Paraguay the Peculiar—dazzlingly, murderously peculiar—is described through time and space from all points of the geographic and moral compass.
“Paraguay is not merely isolated,” remarks English travel-writer Gimlette in his debut, “it is almost impenetrable.” Caged in by poisonous jungles, boiling rivers, deserts, and endless marshland, it is a difficult country to get to, a piece of landlocked insularity. A fitting port-of-last-call, then, for all manner of time-warped creatures: Nazis, White Russians, New Germans, New Australians, old Anabaptists, with all of whom the author will find time to wag a chin. Gimlette is only passingly interested in the riotous, frangipani landscape; people fascinate him, and Paraguay will throw one character after another for him to field, from the mad-dog to the grandparent-sweet. Introductions came from every quarter, since Asunción’s million inhabitants “maintained the illusion that everybody knew each other, that there was a commonality of purpose, a quiet confederacy.” Or not so quiet, for Paraguay’s history (and if there’s one thing this writer likes more than a good jaw, it’s a dose of history) is far from sleepy. It is full of horrific wars and, thanks to its long seclusion, home to “all the different shapes and sizes of tyranny.” Feudal, agricultural, revolutionary socialist, Napoleonic, or just plain bizarre, the dictatorships culminated in the vile and brutish General Stroessner, who ruled from 1954 until 1989 and was the kind of guy who thought it might be colorful to have Josef Mengele living in-country. Gimlette expertly marshals the politics and personalities onto the stage and off as their stories brush up against his travels and encounters. He reveals a disheartening continuity; the economy is still a “merry roundabout of contraband,” and the government is still “dispensing malice.”
On the one hand, no one should go to Paraguay without this book; on the other, despite Gimlette’s evident, though admittedly acquired fondness for the place, why go at all? (16 pp. color and b&w photos)