Perhaps this book's overwhelming for a newcomer. But, if you have a basic knowledge of Peru already, this over 500-page collection of stories, chapters from academic books, poems, folktales, political reportage, popular journalism and interviews, and historical and anthropological coverage satisfies the need in English for a comprehensive starter for further research and reading on many topics.
Organised into chronological order, sections progress from pre-Inca, Inca, Conquest, Post-Conquest, Colonial and Republican periods into the 19c. These intersperse scholarly investigations with narratives. Then, politics, the Shining Path, the drug wars, the urban squatters turning land into new communities, activists among the feminist, evangelical, and gay communities, liberation theology and local leadership, and life among both villages and in Lima add chapters that comprise about half of the total text.
Most rewarding for me were the chronicles by the Incas after the Conquest, John Hemming's chapter on Atahualpa and Pizarro, folktales bookending the text from early and Amazon peoples, Steve J. Stern's analysis of post-Conquest creolisation and its discontents, Manuel Cordova's tale of life a century ago after he was abducted by Amazon indians, and the fascinating account by Catherine J. Allen from her The Hold Life Has all about coca-leaf ritual bonding. Anyone who associates coca only with cola or crack might learn a lot from this anthropological description of how chemicals sustain fellowship, and also force gatherings to acknowledge etiquette and social class distinctions--even under the influence!
The literary offerings, poems, novel excerpts, and stories, are less intriguing, but worthwhile. I sense some of these--as with the Vargas Llosa chapter from his novel Conversations in the Cathedral--were a bit wrenched out of a more rewarding context. I wish the past ten years, the downfall of Fujimori and the attempt by Toledo to stabilise a tottering state, could have been included in an updated edition, which could also look at the fate of Guzmán and his Shining Path cohorts. Life in the diaspora--a million Peruvians live abroad--would also be enlightening. But, until these hypothetical additions, this is a promising book for anyone curious about Perú. As the back jacket asserts, there's nothing like this in English--or Spanish.
Also recommended: Robin Kirk's The Monkey's Paw for 1980s/early 90s Peru; Gustavo Gorriti's history, translated by Kirk, on the Shining Path, and Vargas Llosa's memoir of running for president, Fish Out of Water; his novelisation of Guzman, The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta; his mystery novel also set in this period, Death in the Andes.
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About the reviewer
John L. Murphy (Fionnchu)
Medievalist turned humanities professor; unrepentant but not unskeptical Fenian; overconfident accumulator of books & music; overcurious seeker of trivia, quadrivia, esoterica. … more
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"The Peru Reader is a joy both for Peru specialists and those seeking an introduction to the country's political and social development...It brings together in English a wide variety of texts, to provide a diversity of views of Peruvians (past and present) about their country, as well as foreign observers...The beauty [is] that the texts speak for themselves, reflecting a multiplicity of views." --John Crabtree, Journal of Latin American Studies "A livelier, more literate introduction to a foreign world could not be hoped for. A Peruvian trove, indeed; so much that one hardly knows where to begin dipping into its treasures."--Alma Guillermoprieto, author of Dancing with Cuba: A Memoir of the Revolution "This is an extremely deep, broad, and insightful collection on Peru."--Jorge Casteneda, author of Utopia Unarmed: The Latin American Left After the Cold War and former Foreign Minister of Mexico "One of the best overviews yet of Peruvian history and politics."--The Rough Guide to Peru "This is a great paperback to bring on the airplane or a long train ride, stuffed with an endlessly entertaining and eclectic collection of short stories, anthropological essays, translated chronicles, and a bit of poetry."--Moon Handbooks Peru "This anthology is a wonderful addition to any course on Latin America and Peru and is accessible to both graduates and undergraduates. I have used pieces from this book for my undergraduate courses and plan to incorporate at least one of the pieces new to...