by Lily Tuck
Ella is an Irish golddigger in Paris, divorced from her French husband, living with a Russian count, desperate for cash to live and pay her bills. Fortunately for her, she attracts the attention of Francisco Lopez, the son of the President of Paraguay. She becomes his mistress and they set sail for Asuncion. She has a child, he sets her up in a palace, she has several more children. He is brutal and plotting against neighboring Argentina, then Brazil, then Bolivia. Meanwhile, sensing that her future may not be in Paraguay, Ella sends a trunk of jewels and other valuables back to Paris and, indeed, when Paraguay is defeated she flees. This is not a satisfying book, despite the interesting glimpses into life in 19th Century Paraguay. Too much is conveyed through summary, too little is seen of that which would make it all convincing. I’m shocked that this won the National Book Award.