Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars
Date begun: August 17th, 2011
Date finished: August 27th, 2011
This is the first of de Bernieres' Latin American trilogy, set in a fictional South American country, heavily resembling Colombia (but with elements from many other Latin American countries as well). The plot follows multiple story lines and protagonists, including several villagers in the town of Chiriguaná, who are terrorized by corrupt militia, and the selfishness of the local landowners, and eventually decide to fight back. Other parts of the story show the terrible corruption of the military, with thousands of ordinary citizens of the country disappearing without a trace, being tortured and killed in the hunt for dissidents and communists.
The story mixes horribly graphic descriptions of violence, rape, torture and death with humour, colourful descriptions and magical realism. During the course of events, the village of Chiriguaná is suddenly overrun with huge amounts of black cats who grow to be the size of panthers. There's even occasions where donkeys and women give birth to black kittens. It's a wonderfully written book, but not exactly an easy read, and it took me longer to get through than I had expected, simply because the subject matter was both wonderful and horrible, and while fictionalized, clearly based on real events that have taken place in South and Latin America in the last half a century. I was planning on reading the trilogy in one go, but felt I had to space out my reading more after finishing this one. Can absolutely be recommended, but is not for the squeamish or faint of heart.