Death in the Andes

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Like many of Vargas Llosa’s earlier novels, such as THE GREEN HOUSE (1968) and CONVERSATION IN THE CATHEDRAL (1975), DEATH IN THE ANDES is an ambitious novel about Peru in the last part of the twentieth century. The central question in DEATH IN THE ANDES, to which there are no simple answers, is the following: What is it about Peru and about Peruvian culture and beliefs that has allowed the phenomenon of Shining Path guerrillas to represent part of its national identity? The basic structure of the novel is that of a conversation between two men—Lituma and his young aide, Tomas Carreno—who have been posted to the remote Andean town of Naccos to investigate three disappearances thought to be evidence of Shining Path action in the area. The two Civil Guardsmen hate being in this baffling dangerous place but do their job conscientiously. To stay sane, they talk to each other. These two primary voices are dramatically different from each other: Lituma’s serious pursuit of the horrifying truths about violence and death in the Andes is contrasted throughout the novel with young Tomasito Carreno’s romantic love story. In the end, Lituma deciphers the truth and Carreno gets his girl. Yet Lituma’s detective work uncovers ever shadier and murkier undersides of human nature, whereas Carreno manages to ignore or brush aside any complexities that might mar his sunny world of idealized romance.

Christian communion in which flesh and blood are consumed, Shining Path rituals of execution by stoning, Andean belief in cannibalistic pishtacos and expiatory rites involving human sacrifice, Greek accounts of human beings sacrificed to minotaurs or torn apart and eaten in orgiastic rituals by maenads: all of these are fused by Vargas Llosa into one powerful meditation on the irrational in human civilization and specifically on the force of the irrational in the Andean areas of Peru.



(The entire section is 788 words.)