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Martin Paul Eve

Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London

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This post forms part of my ‘aspects of the novel’ collection. Please do note that these entries, which may appear basic, are simply my own notes on the subject. They implicitly or explicitly describe a canon not of my own making or choosing and replicate this from various sources. The original encyclopaedia articles are far more comprehensive, nuanced and worth consulting. I am especially conscious, in this article, of the danger of causing offense by grossly simplifying a national history.

According to Chrystian Zegarra (p. 47), there is no comprehensive history of the Andean novel (referring to novels from Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru). These regions comprise several different languages, with Quechua and Aymara speakers, although many novels from these regions are nonetheless written in Spanish.

One of the first and most significant novels from the region is El padre Horán (1848, Father Horan) by Narciso Aréstegui. This is a novel about a priest who abuses his position of ecclesiastic authority to take advantage of local peoples in sexual and economic ways. Another key nineteenth-century Andean novelistic touchstone is Juan León Mera’s Cumandá o Un drama entre salvajes (1879, Cumanda), which depicts the end period of Spanish colonial rule in Ecuador.

A key term referring to literature from the region was coined by José Carlos Mariátegui: indigenismo, which refers to the concerns of local (indigenous) peoples and their exploitation. These concerns are reflected, say, in César Vallejo’s Tungesteno (1931, Tungsten) and José María Arguedas’s Todas las sangres (1971, All the Bloods). The concept has also been used to analyse works of literature from the region, such as Matto de Turner’s Aves sin nido (1889, Birds Without a Nest).

In the early twentieth century, Zegarra claims, all of the most representative texts from the Andean regions are indigenista. These include Alcides Arguedas’s Raza de bronce (1919, Race of Bronze), Jorge Icaza’s Huasipungo (1934, The Villagers), and Ciro Alegría’s El mundo es ancho y ajeno (1941, Broad and Alien is the World).

Later in this century, José María Arguedas’s Los rios profundes (1958, Deep Rivers) focuses on the plight of its protagonist, Ernesto, who is taken away from the care of an indigenous group to a boarding school, where he experiences profound racism. Arguedas continues some of these themes in El zorro de arriba y el zorro de abajo (1971, The Fox from Down Below).

Other significant works from the region include Mario Vargas Llosa’s La ciudad y los perros (1963, The Time of the Hero) and Conversación en La catedral (1969, Conversation in the Cathedral), which Zegarra states is arguably the greatest Peruvian novel.

There is also a substantial period of magical realism in the region, which includes the novels of Demetrio Aguilera Malta from Ecuador. Cosmopolitan issues were addresses in texts such as Jorge Enrique Adoum’s Entre Marx y una mujer desnuda (1976, Between Marx and a Naked Woman). A strand of historical fiction is provided by Ramón Rocha Monroy’s Potosí 1600 (2002).

Other significant writers from the region include the Bolivians Marcelo, Quiroga Santa Cruz and Jesús Urzagasti; Pedro Jorge Vera, Miguel Donoso Pareja, and Iván Egüez from Ecuador; and Manuel Scorza, Carlos Eduardo Zavaleta, Osvaldo Reinoso, and Luis Loaysa from Peru. Zegarra closes with a list of writers he deems as trying to work in a more contemporary cosmopolitan tradition, including Edmundo Paz Soldán, Juan Claudio Lechín, and Giovanna Rivero from Bolivia; Javier Vásconez, Leonardo Valencia, and Gabriela Alemán from Ecuador; and Alonso Cueto, Fernando Iwasaki, Santiago Roncagliolo, and Giovanna Pollarolo from Peru.

Further reading:

  • Mariátegui, José Carlos, Seven Interpretive Essays on Peruvian Reality, trans. by Marjory Urquidi, Revised (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1988)
  • Márquez, Ismael, ‘The Andean Novel’, in The Cambridge Companion to the Latin American Novel, ed. by Efraín Kristal (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), pp. 142–61
  • Zegarra, Chrystian, ‘Andes’, in The Encyclopedia of the Novel, ed. by Peter Melville Logan, Olakunle George, Susan Hegeman, and Efraín Kristal (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), pp. 47–52