The third and final book in the Bernieres trilogy; once I read one, I figure I might as well read them all. It seems somehow mean to leave the trilogy incomplete, and, unlike a lot of trilogies, all of the books are strong enough to stand on their own while also reading beautifully together. This book also leaves me wanting more, because I feel like there are more stories to tell, and I hope Bernieres returns to the world of Cochadebajo de los Gatos and the wonderful characters that inhabit it.
Unlike Senor Vivo and the Coca Lord, which focused on the coca trade, this book had to do with religion, and the corruptive force which religion can have. While all of the books feature a smattering of priests and snide comments on the state of religion, this book took on the issue full-bore, and no punches were pulled. It’s not that religion itself is bad, but that terrible things can be done in the name of religion, and I thought de Bernieres illustrated that really well with the events of this book, just as he demonstrated that a military can be useful.
The back of this book says that it’s “part epic, part farce,” and I think that’s a really good way to describe it. It is an epic book, with a lot of sweeping themes, but it’s also farcical, and the farce often appears in the strangest of places. It also turns conventional ideas on their heads, what with ghosts behaving like regular people, and hybrid Muslim-Catholic communities where people believe that Mohammad is Christ returned to Earth so that he can know the love of a woman.
I think my favourite part of the book may be “The Battle of Dona Barbara,” in which Hectoro, one of the characters, ends up shooting a book:
“…reading on horseback while the horse browsed the grasses proved to be an unmanning experience, owing to an unfortunate coincidence. Hectoro reached a phrase. It was ‘the preliminary characteristic.’ This phrase struck Hectoro as a real pansy phrase…He bellowed with disgust at exactly the same moment that two chinchillas ran under the feet of the daydreaming horse. Startled by the terrible curse and the scurrying of the rodents, the horse reared violently and then kicked out with its back legs.
For the first and only time in his life Hectoro was thrown by a horse. He landed on his backside in an acacia, with the book still open in his left hand and a cigar still smoking between his teeth. ‘Hijo de puta,‘ he exclaimed, ‘this reading is dangerous business.’
He drew out his revolver and shot the book through the center where he had thrown it on the ground, and then he shot it again to make sure.”
After reading that, I think you can see why I love this series so very much.
The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman, by Louis de Bernieres. Published 1992, 459 pages. Fiction.