Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Death in the Andes is a powerful, multifaceted exploration of contemporary life. It can be classified among various genres of writing and can be read on a variety of levels. The most obvious classification would suggest it is a mystery or detective novel that attempts to answer the question of who is responsible for the disappearance of the three men. Equally important, though, is the discussion of the political turmoil of contemporary Peru brought about by the Sendero Luminoso during its heyday. Most important, Vargas Llosa presents an anthropological study of the Peruvian mountain people, which he then expands to a cross-cultural examination of Western and American mythology. This not only illustrates the origins of some of the local cultural practices— however base they may be—but also demonstrates the universality of such behavior.

Vargas Llosa has often been compared to the great European novelists of nineteenth century realism such as Stendhal, Honoré de Balzac, and Gustave Flaubert. Like them, Vargas Llosa documents the contemporary society of his story and characters with truth and great objectivity. Like his distinguished predecessors, moreover, he is an extraordinary storyteller. In 1995 he was awarded the Cervantes Prize, the Spanish-speaking world’s most distinguished literary honor.