We gave it a B-
Lily Tuck’s vivid, intriguing, but disjointed novel — the newly crowned winner of the National Book Award — begins in 1854 when Ella Lynch, a gorgeous Parisian courtesan, follows her new lover, Franco Lopez (the real-life future dictator of Paraguay), to South America. Tuck brings to life the lush, sensual, and brutal world of 19th-century Paraguay, where peasants live in mud hovels and Ella raises her children by Franco in a pink marble palace. Franco, meanwhile, keeps busy entertaining his many mistresses, seizing power, imprisoning his siblings, and driving the country into a cataclysmic war with Brazil. Alas, no strong, compelling plot ever emerges. Constantly shifting its focus between several dozen scattered characters — from Ella’s saucy French maid to an American minister in Paraguay to a syphilitic wet nurse — The News From Paraguay never quite jells.