Dear Reader, I am still on track to finish one book per month. I’ve read six so far this year, outpacing my pitiful total in 2007. Although my three most recent readings focus on Paraguay and have to do with my future assignment there, I am still happy to have had time to read them. I finished reading "At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig," a travelogue by British writer John Gimlette. I also read "Paraguay Under Stroessner," a musty book written in the early 1980’s during the Alfredo Stroessner regime, and "Paraguay: A Personalist Perspective," an overview of Paraguay written in 1990 immediately following the coup d’état that toppled Stroessner. Both of the latter books provided excellent, if dated, analyses of Paraguayan history, politics, economics, and culture. These dry texts provided historical antidotes to the massive gaps left by Gimlette’s sharp-witted, train wreck of a novel.
"At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig" is a fascinating read written geographically rather than chronologically. It haphazardly chronicles over 500 years of Paraguayan history, detailing intriguing facts, innuendoes, and falsehoods at each place he encountered on his trip throughout the country. (Contrary to Gimlete’s contention, a full-grown python cannot consume a full-grown man. The rumor about the missing doctor from Buenos Aires is an urban legend.) At each stop on his journey, Gimlette jumps to the events most relevant to each location, from the construction of the massive Itaipu Dam on the Paraná River between Paraguay and Brazil in the 1970’s to the devastation of Humaitá during the War of the Triple Alliance (1865-70). His book ping-pongs through Paraguayan history, leaving one often confused about the country’s chronological history. The vignettes that Gimlette weaves into the book are colorful and fascinating, albeit fraught with sarcasm that leaves one wondering why he bothered to visit Paraguay in the first place if he seems to despise it so much. His perspective fluctuates from empathetic to sarcastic to spiteful, like a sharp pendulum sauntering over a helpless victim.
I was surprised to learn that a native Paraguayan who had read the book was disturbed by what thought felt was a willful misrepresentation of their country. Granted, Gimlette’s book sheds light on Paraguay in a way akin to the manner in which Sasha Baron Cohen’s fictional reporter "Borat" increased awareness of Kazakhstan–Gimlette’s book attracts attention to Paraguay, although not necessarily in a flattering way. The Paraguayan I talked to mentioned that Gimlette spent just one month in Paraguay collecting research for his book. In fact, Gimlette’s biography mentioned that he visited Paraguay in 1982 immediately following the Falklands War. The book implies that it is a bibliography and that Gimlette had lived for quite some time in Paraguay during the Stroessner years. Just as Dan Brown weaves facts and fiction into "The Da Vinci Code" to give the fictional novel an air of authenticity, so does Gimlette with his novel. I was disappointed to find out that for all of its colorful imagery and citations of fact, "At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig" is ultimately fiction. Given this reality, it is probably best read in conjunction with a truer analysis of the country.
I’ve already started reading my next book. It’s a Spanish version of "The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe" ("El León, la Bruja, y el Ropero"). I already know how the story ends, so that should help me read a Spanish-language book written for children!