Summary and book reviews of The News from Paraguay by Lily Tuck

The News from Paraguay

A Novel

by Lily Tuck

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

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Book Summary

Captures the devastating havoc wrought on both a country's fate and a woman's heart by ruthless ambition and war.

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.

Winner of the 2004 National Book Award for Fiction

Chapter One
Paris

For him it began with a feather. A bright blue parrot feather that fell out of Ella Lynch's hat while she was horseback riding one afternoon in the Bois de Boulogne. Blond, fair-skinned and Irish, Ella was a good rider -- the kind of natural rider who rides with her ass, not her legs -- and she was riding astride on a nervous little gray thoroughbred mare. Cantering a few paces behind Ella and her companion, Francisco Solano Lopez was also a good rider -- albeit a different sort of rider. He rode from strength, the strength in his arms, the strength in his thighs. Also he liked to ride big horses, horses that measured over sixteen, seventeen hands; at home, he often rode a big sure-footed cantankerous brown mule. Pulling up on the reins and getting off his horse, his heavy silver spurs clanging, Franco -- as Francisco Solano Lopez was known -- picked the feather up from the ground; it briefly occurred to him that Inocencia, his fat sister, would know what kind of ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Introduction
An historical epic that tells an unusual love story, The News from Paraguay offers a kaleidoscopic portrait of 19th century Paraguay, a largely untouched wilderness where European and American figures mix with the Spanish aristocracy of the capital and the indigenous peoples from the surrounding areas. The Irish courtesan Ella Lynch, courted in Paris by the future dictator of Paraguay, follows him to Asuncion where she reigns as his mistress. Isolated and a bit lost in this new world, she embraces her lover's ill-fated dream -- one fueled by outsized imperial ambition and heedless arrogance, and with devastating consequences for Paraguay and all its inhabitants. The urgency of the narrative, the imaginative richness of its ...
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    National Book Awards
    2004

Reviews

Media Reviews

The Washington Post - Joanne Omang,
Tuck's style in these early pages is as effective and swift as in her earlier and most successful novel, Siam....But one keeps waiting for the moment when Ella will become an appealing human being, or when Franco will reveal the charisma he must have had, or when his sisters will emerge from their fat-slob stereotypes to become real people....Perhaps this frustrating approach is meant to evoke the disjointed nature of human experience, the measuring out of lives in coffee spoons, the inadequacy of memory, the sheer coquetry of chance and life and death, etc. If so, it is certainly just as frustrating as real life can be -- for example, when one is hoping to sit down with a vivid story and learn a little something about how to be a full human being while yet surviving during violent and turbulent times.

The New Yorker
Tuck’s historical novel of nineteenth-century Paraguay is told largely through (and sometimes in the voice of) Ella Lynch, a blond, fair-skinned Irishwoman who, while a courtesan in Paris, met Francisco Solano Lopez, the son of Paraguay’s dictator. She became his mistress and, after Lopez (known as Franco) succeeded his father, she was the most powerful woman in the country. As an Irishwoman in Paraguay, Tuck’s Ella is an outsider. But so, in a way, is Franco, a megalomaniac who builds a theatre modelled on La Scala and wages a disastrous war against Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina. Paraguay’s malarial swamps and faux-European high society are the perfect setting for Tuck’s dark wit, and her novel is quickened by such details as Ella’s pink marble palace and her son’s necklace made from the ears of enemy soldiers on a rawhide string.

Los Angeles Times
Decorous detail and vivid imagery.

Newsday
Compelling…the stuff that good fiction is made of complex characters and an intricate narrative.

Ms. magazine
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.

New York Times Book Review
Tuck’s prose is elegant, the subject well researched.

Los Angeles Times
Elegant …Reading The News From Paraguay feels like looking into a crystal ball seeing pieces of a garden, storm clouds building, lives passing...

San Francisco Chronicle
Highly engaging…charming and beguiling…. Like a slowly opening fan whose slates reveal themselves one by one, so do the many stories within The News from Paraguay.

Boston Globe
Paraguay materializes as Tuck’s characters do, imperceptibly, until the sounds, smells and colors of the country saturate the pages …a tense elegant novel.

Brad Hooper, Booklist
This novel moves along swiftly but, unfortunately, not very deeply; characterizations seem more image than substance. Still, this is an interesting time and place, so expect requests from historical-novel lovers.

Publishers Weekly
Tuck's novel may not be for the faint of heart, but it is a rich and rewarding read.

Library Journal - Beth E Anderson
A gripping read, this is recommended for readers who have strong stomachs and no need for sympathetic protagonists.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred review. A splendid realization of its rich subject, and Tuck's best so far.

Reader Reviews

Buck

I lived in Paraguay for a year as an exchange student. The period of the 1800s, from the xenophobic dictator Dr. Francia through the Lopez father and son presidencies and the attempt at empire that resulted in the War of the Triple Alliance ...   Read More

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