Louis de Bernieres is most well known for his 4th novel, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, which I recently reviewed as part of my Desert Island Books list. Like many other people, this was the de Bernieres book I read first, and l loved it so much, I made sure it wasn’t the last. Before Captain Corelli, there were three novels known as the Latin American trilogy, and although they are in many ways very different from the novel that made him famous, I still found them to be fascinating reads. Their proper titles are as intriguing as they come: The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts, Senor Vivo and the Coca Lord, and The troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman.
The setting for these books is an imagined country in Latin America, a place with which I’m not overly familiar, but it would be fair to say that much inspiration probably came from Columbia, where de Bernieres spent time living and working. There are also aspects of other countries too, ones which hit the headlines in the 70’s and 80’s due to their political corruption and thinly veiled dictatorial regimes. The three stories themselves are subtly connected via a large cast of engaging characters – from the ruthless drug lord El Jeraca and his elusive latest target Dio Vivo, to the foolish President Veracruz and his misguided attempts to clean up his country, and the intriguing group of villagers forced from their home, who, with a bit of luck and divine intervention (and a mysterious band of cats), go on a journey through the jungle before founding their new community, named Cochadebajo de los Gatos.
There are elements of magical realism here, but they are deftly woven into the plot so as to add just enough spice to the story, whist not being the sole focus. These books are difficult to read in places, I’ll admit, and are as contrasting to Captain Corelli in subject matter as they are similar in structure. But if you can persevere and embrace their quirks, you might find you love them as much as I do.