The News from Paraguay: A Novel

The News from Paraguay: A Novel

3.5 2
by Lily Tuck, Lisette Lecat

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The year is l854. In Paris, Francisco Solano — the future dictator of Paraguay — begins his courtship of the young, beautiful Irish courtesan Ella Lynch with a poncho, a Paraguayan band, and ahorse named Mathilde. Ella follows Franco to Asunción and reigns there as his mistress. Isolated and estranged in this new world, she embraces her lover's


The year is l854. In Paris, Francisco Solano — the future dictator of Paraguay — begins his courtship of the young, beautiful Irish courtesan Ella Lynch with a poncho, a Paraguayan band, and ahorse named Mathilde. Ella follows Franco to Asunción and reigns there as his mistress. Isolated and estranged in this new world, she embraces her lover's ill-fated imperial dream — one fueled by a heedless arrogance that will devastate all of Paraguay.
With the urgency of the narrative, rich and intimate detail, and a wealth of skillfully layered characters, The News from Paraguay recalls the epic novels of Gabriel García Márquez and Mario Vargas Llosa.

Editorial Reviews

Joanne Omang
Tuck's style in these early pages is as effective and swift as in her earlier and most successful novel, Siam. By page 30, our two unsentimental opportunists are together in South America, and Ella is pregnant. Many images are so vivid you can almost smell them: the abattoirs of Buenos Aires, where cattle are killed only for their hides and the flayed carcasses are left to rot in the street; the whirring clouds of birds and teeming jungle flora on the couple's trip upriver to Asuncion; the broken arm that hurts, festers and finally kills Ella's young maidservant.
The Washington Post
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.
Publishers Weekly
Beautiful Ella Lynch left her native Ireland at 10 and married a French officer at 15; by 19, she is divorced, living with a Russian count and struggling to pay her embittered maid. Thus she's in prime shape to appreciate the quick and ardent attentions of Francisco Solano Lopez, aka Franco, the future dictator of Paraguay, when he spies her on horseback in a Paris park in 1854. Rich, generous and not unhandsome, he makes an appealing lover, and soon Ella is off with him to Paraguay, which he vows to make "a country exactly like France." The story unfolds through Tuck's elegant narration (she flits from one character's point-of-view to another in short segments) and Ella's impassioned diaries. The author's research is impressive (Ella was a real 19th-century courtesan) but never overbearing as she explores the life of a spoiled kept woman in a foreign land, as well as the lives, both high and low, of those around her. Established as Franco's mistress in Asuncion, Ella bears Franco many sons, while Franco succeeds his father as ruler and acquires mistress after mistress. Tuck (Siam; Limbo, and Other Places I Have Lived) weaves in the stories of Franco's fat, jealous sisters; a disgraced Philadelphia doctor; Ella's wet nurses; and a righteous U.S. minister, among many others, in a richly layered evocation of a complicated world. When Paraguay finds itself at odds with neighboring countries, the novel chronicles the various tragedies and defeats with a cool and unswerving eye. Tuck's novel may not be for the faint of heart, but it is a rich and rewarding read. Agent, Georges Borchardt. 5-city author tour. (May) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In 1854, when a beautiful young divorcee named Ella Lynch catches the eye of dictator-in-training Franco Lopez, she leaves Paris and her live-in lover to move with him to Paraguay. Intelligent, astoundingly fertile, and an active supporter of Lopez's reign of terror and annihilation of the population (including, eventually, his siblings and mother), Ella thrives in her role as his culture-hungry mistress. Interweaving fictional diary entries and letters with historical fact, Tuck (Siam; Or, The Woman Who Shot a Man) tracks dozens of players in an ugly chapter of Paraguayan history from which, it is argued, the country has yet to recover; the shock waves of repugnant cruelty and boorishness ripple from the opening pages clear to the end. A gripping read, this is recommended for readers who have strong stomachs and no need for sympathetic protagonists.-Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The notorious Irish courtesan who also inspired Anne Enright's The Pleasure of Eliza Lynch presides regally over Tuck's impressively researched, lushly written latest. The episodic tale picks up (the historical) "Ella" Lynch's story in 1854 in Paris, where she attracts the attention of Paraguayan prince regent Francisco Solano Lopez ("Franco"), who appropriates the statuesque beauty, and brings her home, to "transform Paraguay into a country exactly like France." Tuck (stories: Limbo, and the Other Places I Have Lived, 2002; etc.) skillfully distributes dozens of narrative vignettes among these two impetuously matched lovers, their servants and miscellaneous acquaintances and correspondents, and numerous foreigners ("engineers, architects, physicians, all eager to make their fortunes in this rich new world"). Franco succeeds his tyrannical father Carlos as dictator, and spends his country's resources lavishly, acquiring nearly as many mistresses as possessions, while Ella, continually pregnant, bears him five surviving sons. Tuck contrives numerous episodes that suggest the cruelty and violence underlying this emergent nation's veneer of sophisticated self-indulgence-and particularly Franco's ebullient masculine charm. And when diplomatic relations with neighboring republics are brusquely severed, Paraguay is drawn into a long, enervating war against a Triple Alliance comprising Brazil, Argentina, and "Banda Oriental" (later Uruguay). The story's latter half is a swiftly paced chronicle of military defeats by vastly more numerous opposition forces, starvation, capture, torture, and execution. Prominent among the figures swept up by Franco's self-destructive momentum are his cupiditous andtreacherous siblings, an English stonemason hired to build his presidential palace, a scholarly "apothecary general"-and Ella's beloved gray mare Mathilde. It all ends smashingly, with several views of Ella and her remaining sons, escaped to London and thence Paris, but not from the nightmarish history that has changed them forever. A splendid realization of its rich subject, and Tuck's best so far. Agent: Georges Borchardt
New York Times Book Review
“Tuck’s prose is elegant, the subject well researched.”
“Beautifully written.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Reminiscent of Gabriel Garcia Marquez ... Tuck brings characters fully to life.”
“Compelling…the stuff that good fiction is made of: complex characters and an intricate narrative.”
Washington Post Book World
“The episodic style achieves many lovely moments…images are so vivid you can almost smell them.”
Los Angeles Times
“Decorous detail and vivid imagery.”
Entertainment Weekly
“Vivid, intriguing . . . Tuck brings to life the lush, sensual, and brutal world of 19th-century Paraguay.”
Time Magazine
"Beautifully written."

Product Details

Recorded Books, LLC
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.14(w) x 5.72(h) x 1.32(d)

Read an Excerpt

The News from Paraguay

By Tuck, Lily

HarperCollins Publishers

ISBN: 0066209447

Chapter One


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 parrot feather it was, for she kept hundreds of parrots in her aviary in Asunción, but it was Ella and not the feather that had caught Franco's attention.

The year was 1854 and the forty miles of bridle paths and carriage roads were filled with elegant calèches, daumonts, phaetons; every afternoon, weather permitting, Empress Eugénie could be seen driving with her equerry. Every afternoon too, Empress Eugénie, in fashion obsessed Paris, could be seen wearing a different dress, a dress of a different color: Crimean green, Sebastopol blue, Bismarck brown.The Bois de Boulogne had recently been transformed from a ruined forest into an elegant English park.

Sent as ambassador-at-large to Europe by his father, twenty-six-year old Franco was dressed in a field marshal's uniform modeled on Napoleon's, only his jacket was green -- Paraguayan green. He was short, stocky -- not yet grown stout nor had his back teeth begun to trouble him -- and his thick eyebrows met in the middle of his forehead like a black stripe but he was not unattractive. He was self-confident, naïve, ambitious, energetic, spoilt -- never had anything, except once one thing, been denied him -- and he was possessed of an immense fortune. Franco put the feather in his pocket and mounted his horse again. He caught up with Ella easily and followed her home.

At age ten, Eliza Alicia Lynch had left Ireland; at fifteen, Elisa Alice Lynch married a French army officer; at nineteen, divorced and living with a handsome but impecunious Russian count, Ella Lynch needed to reinvent herself.

14 March 1854
A lovely afternoon! I rode the little mare again in the Bois with Dimitri. [Ella wrote in her diary that evening.] Each day I grow fonder of her -- her mouth is as soft as silk and a touch of the rein is sufficient. Her canter puts me in mind of sitting in a rocking chair! But how can I possibly afford to buy a horse? Already I owe John Worth a fortune! Oh, how I loathe worrying about money all the time! Money and servants both! When I returned home and was changing my clothes, I once again had to listen to Marie complain about Pierre whom she accuses of drinking my wine and who knows what other thefts -- servants are addicted to their tales of intrigue and to their jealousies! Also, Marie's chatter nearly made me late -- today was the opening of the Salon! However, as it turned out, I was fortunate. The President of the Jury himself, the Count of Morny, was the first person I met and he took me by the arm and recounted how the day before, his half brother, the Emperor, had gone through all the galleries never once stopping, never once glancing at the paintings, until he arrived at the last gallery -- the least important gallery, the gallery filled with the most mediocre paintings -- and then the Emperor, out of duty, the count supposes, stopped in front of a hideous picture of the Alps -- the Alps looking exactly like a stack of bread loaves! -- and after staring at it for a good five minutes, the Emperor turned to the poor count and said: "The painter should have indicated the relative heights." I could hardly contain myself and laughed until tears streamed down my cheeks! Rain was falling when finally I left the exhibition to go to supper and of course in my haste I had forgotten to bring an umbrella but, as luck would have it, a gentleman smoking a foul-smelling cigar was standing at the door and he offered me his.

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 ...


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Meet the Author

Born in Paris, LILY TUCK is the author of four previous novels: Interviewing Matisse, or the Woman Who Died Standing Up; The Woman Who Walked on Water; Siam, or the Woman Who Shot a Man, which was nominated for the 2000 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction; and The News from Paraguay, winner of theNational Book Award. She is also the author of the biography Woman of Rome: A Life of Elsa Morante. Her short stories have appeared in The New Yorker and are collected in Limbo and Other Places I Have Lived. Lily Tuck divides her time between Maine and New York City.

Brief Biography

New York, New York
Date of Birth:
October 10, 1939
Place of Birth:
Paris, France
B.A., Radcliffe (Harvard); M.A., Sorbonne, Paris

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News from Paraguay 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was a pleasure to read. If you enjoy reading historical novels, based on actual events, I highly recommend it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago