Last week I finished "The Honorary Consul," a classic novel set in Northern Argentina during the Alfredo Stroessner Era. Considered by Graham Greene to be one of his finest works, it’s a story of intrigue dealing with the rebel struggle against the Paraguayan government and a dictator who ruled the country ruthlessly for 34 years. My wife bought it for me as a Christmas present because of its Paraguayan theme. I’m spending more time lately reading up on Paraguay because it is a fascinating country and it diverts my attention from learning Spanish 24/7.
"The Honorary Consul" is a tragic story with a plot twist that redeems itself at the end. The characters are vivid, and the story reflects many of Greene’s passions–Catholicism, women, and Paraguay, a country pre-eminent Paraguayan writer Augusto Roa Bastos aptly called "An island surrounded by land." Set in 1973 during the height of the Stroessner regime, the book captures well the isolation that surrounded Paraguay and the struggle for release from tyranny. Violence and action are minimal, as befits a classical novel instrumental in the naissance of a new genre, the spy novel. The protagonist, a tragic figure named Dr. Eduardo Plarr, is a far cry from James Bond, and his mistress, Clara, a former prostitute and wife of the Honorary British Consul, Charles Fortnum, is no Bond girl. The central figures in the novel, writer Julio Saavedra, Colonel Perez, Dr. Humphries, and Father Rivas, are flawed humans caught up in a drama precipitated by events beyond their control–the oppression of the Stroessner era, a botched kidnapping, a child conceived by Clara that belongs to Dr. Plarr but claimed by her ignorant husband, the Honorable Fortnum. I loved this book, even though at times the frustrating tragicomedy left me desperate to intervene. It is truly a classic, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys spy novels.
"The Honorary Consul" is the third book I’ve read this year. In January I finished "America (The Book)" by Jon Stewart and "Eragon" by Christopher Paolini. So far I’ve exceeded one of my New Year’s resolutions–spend less time at the computer. I read more books this year than I did during 2006. I’m currently reading "At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig," a travelogue on Paraguay by writer/journalist John Gimlette. The books’ vignettes are as absurd as the book’s title. I am enjoying it immensely. I also checked out a couple of texts on post-World War II Paraguay. Very few English-language books on Paraguay have been published since 1995. Most eonomic and political white papers and analyses on Paraguay are dated–most publish data gathered two or three years prior to publication. A flurry of scholarly works, books, and even movies on Paraguayan politics and history were published between 1986 and 1996, but the flood receded to a trickle in recent years. I have been a Paraguay sponge lately, sopping up any tidbits I can learn about what I now believe is one of the most interesting countries in the world.