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Category Archive for 'Peru'

Delightful, playful, clever, and humorous, Spanish author Juan Gomez Barcena’s debut novel is also consummately literary, telling a story on several levels at once but doing so while maintaining the atmosphere of a college prank. Two university students who are also members of the moneyed elite in Lima, Peru, in 1904, are anxious to obtain the newest book of poetry written by Juan Ramon Jimenez, a much-admired twenty-four-year-old writer in Spain who has been publishing lyrical poetry to international acclaim. Though twenty-year-old Carlos Rodriguez and Jose Galvez consider themselves poets, too, they have been writing to no acclaim; few others from their college find their work interesting or original. Poet Jimenez eventually goes on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1956, while no one now remembers the names of Carlos Rodriguez and Jose Galvez, except for their possible creation of a letter-writing hoax regarding the world-famous poet Jimenez, the hoax described in this book. In the course of the novel, one of the writers of the letters – and the reader – come to a new recognition, stunned by the power of narrative and poetry to affect lives on many levels in a novel which started as fun and concludes in serious contemplation about writing and its power.

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In this most recent novel, Mario Vargas Llosa returns to a simpler narrative style and plot scheme from what he used in his previous, more complex biographical novel, The Dream of the Celt, the story of Irish revolutionary Roger Casement, set in the Congo, the Peruvian Amazon, and Ireland in 1916. In The Discreet Hero, by contrast, the author writes for the sake of the story itself and the lessons it provides – an old-fashioned story in the sense that we read it to find out what happens to Peruvian characters with whom we can identify as they act like ordinary people solving problems which reflect the reality of their settings – in this case, Piura, a village in the northwest corner of Peru, and Lima, Peru’s capital and major city. The “story” here is actually two parallel narratives, running in alternating chapters and involving two characters, each of whom tries to be “discreet.” In the first plot, Felicito Yanaque, the owner of the Narihuala Transport Company, manages fleets of buses which operate throughout Piura, a village near the Pacific Ocean in the northwest corner of Peru. Felicito, fifty-five, takes great pride in his work, always remembering his father’s dying words: “Never let anybody walk all over you, son. This advice is the only inheritance you’ll have.” When he leaves for the office on this most important day, however, he finds, attached to his door, a letter demanding $500 a month for protection against “being ravaged and vandalized by resentful, envious people and other undesirable types.” He must, of course, be discreet. This novel written for the pure pleasure of writing it, is an entertainment on all levels for a reader looking for pure enjoyment, a rare commodity these days.

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Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa continues to speak out politically in yet another realistic and uncompromising novel set in his home country of Peru. In this novel, he brings the reader face to face with the horrors of the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso), a Maoist terror group operating in the mountains of Peru from the early 1980s to the mid-1990s, with seemingly few direct challenges from the government. The novel’s sense of immediacy, enhanced by vivid descriptions of real events affecting real people, provides a close-up look at the tactics, including massacres, used by the Shining Path in the central and southern mountains of Peru, where they attacked indigenous Indian peasants, all foreigners, all educated Peruvians working to improve the lives of the peasants by providing better services, and anyone representing the government or police. Local peasants, farmers, laborers, and Indians avoid Tomas and Lituma, and both men worry that they are surrounded by the terrorists they are there to monitor. The attack on a town named Andromarca (similar to the attack of the real community of Lucanamarca in 1983, which was the single largest massacre by Shining Path) shows exactly how the Shining Path operates, with all local leaders captured, many killed, young children sent off to join the Shining Path militia, public executions, stonings, and the attempt to establish a support base there from which they will spread their “proletarian revolution” in other directions.

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As a boy in Trujillo, Peru, Victor Sobrevilla Paniagua has his fortune told one Sunday, in the plaza just outside the local basilica. A fortune-teller, with a miniature cathedral on his cart, has trained a monkey to draw fortunes from small drawers in the façade of the little cathedral. When Victor and his aunt receive his fortune, they see no ironies in the fact that Don Victor had just gone to Mass and confession and that this fortune is drawn by a monkey from a toy cathedral. Both believe in the inscribed destiny: “Beware! There are those who think you a dreamer. Pay them no mind. They are small-minded people… who would have you doubt your goals.” Victor eventually goes to engineering school, doing his apprenticeship with a papermaker, and eventually building a factory in the Peruvian jungle, where his employees make cellophane. This discovery leads to the fulfillment of the dire predictions of the second half of his childhood fortune—and to the action of this novel, which is divided into three “plagues.” A “plague of truth” follows the discovery of cellophane, as each character, including the priest, confesses his/her romantic indiscretions. A “plague of hearts” follows, with each person pursuing new love or rekindling old love. Ultimately, a “plague of revolution” comes to Floralinda, as government soldiers invade Floralinda, and local workers blame Don Victor and his cellophane for these troubles. Ironies abound. Expansive in scope and theme but magnificently controlled in its execution, Cellophane is thoroughly entertaining, filled with humor and irony and many hilarious scenes. Reminiscent of the work of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

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Mario Vargas Llosa opens this fictionalized biography of Roger Casement as Casement’s awaits a decision on his application for clemency from a death sentence. As he reconstructs Casement’s life as a reformer and advocate for benighted native populations being exploited by various countries and corporations, he returns again and again to Casement throughout the novel as he rethinks every aspect of his life. Casement concludes, in most cases, that he acted honorably – or tried to. An advocate for indigenous populations exploited by governments and corporations, Casement has revealed the horrors of the Congo under the rule of Leopold II, and of Amazonia at the turn of the century, when a Peruvian entrepreneur controls vast quantities of land over which he had total control. His rubber company has many London investors. Ultimately, Casement believes that the Irish who are being ruled by the British have similar problems to indigenous populations, and he acts against the British and must face the consequences.

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