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... let me introduce you to Dionisio properly, except that I am going to start calling him Empedocles, who misguidedly threw himself into a volcano in order to prove that he was a god. I find that analogy very apt. In the eyes of his friend Ramon, an unusual policeman who refuses bribes and reads the classics, the natural philosophy professor Dionisio Vivo is an idealist with a death wish. Vivo puts principles before common sense, and attacks the powerful drug cartels in his city of Ipasueno through brilliantly argued letters to the editors of a national newspaper. While Vivos arguments gain him a huge following of admirers (including the fluffy brained president of the republic), the local capo Pablo Ecobandodo, also known as El Jerarca, is sending his killers repeatedly first to intimidate, later to assassinate the professor. The novel opens with a gift left by the bandits in Vivos front yard: a body wearing a Colombian cravate (look it up on the net, if you have a strong stomach)The second book of the South American trilogy by Louis de Bernieres follows a timeline seven years after the events of The War of Don Emmanuels Nether Parts using the same setting of a fictional Latin American nation that combines elements of all the countries in the region. If the first books main theme was the political and economical impact of corruption and political adventurism, it is the time now to look at how the cocaine traffic is as much a force of social change as military dictatorships and rebel guerillas. To some people of the region, cocaine is a legitimate culture, a cash crop, a way out of poverty, and the criminals who control the industry are modern Robin Hoods who invest in the local infrastructure, building schools and churches and housing. This argument ignores the long series of murders that put the lords in their top of the anthill position and the terror campaign that maintains them in power, the silencing by force of all dissenting opinions and of all competitors. Through the voice of Dionisio Vivo, the author uses satire, ridicule and magic realism to pull the veil from the atrocities. El Jerarca may come out of the page as a sort of fatty Wile E. Coyote, with his silly assassination plans and the idiot accomplices, but the deaths and the tortures are real, witness the dedication of this second volume: To the Honoured and Respectedmemory ofJudge Mariela Espinosa ArangoAssassinated by Machine-Gun Fire in Medellin,on Wednesday 1 November 1989 The modern fairytale format is not meant to dissimulate the seriosity of the issue but to underline an alternative to the cynical worldview of predators and prey, to go to the roots and draw strength from the cultural heritage of the campesinos - aboriginals, Indios, former slaves, former conquistadors, guerilleros, disillusioned army generals, European expats - all coming together in that wonderful place in the Andes, Cochadebajo de los Gatos, to celebrate life and love and irreverence. The festival is called a candomble, a sincretic religious gathering that marries African deities with Christian saints and voodoo possession to cast auguries for the future, to reaffirm the blessings of the otherworld on the pilgrims. The world is well stocked with legends of the times when deities walked the earth and when saints performed miracles in Jesus name. For the most part these legends are a quaint echo of nostalgia for times which now seem naive. But for the population of Cochadebajo de los Gatos and for millions of santeros of all races and colours all over the Hispanic Western hemisphere they walk the earth in broad daylight, still performing miracles, still discoursing with ordinary folk, still arguing, fighting, having love affairs, dispensing favours and punishments, still being greeted by cries of Ache. I kind of hoped to spend more time with my friends from the first volume, now living in Cochadebajo de los Gatos, but, with the exception of this candomble, the novel is focused on the life of Dionisio Vivo, on his friendship with the policeman Ramon and on his passion for a young student named Anica. Dionisio took a long time to gain my appreciation, mostly because I thought he was disingenuous about ignoring the danger his accusatory letters caused for the people around him. His crusade is admirable, but his idealism I found misplaced and dangerous. I only became reconciled with Vivo when I ceased to regard him as a real person and treated him as an avatar, as a catalyst for change. I think the turning point was one of his introductory speeches to his philosophy classes at Ipasueno university: I do not want you to believe any of this because it is all crap, but it is the crap in which the piles of our pseudo-European culture are embedded, so you had better understand it because no one who does not understand the history and taxonomy of crap will ever come to know the difference between crap and pseudocrap and non-crap ... The discussion about the merits of different philosophical schools brings me back to the earlier reference by Ramon to the ancient Greek thinker Empedocles. The analogy with Vivo is not restricted to the challenge he makes to gods to destroy him by fire. Empedocles also considered that the world / reality is the result of the struggle between good and evil forces: The four elements, however, are simple, eternal, and unalterable, and as change is the consequence of their mixture and separation, it was also necessary to suppose the existence of moving powers to bring about mixture and separation. The four elements are both eternally brought into union and parted from one another by two divine powers, Love and Strife. Love is responsible for the attraction of different forms of matter, and Strife is the cause for their separation. If these elements make up of the universe, then Love and Strife explain their variation and harmony. Love and Strife are attractive and repulsive forces, respectively, which is plainly observable in human behavior, but also pervade the universe. The two forces wax and wane their dominance but neither force ever wholly disappears from the imposition of the other. (source: wikipedia)Strife is represented in the present story by El Jerarca and his goons with their Colombian cravates, while Love is embraced by Don Emmanuel and his friends who prefer to fornicate and to talk dirty and to laugh at misfortune. In their simple approach may reside the only hope for the future: Don Emmanuel had said, I believe in that proverb that a man cannot make love to every woman in the world, but he ought to try. Felicidad had laughed her inimitably wanton laugh and replied, A woman has more sense; she knows when she has found the best lover in the world, and she stays with him.You have never stayed with anyone.Felicidad smiled and said, But no one can accuse me of not looking very hard.General Fuerte wrote down, I have never really noticed before, while I was in the army, but truly this country is one huge bed of love. the more educated philosophy professor Dionisio Vivo says the same thing in his last anti-drug trade letter:Dear Sirs,Irrespective of the ideology or the social structure under which one lives, it is a fact of common experience that the single force capable of both welding us together and imparting meaning and purpose to our lives, is that bond of natural affection which renders us most truly human, and which forges with its excellently gentle flame the essential conditions of mutual trust. The ones who go againt the flow, like El Jerarca, belong in the dustbin of history.Onward, soldiers of love, to the third book of the trilogy ...

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