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September 2015

Geography of the Peruvian Imagination

Image: José Tola, "La Conquista” (detail), 2003.

This month, we present writing from Peru, a country whose international literary credentials are most closely linked to the Nobel Prize win of Mario Vargas Llosa. But as the eleven writers here show—via narrative nonfiction, poetry, and short stories—the country is host to a diverse and vibrant literature that extends well beyond the Nobel winner. From the Andes to the Amazon and back to the gritty urban reality of Lima, the writing here traces a new geography of Peruvian literature. Santiago Roncagliolo and Gabriela Wiener venture into the jungle on very different voyages of discovery. Claudia Salazar Jiménez’s protagonist undergoes a gruesome metamorphosis. Carlos Yushimito and Patricia de Souza create worlds of cruelty. Ritual and death pervade the fiction of Fernando Iwasaki, while the poetry of Victoria Guerrero Peirano evokes the sudden inarticulateness of two sisters in the face of illness. In Enrique Prochazka’s Andean tale, hunter becomes hunted. In Julio Durán’s short story, a would-be bond between a political prisoner and his keeper is irretrievably broken. Ivan Thays juxtaposes the Lindbergh kidnapping with a harrowing contemporary version. Thanks to the Peruvian Ministry of Culture, we’re able to bring you a recording of the creation story of the Tikuna people with a transcription of the indigenous tale in English. And after it all, Sergio Vilela looks at what’s behind Peruvian gastronomic phenom Gastón Acurio, whose restaurants and celebrity reach far beyond Peru. We thank guest editor Valerie Miles.

Elsewhere, we introduce an occasional series of writings on translation with scholar and translator Ilan Stavans’s reflections on the multiple renderings of Don Quixote.

Geography of the Peruvian Imagination

The stories here are indicative of the wide variety of styles in contemporary Peruvian literature, where individual approaches trump the need to fit into some imposed stylistic collective.

Like a Rolling Stone

That extraordinary screeching had been artificial: it hadn’t come from the ice, but from a weapon.


A Sign

On the first attempt, the trigger jammed.


At Peace

My skull rolls on the floor. Damn it.


I must imitate my sister in order to be her mother

Lessons for a Boy Who Arrived Late

Understanding what she desired, I said yes.

The Shower

“It was just an idea,” Yves responded cynically, his face red, his lips damp.


Frail Before the Squalor

I’ve got no desire to erect a childhood.


Recording: Nguxtapax, Yoxi, and the Five Countries

Recording of the Tikuna oral storytelling tradition, accompanied by English translation via Spanish.



I told her everything, except for the blood.


The Ritual

“Every time someone goes to the USA, they die."



Book Reviews

Clarice Lispector’s “Complete Stories”: Knowing the Unknowable Clarice

Reviewed by Jenny McPhee

When I first read Lispector in the 1980s, I fell deeply, inexplicably in love. I wanted to know her work inside and out; I wanted to know everything about her. I read all I could find, which was not much and mostly in French translation . . .

Mia Couto’s “Pensativities: Essays and Provocations”

Reviewed by Kristine Rabberman

Throughout these pieces, Couto moves gracefully and eloquently from stories to lessons and questions. He speaks to a variety of audiences, and engages readers who may know little of Mozambique’s past and present, but who emerge from the collection with an interest in Mozambique’s future.

Mario Benedetti’s “The Truce: The Diary of Martín Santomé”

Reviewed by Samantha Schnee

This month, Penguin Classics will publish Uruguayan author Mario Benedetti’s La Tregua as The Truce: The Diary of Martín Santomé—fifty-five years after the novel was originally published in Spanish. Written as a journal, it is the poignant tale of widower Martín Santomé’s affection for his young co-worker.

Andreï Makine’s “A Woman Loved”

Reviewed by Lori Feathers

Andreï Makine’s A Woman Loved is an exploration of limitations: the limits of our capacity to fully understand another person’s inner life, the limits of art to faithfully portray it, and how we compensate for these constraints by creating narratives.

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