cover image In the Land of God and Man: Confronting Our Sexual Culture

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

Silvana Paternostro. Dutton Books, $25.95 (326pp) ISBN 978-0-525-94422-5

In an elegantly written, sophisticated analysis of Latin American culture--from Bogot to New York--Paternostro illuminates intersecting debates over gender, sexuality, Catholicism, Latin tradition, law and AIDS. In her world, law and Church conspire: poor women perform their own ""abortions"" with Coca-Cola bottles, papaya stalks or wire, while young ladies of the elite have secret surgeries in Europe or the U.S. followed by hymen reconstruction, considered a routine ""cosmetic"" surgery. Paternostro, a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute who has written for the Washington Post and the Nation, also interviewed transvestite prostitutes (who ""service average men"" in a culture where bisexuality is common but hidden) to understand Latin male reliance on machismo (""having sex with a man is the uttermost expression of manhood,"" but only for the ""active"" partner) and their blindness to the dangers inherent in their behavior. Racism, homophobia and chauvinism intertwine, she finds, to keep women, gay men and darker Latins at bay. Throughout, Paternostro deftly and provocatively draws on her own experience. A daughter of Colombian elites who describes herself as ""white"" (but later revises this to ""cafe con leche"") and who takes inspiration from Machiavelli, Paternostro aims to educate women and to inspire their political activism, to transform ""empowerment"" into more than ""words in academic papers."" Spanish colloquialisms flow smoothly in and out of the narrative, which is written in English (because, as the U.S.-educated Paternostro explains, it is ""easier to talk about sex"" in English). In whatever language, hers is a beautifully written and astute analysis of complex matters. (Nov.)