Augusto Roa Bastos once described his native Paraguay as “una isla rodeada de tierra” (an island surrounded by earth). Isolated because of its landlocked location in the heart of South America, inward-looking because of its historical development vis-à-vis neighbors Argentina and Brazil, Paraguay has been plagued by opacity. In The Paraguay Reader: History, Culture, Politics, editors Peter Lambert and Andrew Nickson challenge this by tracing the making of Paraguay as understood through a few key themes and legacies. The reader gathers a patchwork of texts and images, primary and secondary sources from Paraguayan elites and organic intellectuals, national politicians and foreign visitors, local scholars and North American academics, to render the movement from colony to country and the forging of a Paraguayan national identity.

The editors have provocatively chosen to play down two of the most familiar set pieces in Paraguayan...

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