Sunday, 9 August 2009

Book Review: Viva South America!

Oliver Balch, Viva South America!

Full disclosure: this book was a gift (thanks mum!), and it wouldn't have occurred to me to buy it myself. From the cover, it looks like a standard travelogue and while I have enjoyed several of those in the past, after a while they tend to get samey and the amount of reading and travelling I've done on South America means that I just pick on the generalisations/ inaccuracies and get annoyed (anyone else feel this way?).

Anyway, clearly once I had Oliver Balch's book I was going to give it a try. The premise is that the author sets out in the footsteps of Simón Bolívar to find out about his legacy in the region today. He visits nine different countries and tackles a different theme in each one, for example violence in Colombia, human rights in Paraguay, and women in Chile. That is a pretty big task considering you could easily write a book on each of the issues covered, and detail is correspondingly sparse.

In general my expectations were exceeded. Balch is a good writer who really keeps the prose flowing, and there were only a few minor annoyances for me (chief among them being the dodgy use of accents in Spanish words, and perhaps the author was not directly responsible for this...). Perhaps surprisingly, I was not so keen on the chapter on Argentina, where Balch is actually based, but preferred his treatment of the Andean nations of Peru and Ecuador. The Bolivarian frame... well, I'm not convinced. The political analysis is very thin on the ground, and there's not so much as a suggestion for further reading at the back. It's actually not that kind of book, even if the preface leads you to believe that might be the case. But it is a competent dash through South America packed with numerous interviews and insights.

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