Paraguay: Quest for 'The Missing Bourdain'

What did Anthony learn in Paraguay?
What did Anthony learn in Paraguay?

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What did Anthony learn in Paraguay? 01:30

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  • Bourdain goes looking for the story of his long-lost great-great-grandfather in Paraguay

(CNN)A lot of people have ventured to Paraguay over the years in search of some sort of a dream. My great-great-grandfather, Jean Bourdain, was one of them.

I've looked for this mysterious ancestor before -- in Uruguay, with my younger brother Chris. We were disappointed when our trail ran cold. We were left with a cryptic reference to the news that Jean had died in Asuncion, Paraguay.
Which raised the questions: "What the hell was he doing in Paraguay?" And "Where is Paraguay, anyway?"
    CNN ROOTS: Bourdain family mystery
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    CNN ROOTS: Bourdain family mystery 06:25
    It's certainly a country few of us know much about. Landlocked by its better-known neighbors, Paraguay is probably best known for being a hideout for escaped Nazis and for a succession of truly spectacularly lurid, out-of-a-comic-book dictatorships -- the last being the administration of Gen. Alfredo Stroessner.
    It's certainly a country few of us know much about. Landlocked by its better-known neighbors, Paraguay is probably best known for being a hideout for escaped Nazis and for a succession of truly spectacularly lurid, out-of-a-comic-book dictatorships -- the last being the administration of Gen. Alfredo Stroessner.
    When I first looked at the possibility of making a television show there, many years ago, descriptions of the country by visitors were not promising: crime, corruption, counterfeiters, failed institutions, looted banks -- in short, a backwater.
    I thought I'd use the dubious quest for "The Missing Bourdain" as the spine of a show, a framework to investigate one of the least-known nations in the Americas.
    Late night grub in Paraguay
    Late night grub in Paraguay

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    My crew, looking at various storytelling structures, settled on the terrific film "The Limey" as a rough template. In that film, Terence Stamp, playing a just-out-of-prison career criminal, voyages to Los Angeles in search of answers after the death of his daughter.
    In this week's "Parts Unknown" episode, I explore Paraguay (and my family's past) in similar nonlinear fashion. It's an amazing-looking show. Everybody who worked on it, handcrafted it, is convinced it's some of their best work.
    What I found out -- about Paraguay, about my family -- surprised me. I hope it entertains you.