By Mario Vargas Llosa. Translated from the Spanish Lituma en los Andes by Edith Grossman.
274 pages
New York: Penguin Books, 1993
ISBN: 0-14-026215-6

Comments by Bob Corbett
October 2001

Three men have disappeared from a remote village in the Andes. Corporal Lituma believes they were murdered, perhaps even sacrificed to ancient Andean gods, but gets no help in his case from the resentful villagers. Not only is the tiny village in decline but terrorists threaten the area increasing the doom of Naccos. In the slow nights, guardsman Tomas Carenno excites the corporal with his tale of his lost love, Mercedes.

This is a slow moving novel with a slim plot which doesn't even come to fruition. Nonetheless Llosa intrigues us by taking us inside the historical culture of village people, their ancient gods, human sacrifices and eternal struggles of pleasure and pain while revealing the social structures used to bear this harsh life.

He cultivates a slow meandering pace which matches life in the village and takes his time to explore significant aspects of the simple life in Naccos. I am reminded of Harold Courlander's novel The Bordeaux Narrative, set in Haiti. Courlander was an anthropologist who had written several books and many scholarly articles on aspects of Haitian culture which he could rigorously demonstrate. However, late in his life he wrote a novel, a sort of wandering mystery story like Llosa's, to allow him to lay out all the folk customs he had heard and collected over the years, but which remained at the level of speculation. This book has a similar feel.

Death In The Andes is not a gripping tale. It is a gentle soft and slow-moving novel that enriches and grows on the reader as it wends its way toward the last days of the village of Naccos.

Bob Corbett

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Bob Corbett