In an isolated community in the Peruvian Andes, a series of mysterious disappearances has occurred. Army corporal Lituma and his deputy Tomás believe the Shining Path guerrillas are responsible, but the townspeople have their own ideas about the forces that claimed the bodies of the missing men. This riveting novel is filled with unforgettable characters, among them disenfranchised Indians, eccentric local folk, and a couple performing strange cannibalistic sacrifices. As the investigation progresses, Tomás entertains Lituma with the surreal tale of a precarious love affair.
Death in the Andes is both a fascinating detective novel and an insightful political allegory. Mario Vargas Llosa offers a panoramic view of Peruvian society, from the recent social upheaval to the cultural influences in its past.
It’s only March and already I’ve read novels from four different Nobel prize for literature winners, which is entirely coincidental but well worth doing. This is my first Llosa book and it did not in any way disappoint but added to that great tradition of South American writers with powerful stories to tell.
Books like this are always a challenge to review, layered with so many hidden meanings and ideas that are both immediate and yet also obscure. There is a war going on in Peru, not only with unseen guerilla groups who each have their own political ideology that they wish to impose on the country but also where progress meets old ideas and superstitions.
The story takes place in the middle of nowhere, a road is being built and people are going missing, Lituma and Tomásito the local police are investigating, all the while waiting for the seemingly inevitable surprise attack by insurgents. It’s a story shot through with brooding tension and paranoia due to their isolation; where the reader as well as the characters all wait for the storm of violence to hit. It’s palpable and always feel very immediate whilst gives the book a heavy feeling which makes it more compelling to find out what will happen in the course of the investigations.
The boundaries of real life and the myths of mountain Gods become blurred as people use the old traditions for their own ends, something that is always easier to do when surrounded by poverty of the physical but also educational kind. Each character is well drawn and portrays their beliefs, the key few get some neat flashbacks as well allowing us to see how they ended up in the dead-end Naccos, a lonely place for people perceived to have failed and whose main internal war is to fight off boredom and try to come to terms with the danger lurking outside the small community.
Despite a few Peruvian words and names, which I just had to look up being a completionist and all – which did help me understand what was going on more and so enhance the reading experience and is worthwhile for anybody generally interested in Peru – the plot flows smoothly and manages to packs a lot of content in. It’s superbly realised on all fronts from the political to the mystic and the awareness of one’s own self and ultimately subjective place in the grand scheme of things.
Containing mystery, social commentary (of the time), violence, the belief in something ‘other’, love and the fear of being forgotten; the complexly woven strands of the story grabbed me straight away and pulled me into the mysterious disappearances and the varied lives of the cast in all their pain and beauty. With some wonderfully described scenery and an atmosphere of anxiety which this reader bought into entirely. Ultimately the book is a great response from Llosa about the state of his country at that time and a novel of impressive scope which stands the test of time.