I’m a bit ambivalent about reviewing this book because I nearly gave it up after the first 200 pages (there’s a big shift in tone then), but ultimately I decided to finish it to see what the book was trying to do as a whole. I think Roncagliolo intended the book to be so brutal for a reason, but it made for an uneasy read.
I chose to read this book because it’s hard to find books about or from Peru translated into English, because it’s won a couple big literary awards, and because it was billed as a sort of crime novel. Conspiracy thriller actually seems a bit more accurate because the murder near the beginning of the novel seems like a small part of the story until the final section of the book.
But this is most definitely not crime novel. The main character is a prosecutor who willingly left Lima for a provincial town of Ayacucho, and he deals with a stifling bureaucracy to investigate a murder in an area where Shining Path is supposedly inactive. This book is about the crimes perpetrated by the terrorists and the government trying to quash them, and along the way there are also a series of murders in the region.
The novel is horrifying in terms of the bureaucratic obstacles to Chacaltana’s investigation into the murders, it’s horrifying in terms of the remnants of the 20 year conflict between Shining Path and the Peruvian government, and it’s brutal in terms of the series of murders that Chacaltana investigates. The action is a bit strange and unbelievable, but the aura of violence feels real. I think my real ambivalence about the book comes from the fact that I didn’t expect there to be any hope at the end, and my assumption was correct. I’m glad I read it, but I’m ready for something less serious and brutally violent next.