Of the many novelists of Ecuador, perhaps the best known internationally is the social realist Jorge Icaza (ee-KAH-sah), whose works denounce the shameless exploitation of the Indians. While still a university student, Icaza and several classmates, with his wife Marina Moncayo as leading lady, barnstormed the nearby villages with a repertory of old Spanish farces and Icaza’s own comedies. His popularity diminished in 1931 when he began writing serious plays. When he announced the completion of a dramatization of Jules Romains’s Le Dictateur (1926) in 1933, the performance was forbidden by the government. Only then did Icaza turn to writing novels.
The great success of his first attempt, The Villagers, confirmed him in his choice of genre. The work was translated into six languages, including Russian and Chinese. After that, though he did such dramatic sketches as Flagelo (the scourge), his chief work was novel writing and running a bookstore in Quito.
Huasipungo, the original title of The Villagers, is a Quechua term for a plot of land that the indigenous Andean Indian farm workers received for their own use. In his novel. Icaza denounces the suffering and exploitation of these dispossessed people. The didactic work became one of the best-known examples of the early indigenista literature and of Latin American socialist realism.
Icaza’s first novel was followed by En las calles (in the streets), which won a national prize. Cholos (half-breeds) is characterized by stark realism, and Huairapamushcas (children of the wind) depicts the Indians as scarcely above the level of animals, debased by their white overlords. His later work, Seis relatos (six tales), is told naturalistically and shows dramatic incidents building to a savage climax.