Think about all you know about South America. Think about the history. Think about what you’ve been taught. What’d you come up with? Most likely, you know about the Incas, the conquistadores from Spain. Maybe you’ve heard of Eva Peron. You know something’s been going on up in Colombia with guerrillas and drugs or whatnot. You know the U.S. and Venezuela don’t get along and there’s a small chance you knew the same about Bolivia. Brazil is cutting down the Amazon. Charles Darwin went to the Galapagos. What else? What did you learn in history class in high school or college? At least in the U.S., most likely, the answer to that question is “almost nothing”. That blows. This is a whole continent, with culture and history that deserve just as much recognition as Europe! Do you know about the dictatorships? The deaths of millions of people in several countries due to political resistance? The attempts at socialism? The immigration from Europe? The arrival of Nazis after WWII? The wars? How many South American artists or poets or authors can you name? Did you know that Guaraní was a language before you read my blog? There is so much to learn! You can tell me exactly what Bastille Day means or when the Renaissance was and name dozens of European artists and know that countries like Monaco or Malta or Andorra exist. Some people couldn’t even tell me where Paraguay was when I first got assigned here! Some people didn’t know that Uruguay and Paraguay were different countries! DISHONOR ON YOU AND YOUR WHOLE FAMILY. Learn. Read. And here’s where you start.
Begin your South American education by reading a simple work of historical fiction: The News From Paraguay by Lily Tuck. I assume that because you’re reading my blog, you’ve taken interest in this lovely little country I live in. Did you know it used to be bigger? That it had the first telegram line in South America and the first extensive railroad? That things were going pretty great for Paraguay until the War of the Triple Alliance? If you said “no”, go get a copy of The News From Paraguay. It’s easy to read and although some of it is fiction, it accurately portrays Mariscal Francisco Solano Lopez and the events of the war through the tale of Ella Lynch, his mistress. Read it. Embrace it’s description of the country, of the people, the plants and animals, the Guaraní language, and especially the history of this unknown country and continent. And then go read more. Read Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende, Pablo Neruda, Mario Vargas Llosa. Look up the history. Look at a map! Research the art, the culture, the beautiful landscape of all of South America. And once you’ve done that, save your pennies, hop on a Boeing and go see it, because there’s nowhere else like it.
Note: If you’re interested in other books I’m reading (not necessarily about Paraguay/history/South America), I’ve created a Further Reading page about my favorite books I’ve read during my service.