In the Land of God and Man

In the Land of God and Man: Confronting Our Sexual Culture by Silvana Paternostro

publication date: 1998
pages: 326
ISBN: 0-525-94422-2

In In the Land of God and Man, Paternostro wove memoir and investigative journalism together as she discussed the perils of machismo in the Latin culture.

I loved the tone of this book and Paternostro’s voice. She was like a best friend telling me all these secrets, not because she wanted to but because she felt like they had to be told. Paternostro didn’t flinch from describing her own experiences and her own contributions to machismo culture.  She also didn’t hesitate to explore her moral quandaries concerning her subject matter and her investigative and interviewing techniques.  Here is a deliberation she had while interviewing a poor woman in a loveless, abusive marriage who seemed resigned to her fate and didn’t care about the feminist marches and meetings going on around her:

I knew that, no, Josefa had no idea what I was talking about, and that it was naive of me to try and engage her in a feminist dialogue. Shouldn’t I stop holding her responsible? She was too busy making ends meet, supporting her husband and taking care of her children. Civil liberties and political representation were not things she had time to be concerned with. Would I, if I had to worry about my husband keeping his job, coming home drunk or not at all, crawling into my bed after having paid for sex?

Paternostro’s questions about her own methods and motivations were refreshing. There were a few times, however, when her tone became presumptuous or hypocritical. For example, even though she paid lip service to the idea that transvestites were a maligned and underrepresented group in Latin America, she generalized about them and disdained their lifestyle:

Transvestites want to be as feminine as their [hair-styling] clients. They want to be beauty queens and señoras de sociedad. The hands plucking their clients’ eyebrows and dying their hair do it so well because the owners of those hands dream of having their clients’ lives.

Another issue with the book was its organization. Although most of the information Paternostro presented was interesting, it was disjointed. She would go from transvestites to street children to a housewife with AIDS, all in a couple pages. The book also was somewhat repetitive, although that is just something I’ve come to expect from nonfiction books.

Finally, the book, which was published in 1998, was sometimes outdated. Of course, Paternostro’s personal experiences and the interviews she presented could never be considered outdated because they are and always will be the facts of someone’s life. However, some of her data was no longer accurate, especially concerning Latin American laws that support a machismo culture.

If I reviewed this book when it first came out, I would give it a 5/6 because it was enlightening and stimulating; however, because parts of it are outdated, I’m giving it a:

4/6: worth reading

other reviews:

Foreign Affairs
Publishers Weekly
L.A. Times

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