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For some time I had seen this book in the travel section in my local Waterstones (I'm quite often found there, if you ever need to track me down!) while perusing the "three for two" offer. I had, in fact, several times been just about to include this book in my selection but each time thought better of it. I was delighted, then , when I saw John Lane's "A Very Peruvian Practice" in my local library - I knew there was some as yet unidentified reason stopping me from making a purchase so it would be much better to read the book for nothing.
How right I was to wait! I cannot recall feeling so let down on completing a book for some time. In fact, I only persevered and got to the end for the sake of my fellow Ciao-ers as I consider it my duty to avoid others from making the same grave error.
The book tells the story of the time the author, John Lane, spent in Peru, engaged in the role of hospital administrator in a clinic for expectant mothers in Lima. The clinic was built by the irrepressible Senora Pandora del Tedosia Zapallo-Chupado Palermo Bonomini (try fitting that signature on the back of your credit card!) - a woman of some considerable means, for her husband the hen-pecked Dr Hermogenes. The appointment was originally for six weeks and Lane's task was to set up adminstrative systems for the clinic and train the staff who would take over the role when his time there came to an end.
What follows is an account of this trying period interspersed with descriptions of Peruvian life as the author is forced by the Senora to accompany her to various functions and social events. The book is essentially centred around La Senora, a formidable woman used to getting her own way. The Senora is a larger than life character who indulges in her primary passions while largely ignoring the practicalities of establishing a profitable business concern. When the clinic first opnes the expenses are running way over budget and the bank is concerned to see that things will soon be changing; little chance of that when the delivery room and the wards are on different floors and there is still no prospect of the lift being in operation any time soon! The Senora, meanwhile, shops like there is no tomorrow, telling the author ".....I buy only what I need...the trouble is I need everything."
The Senora insists that Lane takes more and more time off away from the clinic and so he becomes famiiar with not only the aspects of everyday life in Peru but also with the countries annual celebrations and the customs which go with them as well as highlighting some of the mmore troubling aspects to Peru - corruption in high places, poverty and so on. He attends bull fights with Dr Hermogenes - something of a bull-fighting afficionado and family weddings where he learns about Peruvian etiquette. He also learns about those things of everyday life which make Peru Peruvian;of the high number of banks and financial institutions the Senora tells him "I don't know why there are so many..no-one has any money".
It was the prospect of these interesting tit-bits of information about Peru that first attracted me to this book but I found this to be sadly lacking. I had hoped for much more of this. Instead I found there to be too much concentration on the wacky Senora and her bizarre philosophies - a person for whom I developed little sympathy, seeing her as a kind of cartoon character.
On a positive note I did find Lane's style of writing easy to read and particularly enjoyed his accounts of the festivals he attended. While there was no great attention to detail employed here (and I can see that this was not intrinsic to the story and would perhaps have been better suited to an account devoted purely to Peruvian festivals) he did inspire me to learn more about the subject - my appetite was certainly whetted.
As a book I found this to be lacking focus, it covered the escapades of the Senora, the journey of the clinic from financial difficulties to near insolvency and the author's experiences in a new country. This may be why I found it somewhat superficial and lacking in the areas in which I was most interested. If I had a suggestion to make arising from reading this, it would be for some screenplay writer to adapt it into a ninety minute one-off television comedy. Perhaps a character actress like Julie Walters to play the Senora? This at times farcical story could certainly be condensed into a promising short film with an interesting backdrop.
I think that fans of travel literature would be disappointed with this, though. An attractive scenario is let down by an unfocussed story and while the story is based on Lane's experiences in Peru I feel I can't really gripe about the plot. Although the characters may seem pretty unconvincing they clearly are real; for me though they were just a little too absurd. As an easy to read holiday book this would pleasantly occupy for a few hours but with little satisfaction at the end.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx A note on the Author
John Lane served in the Royal Navy for thirty-five years before working as a hospital administrator in Iraq during the First Gulf War. Following this he has worked in various countries on behalf of the Ryder Cheshire Foundation and the International Red Cross. He was awarded the OBE in 1995.
ISBN - 0719562090 Publisher - John Murray Available from just a couple of pounds through Amazon
Sounds like a dodgy book. Dont let it put you off peru though - a fantastic country with some amazing stuff to see - and eat too! (Does he mention that Guinea pig is a delicacy over there?) When my friend had it, it came like it had been run over by a scooter - All flat in the middle, and i swear it stared at me all the way through the meal!
Averilla 22.02.2005 21:26
So the cover's the best bit then !! Av xx
KarenUK 10.02.2005 23:48
I don't fancy reading this, but I love that cover!