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Geography of the Peruvian Imagination

September 2015

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

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.

Geography of the Peruvian Imagination
By Valerie Miles
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
By Enrique Prochazka
That extraordinary screeching had been artificial: it hadn’t come from the ice, but from a weapon.
Translated from Spanish by Megan McDowell
A Sign
By Julio Durán
On the first attempt, the trigger jammed.
Translated from Spanish by Lisa M. Dillman
At Peace
By Claudia Salazar Jiménez
My skull rolls on the floor. Damn it.
Translated from Spanish by George Henson
By Victoria Guerrero Peirano
I must imitate my sister in order to be her mother
Translated from Spanish by Anna Guercio Rosenwong
Lessons for a Boy Who Arrived Late
By Carlos Yushimito
Understanding what she desired, I said yes.
Translated from Spanish by Valerie Miles
The Shower
By Patricia de Souza
“It was just an idea,” Yves responded cynically, his face red, his lips damp.
Translated from Spanish by Mara Faye Lethem
Frail Before the Squalor
By Carmen Ollé
I’ve got no desire to erect a childhood.
Translated from Spanish by Yvette Siegert
Recording: Nguxtapax, Yoxi, and the Five Countries
By The Ministry of Culture of Peru
Recording of the Tikuna oral storytelling tradition, accompanied by English translation via Spanish.
Translated from Spanish by Lucas Aznar Miles
By Ivan Thays
I told her everything, except for the blood.
Translated from Spanish by Christina MacSweeney
The Ritual
By Fernando Iwasaki
“Every time someone goes to the USA, they die.”
Translated from Spanish by Daniel Hahn