At The Tomb Of The Inflatable Pig: Travels Through Paraguay, by John Gimlette
Having become familiar with the author thanks to his humorous writing about his travels through the Guianas , I sought to read as much about the author as I could, although I must admit Paraguay is not a country that I have ever been to or that I have any immediate plans to visit . This may not be the sort of book that is promoted by Paraguay’s travel board or anything like that, but if you have an interest in the country this book certainly provides a lot of food for thought. I did not find this book an easy read but I did find it an enjoyable read as the author made several trips to Paraguay and showed himself to be an observant and somewhat cynical tourist. Being at least somewhat cynical myself, I found this book to appeal to that sort of perspective, critical about Paraguay’s long history of horrible government and also intrigued by the way that the author sought to understand the psyche of the people of the country themselves, a notoriously enigmatic lot, to be sure.
Taking a bit more than 350 pages, this book is divided unequally into several parts based on geography and contains many short chapters/headings within those large parts. The author begins with a look at the capital, Asuncion, which allows the author to reflect upon the troubled history of Paraguay as well as its frequent coups and the people of the city, including its anglophile population. The author also finds it frequently worthwhile to write about what other people have written about the country, and to use his own travels and observations to trigger comments about the history of other travelers to Paraguay throughout history. After a look at the capital, the author then moves to an examination of Eastern Paraguay, where he deals with such subjects as smuggling, the immigration of Brazilians (which appears to be a consistent theme of his travels in South America), the connection of Paraguay to Nazi Germany, and the troubled history of the Jesuit missions of the area relating to government, culture, and slavery. The author then turns to a short look at the generally barren Chaco and a history of the Mennonites there as well as the disastrous Chaco War. The author ends with a somewhat pessimistic reflection on the country as a whole and its likely fate.
Make no mistake, this is a quirky book about a quirky nation, and for those reasons along it will be worthwhile for many readers who enjoy the sarcasm heavy in their travel books. Reading this book may not make you want to travel to Paraguay, unless you are an adventuresome sort of person, but it will likely give you a strong sense of sympathy for the odd relics of Australian socialists, Germans in denial about the Nazis, and melancholy survivors of generation after generation of horrors including a war that killed off 90% of the men of the country and a forgotten civil war that wiped out a third of the population in death or exile. Whether the author is commenting on the immense smuggling the country is involved in or discussing its bizarre and quirky native plants (many of them armored and spiky) or animals, there is much to laugh about while one is reading this book, with plenty to reflect on and muse upon later as one thinks about the resilience of people among endless suffering in corrupt nations. This book may not make one want to see Paraguay for oneself, but it certainly gives the reader many reasons to be compassionate for those who happen to live there.
 Although I do think and read about it from time to time: