carried fruit and soldiers, girlfriends, sugar cane, Australian socialists to their Utopias and Polish peasants as far from feudalism as they could get. Then, line by line, the system had been overwhelmed by weeds and its sleepers pillaged for cooking. In the last few years it had run a wheezy service to the suburbs, but now even those trains had stopped. // But the railway carried on. It carried on employing nine hundred railway staff. Some, perhaps ten per cent, were fantasmas – ghosts – and were purely imaginary, the Mickey Mouses and Donald Ducks. Those that were real were often just planilleros or ticket-boys; moonlighting between their railway jobs and other distractions." ( )
  spiralsheep | Apr 12, 2021 |
One-country travel histories don't come any more immersive or impressive than this. The author finds the perfect balance between anecdote and exposition, between the sweep of history and the vignette. We meet Paraguayans from across the wildly attenuated social spectrum, many of them ridiculous but mostly not objects of ridicule. The writing is punchy, brisk - often I was left wanting more, as with the story of the British nurse providing basic medicine to 18,000 natives in the Chaco. Gimlette relishes the savagery of the Paraguayan state of nature, and the irony of its adoption by various Utopians and lost tribes. And the country's exceptionally bloody history is splattered in bright colours throughout the book.

The first section, covering the author's time in the capital and the Stroessner regime, struck me as a little disjointed. The book really coheres in its second part, with the narrative of Marshall Lopez and Madame Lynch framing a wild tour of the country's east, and the final part on the Chaco I thought was brilliant and insufficient. ( )
  yarb | Feb 7, 2018 |
"At the tomb of the inflatable pig" was my introduction to John Gimlette, who quickly became one of my preferred writers. Part travelogue/part history, this is one of those books that makes you realise that an otherwise-little thought of nation, region or people has played a much more interesting role in history than previously imaginable.

Gimlette wanders through Paraguay, name dropping figures like Josef Mengele, who arrived here not long after the war and happily found Paraguay completely unconcerned about his past, to the Jesuits of the film "The Mission", to the absolute lunatic dictator who managed to kill off about 90% of his male population fighting an unwinnable war. Also noted is the more recent dictator Stroessner and his rule, which must serve as the model for all aspiring dictators. And who can not like "New Australia", the Socialist Utopia set up in the Paraguayan jungle? ( )
  MiaCulpa | Oct 3, 2014 |
So excellent. Makes me want to run away to Paraguay right now. ( )
  LisaFoxRomance | Apr 6, 2014 |
Every once in awhile I stumble across a perfect marriage between a writer's style and a book's subject matter. Gimlette wonderfully describes this country's absurd and appalling history juxtaposed between his quirky travel log. ( )
  Clueless | May 3, 2013 |
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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. It doesn't even have its own guidebook. But Paraguay, as revealed in this outstanding new 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...

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