This irreverent and rambunctious "rummage" through Paraguayan history is no political-science primer, and academics will most likely hate its verve and colorful language; Paraguayans, for their part, will probably receive the book with tired resignation. Gimlette takes up a fine old tradition of wide-eyed, gee-whiz narrative, breaching the formidable frontiers of this "island surrounded by land" that became a refuge for "Nazis, cannibals, strange sixteenth century Anabaptists, White Russians and fantastic creatures that ought long ago to have been extinct." The account borrows from Paraguay's many past chroniclers, from Captain Richard Burton to the missionary Wilfred Barbrooke Grubb, who evangelized with English vicarage teas in the "green hell" of the Gran Chaco; it also rolls out Paraguay's succession of grotesque tyrants, from Dr. Gaspar Francia -- the "Supreme One" -- to the more recently deposed dictator General Alfredo Stroessner -- said by Graham Greene to look like the "amiable well-fed host of a Bavarian bierstube." Many such pieces of unforgettable history enliven this superior travel book, which also includes a good retelling of the Paraguayan war and perceptive observation of the contemporary scene.
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