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Louis de Bernières: The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts

De Bernières must like dirty little wars. We’ll see another funny little war in The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman, while, though the war in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is a bigger war, the bit we see is only a dirty little one. And here we have one of those unlikely, ludicrous, magic realism wars, seen in the writings of many modern Latin American writers but here given to us by a Brit.

Doña Constanza wants to fill her swimming pool and decides to divert the village river to do so. And then everything goes to hell. Captain Figueras is called in to help but he is, of course, the stereotypical crooked Latin American army officer. A girl killed by a landmine is turned into a cat, which ultimately brings down the government. A plague of laughter, a battle that isn’t a battle, a people’s liberation army that barely deserves the name – all these and more are to be found in de Bernières’ book. De Bernières clearly intends to mock the whole corrupt and barbarous Latin American military-political structure, whether it is the colonel who buys a child’s printing set to send out invitations to alleged communists and subversives to come and be interviewed, starting, of course, with the letter A, or Figueras’ fanciful report on guerilla activity in the area. It’s fun, like the magic realism novels it imitates, and it makes its point well and it’s good to see a Brit can do magic realism.

Publishing history

First published 1991 by Minerva