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Death in the Andes – Mario Vargas Llosa

13 Mar

OnTheEndOfYourWristiesIn 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.

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38 Comments

Posted by on 13/03/2016 in Fiction

 

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38 responses to “Death in the Andes – Mario Vargas Llosa

  1. Sarah

    13/03/2016 at 19:51

    This sounds like a corker! I picked up one of his novels – ‘The Feast of The Goat’, as one of my armchair travel reads which I then just shelved. After reading your review I shall dig it out for a read asap!

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    • Ste J

      13/03/2016 at 20:01

      I hear good things about ‘the goat one’, I’m looking forward to more of his works now. I suppose when it said Nobel prize and literature in the same sentence I should have expected a treat but you can never tell with authors we haven’t experienced yet. I polished this one off in little over a day, such was my need to find out more about the country and ultimately the climax of the book.

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  2. Lyn

    13/03/2016 at 23:11

    Looks like one to add to my ever growing “to read” list ~sigh~ :/

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    • Ste J

      14/03/2016 at 13:10

      I try to feel bad for giving you choice but secretly I delight in it and laugh manically whilst writing my reviews (with lightening flashing outside the window and dramatic organ music accompanying as well).

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • Lyn

        15/03/2016 at 02:33

        LOL I can just imagine it 😀

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  3. Resa

    14/03/2016 at 00:03

    This sounds interesting to me, as I have been to Peru. (of the time) ? What is the time era? It sounds contemporary, but what have I missed?
    Also, do you write the synopsis pieces before your opinion?

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    • Ste J

      14/03/2016 at 13:21

      The era is around the 80’s and 90’s, the book was written in ’93 and so was extremely topical at the time. I have no idea about Peruvian politics today though, although I do try and follow the football whenever I look at the scores. I copy and paste the synopsis from book sites unless they either give to much away or are too differently written to the copy I have. I like to show the cover of the book I read and the accompanying blurb so if other readers have read different versions they can venture opinions on theirs if they wish. It’s more helpful for translated books but thinking about it all books are translated somewhere so it applies to all books really.

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  4. clarepooley33

    14/03/2016 at 00:36

    This sounds like a good read Ste. Another for the ‘to be read’ list I think!

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    • Ste J

      14/03/2016 at 13:24

      Make more room! I am amassing plenty of recently read and older books to keep mixing it up with some obscure and popular works in there.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  5. shadowoperator

    14/03/2016 at 11:56

    Hi, Ste J! Happy Almost-Spring morning! Though of course it’s not morning now where you are. I have never read the book you are mentioning, but I did start Llosa’s “The Green House,” and it was very gripping, though long. I’m not sure now exactly why I didn’t finish it, perhaps it too was one of the books I had to put away when I packed up the rest of them. It was quite interesting, though, what I remember of it, and if you are still looking for another Llosa to read, I would recommend it. In the meantime, maybe I will find a library website copy of it to read so as to be ready for a post on it (from you, of course!)..

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    • Ste J

      14/03/2016 at 13:36

      Happy Almost Spring (insert time of day) to you too! I shall have to check more Llosa out, I did wander into the shop the other day but ended up being distracted by Polish, Chinese and Indian writers instead, still there were plenty of Llosa books there so I will be heading back there soon to get my sticky paws on them. The Green House does sound good though, I will give you a chance to read it first, as I am polite like that.

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  6. Elizabeth Melton Parsons

    14/03/2016 at 13:24

    I love mysteries and your review made this one sound irresistible. I found a used hardback copy on Amazon and can’t wait to read it. Thanks, my friend. Hope all is well. 🙂

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    • Ste J

      14/03/2016 at 13:41

      Excellent, I do hope you enjoy it, it does have a lot of layers and it simmers with fear. All is well with me, the sun is shining and my book (Great Expectations) is really good, I can’t ask for anything more. I hope life is similarly pleasant for you?

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  7. Jilanne Hoffmann

    14/03/2016 at 17:54

    This is one I’ve been meaning to read for awhile. I must move it higher up on the TBR pile. I spent a brief period of time traveling alone in Peru during the era of the Shining Path. It was an experience that sent me down my current writing path.

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    • Ste J

      15/03/2016 at 08:43

      Wow that was an incredibly brave move, the story will resonate a lot more with you than it did for me and I found it an intense read. I am thankful that you came back safe and we met blogging and that I could learn another fact about you. Did you come across any trouble whilst you were out and about there?

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • Jilanne Hoffmann

        15/03/2016 at 18:02

        Well, yes. As a young, single, blonde woman, I knew I was in a different world when the customs agent hugged me as he processed my passport and wished me “mucho amor en Peru.” Later, I was mugged. Tear-gassed during a demonstration. Stayed in hostels that didn’t have running water after 9pm. Didn’t have hot water at all. Blackouts. Lots of civil unrest. When I was ill and late to the train to Machu Picchu, I flagged down a taxi driver who took me to the top of the switchbacks above Cuzco. He sang an aria as he drove. When I paid him, he asked “Placído Domingo, sí?” “Sí” I said. We smiled and parted. I hopped onto the moving train and headed to Machu Picchu. That night, on the way back via bus, we stopped to help another bus that had caught fire. We took on a couple of passengers, one of whom was an older gentleman, who began talking with me. He was there for work with an oil company, so when I fell out of the bus and hurt my back, he took me to his very nice hotel, stayed in the bar while I took a hot shower to soothe the pain in his hotel room, then he took me out to a nice restaurant, and walked me to my hostel. When he dropped me off, he kissed me on the cheek and wished me well on my journey. There are other stories, some of them I’ve told at Britt Skrabanek’s “Life Enthusiast Chronicles.”They include meeting a guardian angel. 😀 Here’s the link: http://brittskrabanek.com/2015/08/18/the-life-enthusiast-chronicles-with-jilanne/

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        • Ste J

          17/03/2016 at 21:21

          Hugging I say, I shall write a complaint to the US customs people for being so miserable and abrasive. That is a fantastic bunch of experiences both here and on Britt’s blog. That is what life is like in microcosm, bad things happen and good people stop by and life is a rich experience. I loved reading about your escapades, they really, really make me want to travel again and be sung to as well, that would be nice too.

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          • Jilanne Hoffmann

            17/03/2016 at 21:30

            Yes, I didn’t enjoy coming back into the US after traveling for so long. The customs agents gave me a hard time. Abrasive was the least of it. The Peruvian taxi driver did have a nice voice. So many different kinds of professionals were driving taxis at that time. One man was an engineer, another a university student.

            Pack those bags and go! What are you waiting for? 😀

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            • Ste J

              17/03/2016 at 21:39

              On my second time through I was held up for two hours, presumably because I had a beard and was travelling alone, I was also asked what a blog was in the course of an interview to which I was quite flummoxed and had to relinquish my self appointed title of man of words to a man from the Balkans who spoke little English. Still it’s these little encounters that are good to write about.

              It all seems like a different world these days. I would love to go again, maybe I will just pop up in a random country one day and blog from there to take you by surprise.

              Liked by 1 person

               
  8. Liz Dexter

    15/03/2016 at 16:34

    I think I’ve read one by him, can’t think which, though … well, I thought I’d read “Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter” but I can’t find a review so maybe I didn’t finish it. Hm. I’m not hugely keen on the South American writers, but I shouldn’t dismiss them all, so will make a note of this one.

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    • Ste J

      17/03/2016 at 20:57

      Not a fan! I am intrigued what is it that puts you off, there are so many wonderful authors from that part of the world. I journey there too frequently to the detriment of other places which I am now trying to rectify.

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      • Liz Dexter

        18/03/2016 at 14:47

        I think it’s the magical realism stuff, something I just don’t like. And then a lot are enmeshed with the political and social struggles the countries have been through, so too much subject matter that I can’t deal with. I’m the same with African novels, too, yet happy as anything to read Indian / SE Asian books …

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        • Ste J

          19/03/2016 at 12:05

          There does seem a curious mix of magical realism from South and Mesoamerica, Death in the Andes doesn’t go in for the magical realism angle. There is plenty of politics here though and I did find a cursory read of Wikipedia helped me with the basics. I have some Indian and Southeast Asian books that will be reviewed soon if I get my act together.

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  9. Maniparna Sengupta Majumder

    15/03/2016 at 20:42

    It sounds really intriguing! Mystery as well as a political allegory, the concoction is perfect. The cover is quite unique, too. I’ll try to get it … 🙂

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    • Ste J

      16/03/2016 at 09:43

      I love covers like this that throw an extreme photo of a different culture at the potential reader. It is a really strong book, you will get lots out of it.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • Maniparna Sengupta Majumder

        16/03/2016 at 20:45

        True, the cover is capable of piquing interest. Though we are said not to judge a book by its cover, but you just can’t ignore the impact of a nice cover… 🙂

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        • Ste J

          17/03/2016 at 20:51

          It is hard not to reach out for some of those beautifully bound books that turn up sometimes. If I see a cover with books on it, I have to pick it up, it must be a mild form of OCD.

          Liked by 1 person

           
  10. macjam47

    17/03/2016 at 01:57

    You write such amazing reviews, my friend. I cringe at violence, so I will have to think hard about whether to put this in my TBR.

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    • Ste J

      17/03/2016 at 20:44

      There is the odd grim bit, I suppose I am a little inured to it as I do tend to watch a lot of cheaply made serious British films but it is rewarding and the threat of violence is much more in play and the scenes of such are infrequent if that helps. Your TBR will be relieved to have breathing space I suspect hehe.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  11. Andrea Stephenson

    20/03/2016 at 20:57

    This sounds wonderful based on your review Ste, which was lyrical and philosophical in itself!

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    • Ste J

      26/03/2016 at 16:14

      That is very kind of you, I write what I read and if it comes back as a decent bit of work I am happy. If I wanted it to meet my own high standards I wouldn’t have posted anything lol. Not only is it a good read but I learnt things as well and now I want to know about all countries and their histories which so often gets lost in my desire to know other things.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  12. Seyi sandra

    24/03/2016 at 23:46

    This is one book I can read within a day, I’m going to the library tomorrow, I could get lucky.

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    • Ste J

      26/03/2016 at 15:56

      I hope you managed to get it, it is a good read, it will leave you wishing to read his other books though!

      Liked by 1 person

       
  13. anna amundsen

    01/04/2016 at 12:52

    Borges, Márquez, Fuentes, Cortázar, Paz, Llosa.. All very serious, masterful writers.
    I read only Llosa’s The Dream of the Celt. I have to read more!

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    • Ste J

      01/04/2016 at 16:32

      A couple on that list haven’t come onto my book shelves yet, I will seek them out, I did manage to get a Hannah Arendt book on antisemitism which is totally off track but I now have yet another reason to shop again.

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