Lily Tuck's historical novel The News From Paraguay presents the interesting character Ella Lynch, who in 1854 became the mistress of Francisco Solano Lopez ("Franco"), the future heir to the presidency of Paraguay. She was referred to as "La Ella," and her notoriety in South America equaled that of Eva Peron's in Argentina. The novel is written in the third person and many historical facts are interspersed with Ella's diary entries and short letters.
The book begins with Ella Lynch, a divorced socialite living in Paris in 1854. She is a friend of Princess Mathilde, a relative of Napoleon. While living with the Russian Count Dimitri, Ella is out riding and a parrot feather falls from her hat. Francisco Solano Lopez (Franco), a stranger to her then, picks it up and gives it back to her. She ignores him because she does not recognize him. She pretends to be wealthy even though she has not paid her servants in months. She goes to party and sees Franco again. Her husband is gone away to fight on the Crimean front. Ella's servant will not let her ride her favorite horse until she pays his wages. Franco has been riding her horse behind her back, hired out by her servants. Ella is angry but Franco gets her attention by buying her horse then giving it back to her. She is taken aback by his persistence and cunning. They make love. From then on they are lovers. Ella is a shallow character with ambition. She is looking to be involved with any man with money and position. In the first chapter of the novel, Ella and Franco come together. They are both superficial people, with a lust for ambition, and no behavior is off limits to them as both try to get what they want.
In chapter 2, Ella and Franco are on a huge steamer to Paraguay where he lives. Ella takes her maid and a Spanish teacher and her favorite horse with her on the three week trip. She is sick the whole way. In this chapter, the reader learns about Franco's character—his history of sexual pursuits and his violent and cold manner. He had his first lover's fiance murdered and dumped in front of her home because she would not return his affections.
By chapter 3, the ship has arrived in Buenos Aires and Ella stays there to have their baby while Franco rides by mule to Paraguay. The baby is born and christened Juan Francisco. While staying at the posh Hotel Victoria, Ella continues to go to parties at night. Bandits kill the man who takes care of Ella's horse and she is worried about the horse's trauma.
In chapter 4, Ella is insulted by a companion on the steamer who knows she is a mistress, so she chooses to set off by horse. However, Marie, the maid, falls and has to have her arm amputated. Ella abandons her when she is failing in health, but returns. However, it is too late and she dies.
Franco's sisters are mean to Ella in chapter 5. They spit at her and make fun of the way she dresses. The Bishop refuses to baptize their baby. The political climate of Paraguay is dismal because the paranoid dictator, Don Jose Gasper Rodriguez de Francia, keeps the country isolated from the rest of the world. His paranoia is so great that he will not allow the people out of their homes when he is riding in the street. During his reign, many people were imprisoned due to the dictator's fear of being assassinated. During a hundred-and-one gun salute to honor the birth of Franco's son (whom he nicknames "Pancho"), some people are killed. Franco and Ella are embarrassed. The extremely jealous Franco accuses Ella of having a lover. He gives her an expensive necklace and she thinks it is because he is having an affair. Franco and Ella have an amusing idea of recreating a cultural and culinary environment like that in Paris in Paraguay, so they invite many French colonists to start a vineyard in Chaco. However, the environment is not conducive to grapes and the colonists have no experience in the jungles of Paraguay. They fail miserably and when they seek aid from Franco, he ignores them. Most of them die after only eight months.
In chapter 6, Ella has another child, but the infant dies. Ella feels she cannot be happy ever again. Ella and Franco are building a palace of marble in Asuncio. She throws herself into the planning of the estate. She is obsessed with the shade of pink that it should be and makes the painters redo it several times until it suits her. In addition to their palace, an opera house is built. Franco does not flaunt his mistress, Ella, in Paraguay because he is taking over more and more of his father's duties. His father's ill health predicts that soon he will be the leader. He makes policy decisions now that show his ruthless character, such as threatening two business men with death, when they try to reenter the country because they left without permission. Franco has many lovers and tells them outwardly to shut up because he he only wants sex. In January of 1863, Franco is congratulated by Napoleon Bonaparte for becoming President of...
(The entire section is 2014 words.)