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The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts by…
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The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts (1990)

by Louis de Bernières

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1,185226,785 (3.88)39
  1. 10
    One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (ShaneTierney)
  2. 00
    Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (Pedrolina)
    Pedrolina: Both books take on the slightly surreal side to war, but with serious consequences nonetheless.
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The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts – Louis De Bernieres
4 stars

“Life is nothing if not a random motion of coincidences and quirks of chance; it never goes as planned or as foretold; frequently one gains happiness from being obliged to follow an unchosen path or misery from following a chosen one. “ Louis De Bernieres – The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts


I’m reading Bernieres backward. I started with Birds Without Wings and I’ve been working my way backward through his publication history. This book (which must be a contender for “Best Title of the 20th century”) was published in 1990. It was a very ambitious first novel. In an author’s note, Bernieres states that he has created an imaginary Latin American country with history, topography and language jumbled up from various sources. There are nearly 40 characters whose lives intersect in a story that includes guerilla war, military corruption, paranormal intervention, brutality, passion, outrageous humor and biting satire.

A book this complex should be read with great attention. The need for attention to detail is not immediately apparent. Characters and situations are introduced is short, well-constructed passages that seem only loosely connected. At the beginning it is easy to read briefly about one character, put the book down and come back to it much later. I did this several times, but I lost out on the connections and found that I had difficulty with pivotal events when I could not remember each character’s significance. The book improved when I sat down to read for longer periods of time. I was able to grasp the intricate web of intertwined lives that Bernieres was building.

I was mildly disappointed that Don Emmanuel’s nether parts play a very minor role in the story. In a very round about way, it is essentially the story of an impoverished, insignificant village and its hilariously devious victory over the corrupt and brutal military establishment. It is a temporary victory. I found the surreal salvation of the village to be the weakest part of the story. The best parts concern individual characters who are drawn realistically, but with great affection and humor. As in his later books, Bernieres has an underlying social agenda. He touches on the implications of United States covert military intervention, drug trafficking, the Falklands Island conflict, and international pressure concerning ‘Los Deseparecidos”.

There are a great many similarities between this book and the later Birds Without Wings. It even begins with the death of a bird, in this case, a vulture. The later book is stronger and I’ve tried to define why I think so. The biggest difference is the use of first person narrative. Bernieres allowed the many characters of Eskibahce to speak for themselves. The characters in Don Emmanuel’s fictional country did not speak up in their own voices. They are wonderful characters, but they stayed in the book and did not come alive for me in the same way.
( )
  msjudy | May 30, 2016 |
De Bernieres' debut novel begins when Dona Constanza decides to divert the river to fill her swimming pool and by so doing sets in motion a series of events that lead to chaos in the villages of this unnamed South American country. There is a huge cast of characters - military, politicians, industrialists, peasants, Indians, guerrillas, spirits and animals. He also sprinkles in words or phrases in Spanish, Portuguese, and Indian dialects - and even a few that he makes up entirely. De Bernieres sincludes a fair amount of magical realism which may not appeal to everyone, but I love his writing. ( )
  BookConcierge | Feb 14, 2016 |
It is possibly more a reflection on my current state of mind that I have abandoned this novel about half way through. It isn't a bad novel, I just lost patience with trying to remember who was who and where they were up to as the action flitted between different groups. Apart from being confusing it is otherwise well written and I may have enjoyed it at a less busy time in my life when I could sit all day and read.
The novel is full of wonderful characters: Don Emmanuel is a lovely comic character who is well drawn and I did not confuse him with other characters. However, I did get muddled between others. ( )
  Tifi | Sep 20, 2014 |
Political satire is hard--hard to write well and hard for me as a reader to enjoy. I read the first several chapters of this and founds bits of it sort of funny, but the combination of madcap wackiness and high tragedy didn't work for me. The violence was too violent to offset the jokes being cracked just a page or two later. The tone doesn't change much between the comic parts and the violent moments, so I ended up feeling like rape and murder weren't being taken seriously. The treatment of women was especially difficult to take. Much of the violence involves rape, and many of the jokes involve how much sex the "whores" are having. Not my kind of book, so I'm setting it aside. I'm willing to give it another try at some point, if a fan whose taste I trust makes a good case for it and assures me that the treatment of women improves.
  teresakayep | Sep 9, 2014 |
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To the Incorrigible and Legendary Don Benjamin of Poponte, who entrusted me with several children and three horses.
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It had been an auspicious week for Captain Rodrigo Jose Figueras.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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This book is very dark, yet full of humor, and a superbly vivid depiction of both the supernatural and brutally realistic worlds. I thoroughly enjoyed this read.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375700137, Paperback)

Louis de Bernières's sardonic pen has concocted a spicy olla podrida of a novel, set in a fictitious Latin American country, with all the tragedy, ribaldry, and humor Bernières can muster from a debauched military, a clueless oligarchy, and an unconventional band of guerrillas. There's a plague of laughing, a flood of magical cats, and a torture-happy colonel. The cities, villages, politics, and discourse are an inspired amalgam of Latin Americana, but the comedy, horror, adventure, and vibrant individuals are pure de Bernières. This masterpiece, the first of a trilogy, is followed by Señor Vivo and the Coca Lord, and The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:00:20 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

When the spoilt and haughty Dona Constanza tries to divert a river to fill her swimming pool, she starts a running battle with the locals. The skirmishes are so severe that the government dispatches a squadron of soldiers led by the fat, brutal and stupid Figueras to deal with them. Despite visiting plagues of laughing fits and giant cats upon the troops, the villagers know that to escape the cruel and unusual tortures planned for them, they must run. Thus they plan to head for the mountains and start a new convivial civilisation.… (more)

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