The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts Essay - Critical Essays

Louis De Bernieres


Although de Bernieres is a British writer, his novels are in the tradition of the style of Magical Realism made popular by Latin American writers such as Gabriel García Márquez. De Bernieres lived in Latin America for many years and is no stranger to its customs and culture. Readers with some knowledge of the history of Latin America in the 1970’s and 1980’s will recognize many of the elements in de Bernieres’ tableau. The country in the book, although a composite of many disparate qualities in the extraordinarily diverse cultural community of Latin America, is based on a solid knowledge of the region’s key characteristics. De Bernieres, though, is less interested in painting a realistic portrait of a given society (on which his perspective will always be inevitably foreign, anyway) than in creating a society sufficiently grim that the reader will rejoice in its eventual imaginative transformation.

There are many political ingredients in the book: presidents, armies, guerrillas, radical priests, imperious landowners, and struggling peasants. The book does not, however, build to a political solution. The appearance of the cats provides an alternative spiritual solution. The cats, which have the potential to be cartoonish in nature and humorous in effect, are treated with gravity and profundity. They are beacons of optimism and hope, and their fantastic unlikeliness in the world of the oppressive generals points out the fundamental evil and inversion of this existing political world.

As the book proceeds, it takes on the air of a timeless, primordial contest between good and evil. For all the accuracy and all the journalistic detail of its 1980’s setting, it is more its own imaginative dimension than a reflection of Latin America. There are, for example, no professional sports or television soap operas in this story, which is hardly the case in reality. This reflects a deliberate artistic choice on the author’s part. De Bernieres uses his Latin American setting as most authors of futuristic or interplanetary science fiction use their settings: as a forum to make the reader examine where he or she stands in the world. By trusting in hope and possibility of change, the author suggests, people may discover new worlds in their souls that will vanquish the waste, pain, and defeat of existing conditions.