The Encyclopedia of the Novel - Peter Melville Logan 2014


Chrystian Zegarra

No comprehensive history of the Andean novel, or of any Andean nation, has ever been attempted. There are, however, some important commonalities in the novels of Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru. The lion's share of novelists of the region has favored REALISM even when exploring experimental literary forms. The Andean novel has also been significantly, although not exclusively, informed by efforts to explore the cultural, historical, and political dilemmas associated with the indigenous world, including the violence and exploitation that indigenous peoples have suffered at the hands of landed oligarchs, mining interests, clergy, corrupt government officials, terrorists, and military men. In the second half of the twentieth century the Andean novel was profoundly informed by demographic changes which took place when many indigenous populations migrated from rural to urban settings. More recently, novelists have explored the effects of globalization, neoliberalism, and new technologies. It is therefore possible to identify some commonalities and continuities in the novel of the Andean region from its earliest expressions in the nineteenth century until the present, with novels such as Edmundo Paz Soldán's El delirio de Turing (2004, Turing's Delirium), which addresses the dilemmas of a miner's son in the age of cyberspace and globalization, while shedding light on the political and cultural context in which Evo Morales (1959—) emerged as the first indigenous president of Bolivia and as an enemy of neoliberalism. In a similar vein Daniel Alarcón's Lost City Radio (2007), a Peruvian novel written in English, obliquely addresses the residual effects of a period of political violence associated with the dirty war that engaged the Shining Path movement and the Peruvian armed forces (1992—2000). The “radio” in the novel's title is the hinge that connects the indigenous peoples of the Andes with urban populations, both of whom are dealing with the effects of terror, grief, and trauma.

The first Andean novel of significance is arguably El Padre Horán (1848, Father Horan) by Narciso Aréstegui. The Peruvian novelist Clorinda Matto de Turner unearthed it from the archives of the local newspaper in which it had been published in installments. She was looking for literary antecedents to her own attempts to promote the NATIONAL novel in Peru, and to those of other late nineteenth-century Peruvian novelists such as Mercedes Cabello de Carbonera, author of El conspirador (1892, The Conspirator), one of the earliest novels about a Latin American dictator (see DICTATORSHIP). Matto de Turner was correct in claiming Aréstegui as a Peruvian novelist. But he could also be claimed as a precursor to the Bolivian novel or to the Andean novel at large. His novel is set in the border region between contemporary Peru and Bolivia, at a historical moment when Peru and Bolivia could have merged into a single nation. Indeed, from 1836 until 1839 the two nations were a confederation under a common head of state. In his novel Aréstegui depicts both Quechua and Aymara speakers. In Peru and Ecuador the indigenous language that predominates is Quechua, in several variants, all of which differ considerably from Aymara, whose speakers are based primarily in Bolivia. El Padre Horán is a novel about a priest who uses his position in the church to take sexual and economic advantage of indigenous peoples and the wives and daughters of the well-to-do.

Inasmuch as Aréstegui's novel is at least partially concerned with the corruption of powerful individuals and the exploitation of indigenous peoples, it is also an antecedent to many other Andean novels which would follow. For reasons that are both political and literary, critics such as Ismael Márquez have argued that the study of the Andean novel must pay special attention to the “crucial effect that native Indian populations, history, and cultures have had on the genre” (142). Márquez continues in a long line of literary critics of Andean literature for whom indigenismo is a fundamental concept. The term indigenismo (and its related adjective indigenista) was coined as a literary category by José Carlos Mariátegui in his seminal book Siete ensayos de interpretación de la realidad peruana (1928, Seven Interpretive Essays on Peruvian Reality). Mariátegui identified the principal historical problem of Peru as the usurpation of indigenous lands by the Spanish colonizers and their descendants. He envisaged a Peruvian future in which the indigenous peoples would regain the collective ownership of their ancestral lands in ways that would coincide with the aspirations of twentieth-century socialism. For Mariátegui, indigenista novels are the work of nonindigenous individuals committed to exploring the realities of the indigenous peoples, with the expectation that the novel would play a role in the historical process that would empower indigenous peoples and redress the injustices committed against them. Anticipating notions such as Edward Said's “orientalism,” Mariátegui deplores the kind of novel he calls indianista, which romanticizes or dehistoricizes indigenous peoples.

It was Mariátegui's hope that indigenismo would be understood one day as a necessary step towards a literature he called indígena, anticipating the moment when indigenous peoples would write directly about their own reality. Mariátegui's influential views continue to inform the approaches to the Andean novel by Peruvian, Bolivian, and Ecuadorian literary critics. They also have had both an immediate and a lasting impact on the history of the Peruvian novel. Several writers, including César Vallejo in his Tungsteno (1931, Tungsten) and José María Arguedas in Todas las sangres (1970, All the Bloods), wrote novels which took Mariátegui's ideas to heart as they anticipated a socialist revolution in Peru.

Mariátegui's concepts were used to look to the future as well as back on the literary past of Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia. They have been used widely to analyze Matto de Turner's Aves sin nido (1889, Birds Without a Nest), a novel about the failed attempt by some enlightened Peruvians to better the lot of indigenous peoples who are abused by priests, judges, and the corrupt rulers of small Andean towns. The other major nineteenth-century Andean novel is Cumandá o un drama entre salvajes (1879, Cumanda) by the Ecuadorian Juan León Mera. The novel imagines the situation of the indigenous peoples as the Spanish colonial period comes to an end.

According to Antonio Cornejo Polar, the predominant characteristic of the indigenista novel is its cultural heterogeneity. Cornejo Polar explores the political implications of the fact that novels about the indigenous world are all written in Spanish, even though many of the characters are monolingual Quechua or Aymara speakers. Additionally, he points out that the novelistic GENRE itself is Western rather than indigenous. For Cornejo Polar it is important to keep in mind that indigenista novels are generally produced in an urban setting for an urban public, even though they depict situations that occur in the rural world. Thus the heterogeneity of the indigenista novel is the product of a conflicted and divided Andean world.

In the first half of the twentieth century the most representative novels of Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru are all indigenista. These include Raza de bronce (1919, Race of Bronze) by the Bolivian Alcides Arguedas, Huasipungo (1934, The Villagers) by the Ecuadorian Jorge Icaza, and El mundo es ancho y ajeno (1941, Broad and Alien is the World) by the Peruvian Ciro Alegría. Alegría's novel narrates the struggle of the villagers of Rumi, a community located in the northern highlands of Peru, against the abuses of landowners linked to export interests bent on usurping communal lands. After his death Rosendo Maqui, the peaceful, wise, and conciliatory communal leader, is replaced by the more energetic Benito Castro, a mestizo who has had contact with the urban world and who is more aggressive about the rights of his community. Castro fails in his attempt to restore a sense of unity to his community, which has disappeared, but the novel constitutes a powerful political indictment of the humiliating condition of indigenous populations.

Huasipungo, the masterwork of Ecuadorian indigenismo, is based on the brutal exploitation of the indigenous peoples who are trying to hold on to their huasipungos, plots of land allotted in a sharecropping system. In the novel the indigenous people face relentless abuse, especially when they attempt to defend their rights. The abuse increases when foreign companies collude with their local associates to usurp indigenous lands and the indigenous labor force to create a road that would facilitate the exportation of Ecuador's natural resources. The novel is informed by the disputes between powerful landowners, based in the highlands, in conflict with national interests, based in the coastal regions of the nation, which are associated with international capital. The Bolivian novelist Alcides Arguedas was despondent about the fate of the indigenous peoples, and in his essay “Pueblo enfermo” (1909, “Sick Nation”) he expresses the view that only the rapid modernization of his nation can save his country from its misery. His novel Raza de bronce is informed by this same paternalistic view of the indigenous people he ultimately considers an inferior race in need of protection. In the novel the sexual violation and murder of its pregnant indigenous heroine becomes an allegory of the treatment of an indigenous people in need of paternalistic protection from abusive landowners who quash their aspirations for a better life. Arguedas's views on modernization are consistent with those of the Bolivian export mining elite, in competition with the landowning oligarchy for indigenous labor. Even though indigenismo was the dominant genre in the first half of the twentieth century, there were some important novelists who explored experimental modernist approaches, such as Pablo Palacios from Ecuador and Martín Adán from Peru.

In 1958, Peruvian writer and anthropologist José María Arguedas published Los ríos profundos (Deep Rivers), a high point of Andean literature. Ernesto, the novel's protagonist, grows up in the care of indigenous peasants but is removed from them and taken to a boarding school. There he is treated by his schoolmates with the same racism they, and the local authorities, direct to indigenous people. However, at the same time the local indigenous people are wary of his Western status. In his solitude, he takes refuge and solace in the music and the spiritual universe of the indigenous people. He shares their magical connections to nature and sympathizes with their struggle for justice. Ángel Rama considers Los ríos profundos to be a major novel and a vantage point from which to approach Latin American narrative, as it captures what he calls “transculturation,” the cultural and political interactions, tensions, and conflicts between dominant and subaltern cultures in Latin America. Arguedas was troubled by the migration of the indigenous populations from the rural to the urban world because he feared the loss of their ancestral connections to a culture germane to the Andean region. He expressed his pessimistic outlook about this process in the significant novel, El zorro de arriba y el zorro de abajo (1971, The Fox from Up Above and the Fox from Down Below).

The advent of Arguedas's novels, a high point in the literary representation of the Andean world, coincided with the rise of an urban narrative informed by the urban immigration of indigenous peoples. Enrique Congrains Martín was a pioneer in the exploration of the shanty-town. Alfredo Bryce Echenique, the greatest humorist in Peruvian narrative fiction, explored the rise of a new ruling sector in Peru, one which displaced the oligarchy associated with the ownership of vast landholdings. Mario Vargas Llosa made his literary mark with La ciudad y los perros (1963, Time of the Hero), a novel in which the conflicts of the Peruvian nation are played out in the confines of a corrupt military academy. Vargas Llosa is best known as one of the key figures of the new Latin American novel. He has been celebrated for his technical mastery of narrative planes of SPACE and TIME in novels that explore social corruption, political fanaticism, and the compensations of literature and of the imagination. His Conversación en la catedral (1969, Conversation in the Cathedral), arguably the greatest Peruvian novel, is set in Lima as a fulcrum from which to assess the dilemmas of the nation. His other works include novels set in the Peruvian jungle and coastal deserts—La casa verde (1965, The Green House) is a tour de force in a post-Faulknerian style—novels set in the Andes, including Lituma en los andes (1993, Death in the Andes), and a book-length monograph on Arguedas, the Peruvian novelist he admired more than any other.

In the period of MAGICAL REALISM, important contributions in the Andean world include the writings of the Ecuadorian Demetrio Aguilera Malta and others. The Andean novel also addressed the cosmopolitan concerns of the 1960s and 1970s. Entre Marx y una mujer desnuda (1976, Between Marx and a Naked Woman), for example, is a novel by the Ecuadorian Jorge Enrique Adoum, which explores predicaments germane to the Andean region from a perspective informed by developments in political and PSYCHOLOGICAL literature in the context of an experimental novel. Edgardo Rivera Mártinez renewed the indigenista novel with a nuanced sensibility for the interior world of his characters. There are also fascinating HISTORICAL NOVELs like those by the Bolivian novelist Ramón Rocha Monroy (1950). In Potosí 1600 (2002) Rocha Monroy re-creates the Spanish Colonial period in the Andes, focusing on the dynamics of a mining center with a huge indigenous population, that created one of the most extraordinary cities in the Western hemisphere. Other novelists from the Andean nations that contributed to the novel are the Bolivians Marcelo Quiroga Santa Cruz and Jesús Urzagasti; the Ecuadorians Pedro Jorge Vera, Miguel Donoso Pareja, and Ivan Égüez; and the Peruvians Manuel Scorza, Carlos Eduardo Zavaleta, Osvaldo Reinoso, and Luis Loaysa.

Cosmospolitan concerns have emerged in the Andean novel in a process that has not yet been fully assessed. A cohort of writers with new sensibilities are reinterpreting the past or trying to move away from older paradigms, including Edmundo Paz Soldán, Juan Claudio Lechín, and Giovanna Rivero from Bolivia; Javier Vázconez, Leonardo Valencia, and Gabriela Alemán from Ecuador; Alonso Cueto, Fernando Iwasaki, Santiago Roncagliolo, and Giovanna Pollarolo from Peru. These writers are in the process of redefining the genre in the age of globalization and transnationalism.

See also: Race Theory, Translation Theory.


1. Cornejo Polar, A. (1977), Novela peruana.

2. Cornejo Polar, A. (1994), Escribir en el aire.

3. Mariátegui, J.C. (1928), Seven Interpretive Essays on Peruvian Reality.

4. Márquez, I. (2005), “The Andean Novel,” in Cambridge Companion to the Latin American Novel, ed. E. Kristal.

5. Meléndez, C. (1934), Novela indianista en Hispanoamérica (1832—1889).

6. Rama, A. (1985), Transculturación narrativa en América Latina.

7. Sacoto, A. (1987), Nueva novela ecuatoriana.

8. Zayas de Lima, P. (1985), Novela indigenista boliviana de 1910—1960.