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Death in the Andes: A Novel Paperback – October 2, 2007
The Valley (The Valley Trilogy)
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
Edward B. St. John, Loyola Law School Lib., Los Angeles
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
The reader encounters alternating viewpoints and layered conversations that intermingle the present and the past, forcing the reader to remain alert. Death in the Andes is structurally a mystery story in which two soldiers assigned to a barren outpost investigate the disappearance of three men. The brutal Shining Path terrorists (the Senderistas) are the natural suspect, but Corporal Lituma also mistrusts both the townspeople (largely traditional Indians) and the construction work crew building a highway across the mountains. Initially, he has little patience for talk of the pishtacos, vampire-like humans that sucked the blood and ate the melted the fat of their victims.
There are stories within stories. Young French tourists are stoned to death, rather than shot, to save bullets, and to permit others to take part in the killing. In fascination we listen to a lonely young man describe his improbable love of a prostitute. We witness a village turning upon itself and selecting victims for the Senderistas. We meet an aged, repulsive woman who in her youth helped kill a pishtacos. We gain a nebulous understanding as to why Peruvians and foreigners involved in re-forestation programs and nature preserves become prime targets for assassination.
I have already begun to read Death in the Andes again and I am searching for more writings by Mario Vargas Llosa. Although I found his portrait of contemporary Peru to be unsettling, disturbing, and haunting, Death in the Andes will appeal to the reader on many levels. It is a memorable lesson in history, in cultural conflict, and in man's inhumanity.
The novel opens with an old woman, arriving at a rural Garda station to say that her husband, a foreman on a road-building crew, has disappeared. His is the third unsolved disappearance from their small mountain village in the past three weeks. Local peasants, farmers, laborers, and Indians have provided no information to the two Garda officers, Cpl. Lituma and Tomasito, his assistant, and both men worry that they are surrounded by the terrorists they are there to monitor. Tomasito himself has escaped to the mountains to avoid death at the hands of a mob leader for whom he had recently been a bodyguard – until he fell in love with his boss’s girlfriend.
Without transition, the narrative suddenly shifts to a pair of adventuresome but naïve French tourists traveling through the Andes by bus. Even after masked men stop their bus, they believe that nothing can happen to them because “We are French tourists, senor.” Other story lines also evolve and broaden the scope. The attack on a town named Andromarca shows how the Shining Path operates, with local leaders captured and 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 the terrorists will spread their “proletarian revolution” in other directions. The attack on intellectuals and educated volunteers who work with indigenous people in the mountains becomes yet another subplot, while in still another, involving ancient cultural practices, the belief in human sacrifice to assuage the spirits becomes real.
Vargas Llosa, through his many subplots, shifting time frames, and different points of view vividly presents many aspects of life – and especially death – in the Andes in the 1980s and early 1990s. The author’s insights and ability to depict people from all walks of life as they try to deal with the hit-and-run tactics of terrorists bring this period alive again, even after almost twenty years. The “pastiche approach” to this subject, which Vargas Llosa uses to great effect, allows him to create a broad panorama of life during this fraught period, but this approach lacks the strong characterizations which most other novels use to create empathy with the main characters. In its focus on the Shining Path, however, this novel provides a rare view of a terror group and its political goals and tactics, offering an important reminder of the need for vigilance.
Told in a mosaic of voices, from Lituma to two hapless French tourists to the proprietor of the local cantina, the real mystery is the Peruvian people and their survival in the harsh terrain of the Andes amid guerrillas, poverty, political uncertainty, and superstition. Llosa delivers this story with an unflinching honesty that will keep you turning pages, horrified and yet unable to turn away.