Death In The Andes, by Mario Vargas Llosa (Peru)
One of the best things about novels is that everyone takes something different from them, which becomes apparent in discussions or reviews and which, as you read these divergent opinions, encourage you to slowly absorb and savour what you have read so that your own opinions can settle. Had I read reviews of Death In The Andes online, I wouldn’t have picked it up in the book shop; as I’m trying to read only one book per country I’d have gone for Aunt Julia and the Script Writer instead which is almost universally admired. As it is, I decided that Death In The Andes sounded like an intriguing read (seduced by the publisher’s carefully selected glowing reviews) and that was the one I took home.
I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed it – most other reviewers don’t seem to be overly impressed with it for a variety of reasons, many of which are precisely the reasons I enjoyed it so much. Death In The Andes was written at the tail end of Peru’s Shining Path rebellion (which is ‘fuelling Lima’s literary revolution’ according to an article in the Guardian last week) and touches on many themes – politics, crimes of passion (political and otherwise), superstition, love, deception, rural society, to name a few. Set, as the name suggests, in the Andes, the novel follows a member of the Civil Guard who has to solve some unexplained local disappearances, surrounded by hostile rebels, unfriendly mountain people and ancient Incan myths. Llosa plays with the narrative, allowing memories and reality to intrude on each other and distort perception which can be both very comic but also quite unsettling. I basically found this a very thought provoking novel (even if a lot of the thoughts did revolve around how awful Communist revolutions invariably are), and a very gripping one – and it is quite probable that it isn’t possible to get further removed from the magical realism which numerous South American authors are known for, which makes for a sharp contrast with my previous reading.