Lily Tuck's vivid, intriguing, but disjointed novel the newly crowned winner of the National Book Award begins in 1854 when Ella Lynch, a gorgeous Parisian courtesan, follows her new lover, Franco Lopez (the real-life future dictator of Paraguay), to South America. Tuck brings to life the lush, sensual, and brutal world of 19th-century Paraguay, where peasants live in mud hovels and Ella raises her children by Franco in a pink marble palace. Franco, meanwhile, keeps busy entertaining his many mistresses, seizing power, imprisoning his siblings, and driving the country into a cataclysmic war with Brazil. Alas, no strong, compelling plot ever emerges. Constantly shifting its focus between several dozen scattered characters from Ella's saucy French maid to an American minister in Paraguay to a syphilitic wet nurse The News From Paraguay never quite jells.