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The News from Paraguayby Lily Tuck
Winner of the 2004 National Book Award for Fiction
Synopses & Reviews
For him it began with a bright blue parrot feather that fell from Ella Lynch's hat when she was horseback riding in the Bois de Boulogne. The year was 1854, and Francisco Solano Lopez — "Franco," the future dictator of Paraguay — began his courtship of the young, beautiful Irishwoman with a poncho, a Paraguayan band, and a horse named Mathilde.
From Paris, Ella Lynch follows Franco to Asunción, where she reigns as his mistress. Isolated and estranged in this new world, she embraces her lover's ill-fated dream — one fueled by outsize imperial ambition and heedless arrogance, and with devastating consequences for Paraguay and all its inhabitants.
A historical epic that tells an unusual love story, The News from Paraguay offers a kaleidoscopic portrait of nineteenth-century Paraguay, a largely untouched wilderness where Europeans and North Americans intermingle with both the old Spanish aristocracy and native Guaraní Indians.
The urgency of the narrative, the imaginative richness of its intimate detail, and the wealth of characters whose stories are skillfully layered and unfolded recall the epic novels of Gabriel García Márquez and Mario Vargas Llosa. The News from Paraguay captures the devastating havoc wrought on both a country's fate and a woman's heart by ruthless ambition and war.
"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 Asuncin, 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. Agent, Georges Borchardt. 5-city author tour. (May) Correction: Mia Yun's Translations of Beauty is not her debut novel, as stated in the PW review (Forecasts, April 19); her first novel was House of the Winds." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Impressively researched, lushly written....[A] splendid realization of its rich subject and Tuck?s best so far." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"Elegant....Reading The News from Paraguay feels like looking into a crystal ball: seeing pieces of a garden, storm clouds building, lives passing." Los Angeles Times
"Highly engaging....[C]harming and beguiling....Like a slowly opening fan whose slates reveal themselves one by one, so do the many stories within The News from Paraguay." San Francisco Chronicle
"The perfect setting for Tuck?s dark wit." The New Yorker
"The world [Tuck] creates is exotic, vivid and relevant for anyone concerned about the abuses of power, corruption and generation-long consequences of devastating wars." Ms. Magazine
About the Author
Born in Paris, Lily Tuck is the author of three previous novels — Interviewing Matisse or The Woman Who Died Standing Up, The Woman Who Walked on Water, and Siam. Her short fiction has appeared in the New Yorker, Fiction, and the Antioch Review. She divides her time between Maine and New York City.
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