Señor Vivo & The Coca Lord by Louis de Bernières
Incredibly, I first read this book 19 years ago. The main reason I felt the need to revisit Señor Vivo & The Coca Lord is because I was recently asked who my favourite literary couple is. Anica Morena and Dionisio Vivo instantly came to mind. The first time I read this book I vividly remember reading a particularly dramatic moment while on the bus and bursting into tears. A man came over to console me and was thoroughly disgusted that my outburst was related to fictional characters. I didn’t call him a Philistine, but I thought about it.
It’s funny this book. The humour jumps out at you through the dialogue and descriptions of ridiculous situations at the highest levels of government. The book overflows with deep insights about human nature but more particularly, the mind-set of the villain. But lurking beneath the humour is the weight of governmental corruption and how its collusion with the villains infests every aspect of the personal including the well-being of communities.
I was devastated all over again when I saw Anica battling with her love for Dionisio against the certain knowledge that her family were in danger while she remained with him. Because I came to the book with foreknowledge I was expecting the shock and horror of the episode which changes our main character Dionisio Vivo’s naïve attitude so completely. When I first read the book the surprise of the event hit me like a bullet ripping through flesh. Now I see the mastery of the writing style – lulling the reader into a false sense of security as Dionisio unwittingly outmanoeuvres his opponent’s every move. But de Bernières slams home the point that life is not a fairy tale where our hero always beats the villain. This second reading of that one earth-shattering event in Dionisio’s life was as heartrending as it was on the first reading. The power of it lies in the matter of fact account of what happens alongside the dramatic irony of Dionisio’s lack of knowledge.
My favourite descriptions in the book are those about daily life in the fabled city of Cochadebajo de los Gatos. I find myself wanting to move here so I can spend my days doing exactly what I love while having the opportunity to stroke the amazing black jaguars whenever I like.
During the reading of Señor Vivo & The Coca Lord I was reminded of how much I loved reading several of de Bernières’ novels so I’m planning on rereading yet another – Corelli’s Mandolin. If you have as yet not read one of Louis de Bernières’ books, I recommend that you start with this.