Imprisoned in his native Peru for his liberal, antidictatorial convictions and political activism, then exiled to neighboring Chile, Ciro Alegría wrote the three prizewinning novels that echoed around the world as a powerful voice for the rights of the oppressed and exploited Indians of his native country. These novelas indigenistas (indigenist novels, so called because they deal with the problems of the indigenous peoples of Latin America) are lyric, direct, and honest, portraying the hard lives of the Indians and cholos (those of mixed Indian and white blood) of the Andes with deep sympathy and condemning the actions of their persecutors. His third novel, Broad and Alien Is the World, was awarded the Latin American Novel Prize in 1941. Despite this tremendous beginning, however, Alegría did not continue to write novels, and, apart from his posthumously published works—including Lázaro, which he wrote in Cuba in 1953 and never quite finished—these three first novels remain his entire opus in the genre.
Though written with freshness and vigor, Alegría’s novels were in a style reminiscent of the best nineteenth century fiction, and so to a later, post-World War II generation, which witnessed the rise of a new, technically more sophisticated school of Latin American fiction, Alegría’s indigenist realism seemed too one-dimensional and too undisciplined structurally. Unfortunately, this postwar reappraisal kept the author from writing any further novels, and so from 1941 until 1963, Alegría went into a period of total literary silence. Indeed, his novels do have a loose, rather jumbled structure, yet they also have great emotional and aesthetic impact because they portray a sector of human life with great credibility and humanitarianism and because they are vibrant with the author’s commitment to human rights.