Ciro Alegría (ahl-ay-GREE-ah), the internationally prominent Peruvian novelist, short-story writer, journalist, and teacher, was born in 1909 at Hacienda Quilca, his maternal grandfather’s estate near Sartimbamba in northern Peru. He was the eldest of the five children of José and Maria Herminia Bazán Alegría. At age seven, he made the long journey to Trujillo to live with his paternal grandmother and attend school at the Colegio Nacional de San Juan, where his teacher was the renowned poet César Vallejo. Alegría contracted malaria and returned to the mountains to recuperate, completing his primary education in the Andean town of Cajabamba. He spent the year of 1923 on his paternal grandfather’s estate, Marcabal Grande, before returning to Trujillo for high school. He said later that this yearlong adventure of living and laboring with Indian and mestizo workers was crucial to his later identification with the country dwellers of Peru and with the plants and animals central to their lives.
During his high school years in Trujillo, Alegría wrote stories and poems, and he began to take great interest in political reform movements. He was particularly convinced by the ideas of José Carlos Mariátegui, who advocated major changes which would improve the condition of Indians. Alegría became interested in journalism, began to edit the student newspaper, and started to publish articles in the newspaper El Norte. In 1930 he enrolled in the National University of Trujillo and helped to found the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA) political party. In 1931 Alegría and others were jailed and tortured for their participation in what was deemed a subversive movement. When an APRA-sponsored uprising took control of Trujillo in 1932, Alegría was freed; when the government regained power, he fled but was imprisoned in a Lima penitentiary until freed by an amnesty in 1933.
Jailed again for conspiracy in 1934, Alegría was deported to Chile. In Santiago he married Rosalia Amézquita, with whom he subsequently had two sons. He won the prestigious Nascimiento publishing house prize for The Golden Serpent, a novel about the adventures of the boatmen of Calemar, in an Andean jungle valley, who ferry people and livestock across the treacherous Marañon River. Descriptions of the powerful Marañon unify a series of episodes that involve boatmen, farmers, fishermen, and occasional outsiders such as a young engineer from Lima who dreams of exploiting the mineral wealth of the remote region. Rural rhythms of life and death are described lyrically, and men are seen as heroic in their struggle for existence.
Alegría was hospitalized for tuberculosis between 1936 and 1938. His second novel, Los perros hambrientos (starving dogs), was...
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