Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Fall of Pineapple Face

God's Favorite by Lawrence Wright is an entertaining fictionalized account of the events leading up to the fall Manuel Noriega's régime in Panama.

Religion plays a key rôle in the narrative; the General is a Santería-practicing Zen Buddhist, the bourgeois opposition is led by a devotee of Sathya Sai Baba, and at the center of the novel is the faithless Papal Nuncio, a career bureaucrat, a character that might serve as a stock villain in a lesser novelist's hands, but turns out to be the surprise hero. The only only characters that come out looking good the nuncio's secretary, an idealistic young Salvadoran priest, and a noble prostitute, described as "some mixture of black and Indian and Chinese—a typical Panamanian racial gumbo." Everyone else, the Americans, the Panamanian Defense Forces, the bourgeois opposition, the Dignity Battalions ("Digbats"), the General's lower-class thugs, come out looking stupid or evil.

The novel's theological musings are pretty thin gruel, and might be summarized by the question, "Why do good things happen to bad people?" However, as entertainment, it works, and reminds us why Latin America is home to the literary style known as Magical Realism; the reality of life in the region is often stranger than fiction.

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Omnes Sancti et Sanctæ Coreæ, orate pro nobis.