Ciro Alegría Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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...

(The entire section is 1143 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Ciro Alegría Bazán was born on November 4, 1909, in Sartimbamba district, Huamachuco province, in Peru. During his childhood on his family’s ranch, he learned a great deal about the life and problems of the Peruvian Indians, and his grandfather taught him to sympathize with their hard life. When Alegría was in high school, one of his teachers, the famous poet César Vallejo, influenced his political thinking and encouraged him to write. Alegría’s career as a journalist began in 1925; two years later, at the age of eighteen, he was already editor in chief of El norte, an opposition newspaper, and a member of Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana, a group advocating democratic socialism.

Alegría registered at the University of Trujillo in 1930 but dropped out after half a year and returned to journalism. Soon he was arrested and given a ten-year jail sentence for his editorials against the government. After serving two years of his sentence, he emigrated to Chile, where he wrote his three famous novels in order to win prize money to supplement his scanty earnings as a reporter. During his Chilean exile, two attempts on his life as well as a kidnapping attempt were made by the Peruvian secret service. His first novel, The Golden Serpent, won a coveted literary prize. As a result of hunger and hardships suffered in prison, Alegría contracted tuberculosis and spent some time in a sanatorium in Chile, where he wrote his second novel, Los perros hambrientos (the hungry dogs). The English translation of his third novel, Broad and Alien Is the World, was published in the United States even before the Spanish-language edition appeared. The book was quickly translated into sixteen other languages, making Alegría world-famous.

During his twenty-six-year exile from his native Peru, Alegría taught literature at Columbia University, at the University of Puerto Rico, and later at Oriente University in Cuba. He finally returned to Peru in 1960 and was elected senator as a member of the social democratic Acción Popular Party. He died in Lima, Peru, in 1967, at the age of fifty-seven.


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

The son of wealthy landowners with strong ties to the national literary scene, Ciro Alegría received a classical education, emphasizing Peruvian history. He started writing for a student newspaper, but he left the university after his strong interest in local politics brought him fame as an activist. Although he continued to write newspaper articles, he soon became known as a novelist. His early novels won literary prizes in Chile. After the appearance in English of Broad and Alien Is the World, Alegría received recognition that led to his coming to the United States as a professor of literature.

Alegría is famous for being a fine observer of Latin American nature, the Peruvian landscape in particular, and for being a committed political writer and defender of the Latin American indigenous populations. He creates detailed descriptions of the mighty Peruvian Andes, which become a living background for ancient Inca customs. Alegría is not, however, a naturalist. His presentation of nature bears a political connotation. For him, life in the Andes illustrates the complex social structures among the native Peruvians and the Indians’ political and economic plight. As their ancestors suffered repression during the Spanish Conquest, the indigenous people of Alegría’s writing suffer at the hands of national political forces.

Alegría’s nation’s exclusion of indigenous life and thinking led him to help to organize a political...

(The entire section is 447 words.)