Irish-born writer Eric Lawlor spent three months in the cities and hinterlands of Bolivia, striving to discover why the country had fascinated his late father. He presents a vivid portrait of a society disintegrating through the combined effects of poverty, ignorance, corruption and misgovernment. (Since it achieved independence in 1825, Bolivia has had 16 constitutions and 250 governments.) Lawlor is a keen, often funny observer; unlike Paul Theroux, he writes with sympathy and affection about the people he encounters. He recognizes the beauty of the clear, starry nights on the altiplano , but is more deeply moved by the plight of the Indians who eke out a squalid existence farming its borax-tainted soil or mining its nearly worthless tin. Valuable reading for anyone interested in the human stories that underlie the cocaine trade and Third World debt crisis.