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'A novel of prodigious imagination' Scotland on Sunday
Louis de Berni res is the best-selling author of Captain Corelli's Mandolin. His most recent novels are Birds Without Wings and A Partisan's Daughter.
Like its predecessor, The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts , this deftly constructed novel pokes gentle fun at the well-mined genre of magical realism while providing an exuberant portrait of a Latin America in which anything is possible. Set in an imaginary nation reminiscent of Colombia, where the British author once worked, these interconnected tales chronicle the running feud between the Catholic clergy, headed by Cardinal Guzman, and the heretical countryside--in particular Cochadebajo, a free-spirited city serviced by an unfrocked priest and inhabited by a delightfully feisty collection of eccentrics, including a Mexican musicologist seduced by a mischievous set of twins, a former prostitute (in whose popular restaurant men down fiery chicken to prove their machismo) and Dionisio Vivo, the composer and crusading journalist who also figured in Senor Vivo and the Coca Lord . Accompanied by mercenaries, the clergy set out on a crusade that quickly gets out of control and only hardens the resolve of Cochadebajo's citizens to protect themselves. As the novel works to a dramatic climax, readers will join the author in rooting for the life-affirming joyousness of Cochadebajo, which is skillfully contrasted with the Cardinal's evil nature. (Feb.)
De Bernieres, winner of two Commonwealth Prizes, is an Englishman with a French name who writes magical realist novels set in South America. In his third work, he returns to his unnamed country (similar to Colombia), where Catholic hierarchy butts up against cocaine cartels and indigenous pantheism. A wonderful creation, the eponymous Cardinal Guzman is an aging prelate with a young mistress and a monster growing in his belly. As it slowly dies, the monster poisons him until, during an hallucination, the cardinal kills his own son, who soon returns as a hummingbird. The novel's essential plot is the struggle of the bucolic town of Cochadebajo to protect itself from a marauding latter-day Torquemada and his ``bodyguards,'' who, unleashed by the words of the monster-pregnant Cardinal Guzman, have been terrorizing mountain villages in the name of God. In the climactic scene, a ragtag army of the town's men and women, an army brigade, and an affectionate band of several hundred black jaguars defeat the venomous inquisitor. The language is rich and the book is abundantly imagined. Highly recommended.-- Harold Augenbraum, Mercantile Lib., New York
"A carnival of pain and pleasure, violence, tenderness, high jinks of every sexual sort, quaint customs and quainter jokes" * Financial Times * "An extraordinary feat of imagination... a sensuous, often farcical and ultimately optimistic argument for spiritual sanity" * Time Out * "Mr de Bernieres writes superbly" * Catholic Times *