Ciro Alegría’s panoramic novel mirrors life in the Peruvian Andes early in the twentieth century. Its many themes include defense of the downtrodden, justice, injustice, the tragedy of human life, dishonest lawyers and courts, litigation over land boundaries, suffering, villainy and heroism, and racism.
The novel’s power lies in its defense of the abused Indian populace of Rumi. The reader lives with Rumi’s people throughout the story and identifies with them. Unforgettable is the noble old leader of Rumi, Rosendo Maquis, and his efforts, ideals, character, misfortunes, and death. Grave and good like the community of Rumi itself, Rosendo incarnates his people, who are idealized by Alegría. The dark night and demise of Rumi are ably painted by Alegría, giving the novel an epic reach. Besides its many regionalist qualities, moreover, Broad and Alien Is the World has a well-developed plot and generally convincing characterization that rank it as one of the better contributions to the literature of indianismo, which defends the Indian peoples of Latin America. The plot reaches a final crescendo with the destruction of Rumi and all that the recently murdered Rosendo stands for; but the noble Rosendo, his wife the pathetic Pascuala, black-clad Fiero Vasquez, and Benito Castro still live and stand out in the reader’s memory.
Alegría’s language is poetic, lively, and colorful. He uses standard Spanish laced with occasional regionalisms, including Quechua words, to good effect. Dialogue is authentic. The novel is also unwieldy, structurally chaotic, and lacking in careful planning (owing to its hasty composition; it was completed in a matter of months).
Geography is always a silent presence in the novel. At times, it is almost a dominant character, reflecting the fact of the importance of geography in Peru’s culture. One sees the lofty Andean sierra with its crisp, thin air, its gaunt landscapes, sparse vegetation, and rocky soil, and pastel Rumi with its cobbled, wind-swept streets and huddled houses. Rumi’s people grow potatoes and tend their llamas, but they chew coca to cope with hunger and the cold, and their chests are like those of pouter pigeons since the air has so little oxygen.
Alegría was born and reared on a hacienda in the same region in which he sets his novel. Although his parents were his first teachers, he later credited the whole Peruvian people with having molded him and caused him to understand their grief. An Indian wet nurse cradled him in her arms and taught him to walk; he played as a child with Indian children and later saw things that he could not...
(The entire section is 1081 words.)