At first I was intrigues with this book. The writing is descriptive and the details of life in Paris and South America at the end of the 19th century were interesting. The characters weren't very likeable (a woman who has renamed and reinvented herself several times, who is selfish and oblivious, and a man who views women mostly as an avenue for sex), but it was still fairly compelling.
The man (Franco), a young, egotistical and somewhat cruel diplomat from Paraguay, pursues the woman (Ella), quickly winning her and taking her to Paraguay along with her beloved horse, her maid, and a Spanish woman to teach Ella the language. His plan is to remake Paraguay when his father dies and he rules. Based on real events with some fictional characters thrown in, the story charts the stupidity and pig-headedness of Franco as, unprovoked, he goes to war against his neighbor Brazil, conscripting first all the men he can find, then the boys, and finally the women and the girls. Pretty much everyone dies and there is passage after graphic passage detailing the tortures, the rapes, the starvation, and the madness that ensue. About half way through, I had to start skimming because it was all so repetitive and crass. I could see they were all going to die and I didn't need the details of each specific death, especially of the children. The only death I read with relish was the death of Franco. I'm glad I skimmed so much and I wish I'd started skimming earlier or had perhaps never opened the damn thing at all.