All of Peru. However, Death in the Andes offers horrors even more harrowing than Shining Path.
The serruchos --mountain people--believe that their rugged terrain is haunted by apus , tutelary spirits of the local summits who must periodically be propitiated with ritual slaughter and cannibalism. Pishtacos , demons who suck the fat out of living human bodies, are said to wander the mountainside. But the corporal is not in Piura anymore, and many in Naccos believe that the huayco , the Andean avalanche that defeats the efforts to build a highway and nearly kills Lituma, has supernatural origins.
Lituma interrogates Dionisio, the proprietor of the town's only cantina and the impresario of nightly Dionysian revelries. But neither he nor his wife, Adriana, a devotee of witchcraft, can satisfy a civilized man seeking a lucid explanation for the mysterious disappearances in Naccos. Neither can the lonely corporal find sexual satisfaction. The vanity of benefaction is something the lovestruck young bodyguard shares with his quixotic politician-author. When, at the end of the novel, the beautiful Mercedes materializes in Naccos, Vargas Llosa confounds two realms, along with the skeptical reader who would not credit the power of love.
IN the Andean fastness of Vargas Llosa's new book passion is as indecipherable a mystery as violence. Both defy and defeat the logical mind. One intoxicating evening Lituma listens to a couple of mining engineers tell chilling stories about the pre-Columbian peoples who inhabited Peru: "Sacrificing children, men, women to the river they were going to divert, the road they were going to open, the temple or fortress they were building--that's not what we call civilized.
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But he might just as well have been describing the figure in the carpet of his entire career, including his failed presidential bid. Lituma meets a mining engineer who wonders "if what's going on in Peru isn't a resurrection of all that buried violence. As if it had been hidden somewhere, and suddenly, for some reason, it all surfaced again.
A vocal critic of President Fujimori, who subdued the terrorists but also arrogated to himself extra-constitutional powers, Vargas Llosa apparently considers it imprudent to return to Peru. These stories would serve very well as short pieces in their own right and add to the strength of the novel as a whole. There is the sad story of the albino merchant who wronged a woman in his youth, and throughout his life she haunts his mind and, finally, kills him. There is the story of the mute who dies horribly, and so on.
These stories serve to add to the menace of the Andes as the main characters interact with warriors, warlords, rebels and the military. There is a sense that this violence is eternal, that the names and places may change but the fight will always rage on. We are told very little about the political situation, other than to highlight how bad it all is.
Tomasito's story, past and present, is a series of tense situations where seeming madmen have the power of life and death over him and everyone else they come into contact with. The love story of Mercedes and Tomasito is interesting, particularly because, for the most part, we know how it all turns out from the start.
Mercedes is shown simultaneously as the perfect woman and a prostitute, thief, and a liar. Tomasito, thinking back, has nothing but kind words for her. In many ways he is an anomaly; neither Lituma in the present or his fellow Civil Guardsmen in the past can understand that what he wants from Mercedes is love, not sex, companionship, and not a one-night stand. That she is capable of being bought seems not to phase him. That she betrays him seems not to matter. In a country full of violence and cheap love, Tomasito cannot be understood.
All of them young. The darkness was shattered by another order that Albert did not understand either. Their traveling companions began to search their pockets and wallets and hand over identification papers.
Death in the Andes - Mario Vargas Llosa - - Allen & Unwin - Australia
Albert and his friend took their passports from the packs they wore around their waists. La petite Michele was trembling more and more violently, but to avoid provoking them he did not dare to comfort her, to reassure her that as soon as these people opened their passports and saw that they were French tourists, the danger would be over. Perhaps they would take their dollars. They weren't carrying much cash, fortunately.
The traveler's checks were hidden in Albert's false waistband and with a little luck might not even be found. Three of them began to walk among the lines of passengers, collecting documents. When they came to him, Albert handed the two passports to the female silhouette with a rifle over her shoulder, and said haltingly: "French tourists. We no speak Spanish, senorita. It was the voice of a young girl, sharp with fury.
His fear had evaporated. When all this was a memory, when he had told it dozens of times to his copains at the bistro and to his students at school in Cognac, he would ask la petite Michele: "Was I right or not to choose the bus instead of the plane? We would have missed the best experience of our trip. The others had moved a few meters away and seemed to be conferring about something. Albert assumed they were examining the documents, subjecting them to careful scrutiny. Did they know how to read? When they saw that they were foreigners, French tourists without much money who carried knapsacks and traveled by bus, they would apologize.
The cold went right through him. He embraced la petite Michele and thought: "The man at the embassy was right. We should have taken the plane. When we can talk again, I'll ask you to forgive me. Several times he was sure he would faint with cold and fatigue. When the passengers began to sit on the ground, he and la petite Michele imitated them, huddling very close. They were silent, pressing against each other, warming each other.
After a long while their captors came back and, one by one, pulling them to their feet, peering into their faces, bringing their lanterns up to their eyes, shoving them, they returned the passengers to the bus. Dawn was breaking. A bluish band appeared over the rugged outline of the mountains. La petite Michele was so still she seemed asleep. But her eyes were very wide. With an effort Albert got to his feet, hearing his bones creak, and he had to help la petite Michele stand by supporting both her arms.
He felt exhausted, he had muscle cramps, his head was heavy, and it occurred to him that she must be suffering again from the altitude sickness that had bothered her so much when they began the ascent into the Cordillera. Apparently, the nightmare was ending. The passengers had lined up single file and were climbing into the bus. When it was their turn, two boys in balaclavas at the door of the vehicle put rifles to their chests and, without saying a word, indicated that they should move to one side.
And before they really understood what was happening, the motor of the bus began to gurgle and vibrate, its hulk to tremble, and they saw it drive away, rattling along that road lost in the Andean plateau. The other traveler who had been detained with them was short and plump. Albert recognized his hat and tiny mustache.
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He had been sitting in the first row, smoking endlessly and leaning forward from time to time to speak to the driver. He gestured and pleaded, shaking his head, moving his hands. They had encircled the man.
They had forgotten about him and la petite Michele. They were young, they were adolescents, they were poor, and some of them were children. In addition to rifles, revolvers, machetes, and sticks, many of them held large stones in their hands. The little man in the hat fell to his knees and swore on a cross that he formed with two fingers, raising his face to the sky.
Until the circle closed in on him, blocking him from view. They heard him scream, beg. Shoving each other, urging each other, imitating each other, the stones and hands rose and fell, rose and fell. But their faces were hardened and burned by the cold, like those roughened feet in the rubbertire sandals that some of them wore, like those stones in the chapped hands that began to strike them.
Just your luck, you poor bastard. Had Carreno forgotten he was here, listening to him? But it was a tough night for me in Pucallpa. And it would be the same damn thing now in Tingo Maria. I didn't, damn it. I didn't understand it. It made me mad, even scared.
Book Review: Death in the Andes
How could a man act worse than an animal? That was when I knew why they called him Hog. Over and over again, he hit her. Lituma closed his eyes and pictured her. Plump, full of curves, round breasts. The boss had her on her knees, stark naked, and the strap left purple streaks on her back.