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3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9 out of 5 stars
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on January 30, 2002
Since first reviewing "Senor Vivo and the Coca Lord" for Amazon my opinion has changed substantially, and it is only fair to pass this on.
I stand by my original thought that this book suffers from the post-modernity malaise: The author has brought together almost too many ideas, styles and techniques in the service of his agenda - at certain points these tend to obscure rather than clarify things. However, the depth of the message and the beauty of its expression have become clearer over time.
The message is simultaneously uplifting and painful: There is a grim symbiosis that unites corrupt and stupid governments with drugs and arms dealers in a feeding frenzy that destroys not just people but civilisation itself. Love and justice can be victorious, but only the kind of love that has more to do with self-sacrifice than romance, and only the kind of justice that is prepared to confront evil regardless of the cost. It's a profound but painful truth that only that strange hybrid of Marxism and Christianity called "Liberation Theology" has succeeded in developing systematically.
The book's principal stylistic flourish is "magical realism", a formula familiar to readers of Garcia Marquez and others. This piece of lit. crit. jargon means simply that magical events are an integral part of the plot, but, this being the world of po-mo, it only happens to make a point. In other words, the author does not require you to suspend disbelief as would be the case in a conventional magic story. This technique provides the opportunity for some of the book's most delicate and beautiful images, but on the downside it imposes a clumsy constraint on the author: He cannot narrate supernatural events directly and objectively - he has to do so in a subjective way from inside the head of one of his characters. This is not a criticism of the author - he executes this perceptual juggling with flawless technique. Rather, it is an indictment of the literary fashion that makes this sort of mannerism necessary. The self-distancing of the author from the world in which his characters live and move is unavoidably communicated to the reader, making it harder to engage with the characters or feel for them the way we would under the spell of a conventional narrative.
In this literary framework, only appalling suffering can draw us into the intensity of feeling for the characters that is necessary for the device to work. The story starts off in a light, satirical vain that will raise genuine rueful smiles and in its erotic moments even perhaps mildly titillate. The only searching question is whether he can reign the po-mo mannerisms in for long enough at a time to keep the story flowing, but Louis writes such beautiful prose that it is a pleasure to read. Nevertheless, the feelgood factor of the earlier chapters cannot last, and quite quickly the book descends into a nightmare of depraved violence. Louis narrates rape, torture, mutilation and so on with exactly the kind of elegant simplicity you would expect, and after the good humour of the early chapters the result is almost unbearably shocking.
I have some reservations as to whether even great literature should incorporate such graphic descriptions of sexual violence. I would certainly not wish to leave this book lying around the house where a young or impressionable person could be exposed to it. And in places Louis' literary technique almost gets the better of his artistic sensibility. Nevertheless, it stands as a remarkable achievement by a novelist of extraordinary gifts. If you are not afraid to laugh, cry and be sickened in one sitting, it is strongly recommended.
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on October 18, 1998
Another impressive book from De Bernieres, though I don't believe anything can match the magnificence of Captain Corelli's Mandolin. Scenes of tender devotion between Dio' and Anica jostle for space among farcial Presidential memos, the letters forming the coca crusade and, finally; descriptions of truly stomach-churning torture, in a narrative that hares off in a bewildering number of sub-plots. Initially rather bewildering, all threads are satisfactorily woven together and in the process, De Bernieres creates a host of engaging, if somewhat surreal, characters. Episodes of grisly violence alternate with teasing and banter and the novel succeeds as escapist entertainment as all works of fiction should. However, in the matter of fact accounts of Lazaro's death by fire and Anica's rape and mutiliation, De Bernieres reminds us that Latin America's drug wars are alive and well and exist outside of the pages of this first-rate novel.
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on June 10, 1999
It is good, but I don't remember having to stop reading through horror before ( I'm not a horror reader). Starts charmingly and wittily in in a South American city dominated by a coca lord, opposed by a bumbling and innocent and very lucky reporter. The conflict continues to the end of the book. Other reviews say it builds to the climax of Snr Vivo (Vivo = alive!) and his confrontation with the Coca Lord. For me that was a damp squib compared to the brutal murder of a character which has been made real and attractive. After that point everything seems pretty flat - as I suppose it does for the main character. Captain Corelli's Mandolin has horrific moments, but it's pretty warm. Don't expect the same from this book. Sorry if I spoil it for anyone, but selling it under the same cover style gives no guide to the book.
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on April 11, 1999
I greatly admire this author and his work, but this is not a very good novel. It draws its stylistic inspiration from Latin American writers, most importantly Gabriel Garcia Marques, but is not as successful. It relies too much on an alien imagination, and too little on the true culture, history and mythology of Latin America. The result, especially with its graphically violent portrayal of the sufferings of the Coca lords' victims, is almost voyeuristic. It's certainly gratuitous in places. I also think that the blend of 'magic' realism with a conventional contemporary story does not work here.
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on June 15, 1998
Witty, sardonic, sarcastic and yet romantic: Louis de Bernieres parodies the magical realism of the Latin American greats, transforming what Nick Joaquin, Filipino counterpart of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, has baptized "Tropical Gothic" into a P.G. Wodehousesianesque barrel of laughs; and yet Bernieres can horrify and move you to tears -all in the same novel. His books go from strength to strength; a master storyteller by any set of criteria.
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on July 6, 2000
I was really captivated by the beginning of this book but as it progressed it all seemed a bit forced. There was too much focus on subplots and not enough on the truly interesting central story. And the "magical realism" seemed to lose steam as well. I was very disapointed that the book didn't live up to its inital promise. An OK book, not great. It doesn't make me want to read another DeBernieres.
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on September 21, 2000
This novel is incredible! It is delightfully funny, yet skeptical of political intrigue and human nature. It turns reality and fantasy upside down and over onto itself, employing magical realism in such a way it is reminiscent of Marquez. I highly recommend this novel, and I intend to read his others in the near future.
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on June 30, 2000
De Bernieres serves a lush yet chilling dish of quasi-myths and social tragedy. Beyond the chronicle of arduous love, through the wit and sadness of it all, you will see an outlandishly imaginative sketch of a triumphant human spirit. This story will entice you, intoxicate you, and then wake you like a razor-sharp blade.
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on October 21, 1997
A novel that takes a familiar theme and turns it inside out, with the unique perspective of characters that defy usual clasification. It combines the empathy and identification of a thriller with the acute and painful observation of more thoughtful fiction. Alternately entertaining and shocking, it's a really gripping read
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on January 26, 1998
This book manages to make you laugh and cry, which can be pretty embarassing on the 4.20 from Waterloo. De Bernieres ability to create believable living characters in the space of a couple of pages and then to develop them logically into heinous villans or benign saints is remarkable.
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