Confession, I bought this book because my sister-in-law is Peruvian, and the author is a Nobel Prize Winner from Peru. Other than that, meh, I wasn’t sure what it would have in store for me. We all know my reluctance to read books by Nobel Laureates. Or perhaps you don’t. In that case, I generally find books written by Nobel Prize winners to be pretentious and not that great. There are a few exceptions, but this wasn’t one of them. In fact, this book has turned me off Peruvian novels for a long, long while.
The book begins in a lonely Andean outpost where one corporal and his deputy are entrusted to keep a mining town safe from the Shining Path. Then people start disappearing and no one wants to talk. Sounds like a great premise, right? Oh, SO disappointing. Llosa likes to tell his stories moving between characters and time periods sometimes in the middle of a paragraph and often without any indication of what has just happened. So basically it is one long drug trip that is confusing. When Llosa sticks with one story, it isn’t horrible. Often his imagery is good, but he never sticks with something long enough to get invested. Eventually I was wanting every character to go missing so I could stop reading the book. Sadly, no, not everyone died. I did learn more about certain Andean superstitions that my sister-in-law assured me were accurate, like the guy who sucks fat out of people and they die (what the ?).
I thought perhaps the translation might have been the problem, but after some further research (by research I mean I asked my brother who’d read some Llosa in Spanish) I discovered that even in his native tongue Llosa likes to flit back and forth without warning. In the end I might recommend this book if a person has a deep interest in Peruvian folklore but that is it. Its description of the Shining Path and their activities might have been emotionally impacting, but not necessarily historically accurate.