Soft currency, hard men
Photo of Guaranís by Photocapy used under a Creative Commons license.

Robert Carver, Paradise with Serpents (HarperCollins, 2007).
Tylen Cowen recommends this one:

The only question is whether this is the first or the second best book on Paraguay in the English language; here is the other contender.

Here is the publisher’s description:

. . . In 1537 a group of Europeans founded Asuncion on the banks of the Parana river, where they were enthusiastically welcomed by the Gurani. An extraordinary fusion of New World and Old was created – a place where magnificent baroque cathedrals were built of carved stone in the heart of the jungle and solemn Catholic masses and high oratorios were sung and perfomed on European instruments by Gurani Indians and their Jesuit mentors. But every paradise has its serpents and the history of Paraguay is also studded with oppressive and even demented dictators. . . . Carver travels into this forbidden lost world in search of his own golden city of outlandish experience. The physically reckless journey takes him from mule trains high in frozen mountains to steamers up remote rivers in dense tropical jungle and he faces the threat of malaria, dengue fever and the odd marauding outlaw.

Apart from Cowen’s post, most of the reaction on the interwebs consists of reviews from UK newspapers: Martin Davies (The Independent), Ross Leckie (Times (UK)), Rory Maclean (Guardian), Sara Wheeler (Guardian), and Elaine Moore (Financial Times). And either the Telegraph asked Carver to review his own book, they found another Robert Carver to do it, or there’s an error in the author’s name here.

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Photo of the Paraguay-Argentina border by used under a Creative Commons license.

Anne Whitehead, Bluestocking in Patagonia (Profile, 2003).
National Geographic Traveler recommends this book:

In 1895, young Australian schoolteacher Mary Jean Cameron set sail from Sydney to join an experimental socialist utopia deep in the interior of Paraguay. Traveling alone via mailboat, paddle steamer, steam train, and horseback, hers is an extraordinary journey-and that was just the beginning of her adventures. Author Whitehead follows in the footsteps of this fascinating woman who ended up spending six years in South America, first in Paraguay and then Argentina-and whose portrait now appears on the $10 Australian bill.

Ann Skea reviewed the book. Sarah Macdonald reviewed it for the Sydney Morning Herald. Robin Osborne reviewed it for The Northern Rivers Echo. Frank Bongiorno reviewed it in Australian Literary Studies, and Nick Smith reviewed it in Geographical, but to read them you’ll have to sign up for free trials (I didn’t). Jennifer Strauss reviewed it for Australian Book Review. Or you can listen to a BBC story about Whitehead and Gilmore.

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