Excerpt from The News from Paraguay by Lily Tuck, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The News from Paraguay

A Novel

by Lily Tuck

The News from Paraguay
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  • First Published:
    May 2004, 285 pages
    Paperback:
    Dec 2004, 272 pages

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From Paraguay, Franco had brought with him crates of oranges and tobacco. On board ship, the oranges started to rot, the sailors squeezed them and drank the juice; the tobacco fared better. The tobacco (the Paraguayan leaves are allowed to mature on the stem and, as a result, contain more nicotine) beat out the Cuban entry and was awarded a first-class medal at the Paris Exhibition; the citation read, Very good collection of leaves, especially suitable for cigars. In addition to the tobacco, Franco had brought dozens of ponchos as gifts; the ponchos were made from a vegetable silk called samahu whose softness was much admired. After he followed Ella home, he had one of the ponchos delivered to her house on rue du Bac with his card.

Pierre, Ella's valet de chambre, put Francisco Solano Lopez's card on top of the other cards on the silver tray on the table in the front hall of the house on rue du Bac; then he gave the package with the poncho in it to Marie, the maid. The poncho was badly wrapped in brown paper and, curious, Marie opened it. Also, the package smelled strange. Like tea. The color of red soil, the poncho, although soft and no doubt warm, did not look like the clothes Ella usually wore -- her fur stole, her velvet cloaks and paisley cashmere shawls. Holding the poncho in her arms, Marie shivered a little and, glancing out the window, noticed that it had begun to rain, a slight drizzle. God knows, she’ll never miss it, and anyway she owes me a month’s salary, Marie said to herself as, without another thought, she slipped the poncho over her head and went out the front door to do her errands.

Everywhere he went—to the home of the Errazu sisters, who, like him, were wealthy South Americans, to the home of Countess Walewska, an Italian whose husband was Polish, to the Duchess of Persigny, married to Napoleon III’s minister of the interior, to the Duchess of Malakoff, to the Marchioness Chasseloup-Laubat, a Creole whose skin was even darker than his, or to the Maréchale Canrobert, who had a large goiter on her neck—Franco took along his retinue of servants and his private Paraguayan band. Invariably, halfway through the reception, his mouth full of champagne and sticky petits fours, Franco motioned them to play, and, invariably too, it took the assembled guests a moment to realize that the tune the hapless Paraguayan band was playing on their wooden harps was "La Marseillaise."

Not only did Franco astonish French society, he impressed them with his intellect. He had read Jean Jacques Rousseau’s The Social Contract and could discuss the difference between "true" law and "actual" law; he had gone up in Monsieur Nadar’s giant balloon, which carried a complete developing laboratory, and could discourse on photography; still better he was an accomplished and graceful dancer. Un, deux, trois, he waltzed the Errazu sisters around the ballroom, un, deux, trois, he swung the Countess Walewska in a mazurka, then whirled the Marchioness Chasseloup-Laubat around the room in an energetic polka.

Messy, messy bang, messy bang—the only French words Justo José, one of the musicians in Franco’s band, had learned, he repeated. He hated France. Always cold, the food uneatable, and the people were pale and unfriendly. Worse still, there was no yerba maté. At home, he drank fifteen to twenty gourds a day, the silver straw never far from his mouth. The time he tried the French drink, a dark red substance the color of blood, he was sick to his stomach and the next day he felt worse—worse than when, as a boy, he was kicked in the head by the neighbor’s old burro who was blind in one eye. Another thing that bothered Justo José was the women. He had gone with one, a little blond—he had never been with a woman whose hair was the color of a yellow parakeet—he could not say her name although she made him repeat it—Eeyon. She had taken him up several flights of stairs to the top floor of a building; her room had a chair and a bed and a basin in it, and the first thing she did was make him wash his member in the basin, then she had lain on the bed with all her clothes on, her legs spread, and during the entire act she never moved or made a sound. Afterward, she asked him for ten francs—twice the amount they agreed on, he had held up the fingers of one hand. When he tried to leave, she stood by the door and screamed and Justo José screamed back at her: Puta, puta, but, in the end, he gave her the extra five francs.

From The News From Paraguay by Lily Tuck. HarperCollins Publishers. Used by permission.

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