cover image Death in the Andes

Death in the Andes

Mario Vargas Llosa. Farrar Straus Giroux, $24 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-374-14001-4

Ancient and modern horrors mingle in Vargas Llosa's somber yet oddly zestful novel, the most direct examination the Peruvian writer has made of his nation's complex political problems since The War of the End of the World and The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta. At a remote location in the Andes, Civil Guards Lituma and Carreno investigate the disappearance of three men, two of whom were laborers on a highway project that will likely never be finished due to the region's increasing political volatility. Sendero Luminoso guerrillas have attacked several nearby towns; in a chilling early chapter, they stone to death two French tourists unwise enough to travel through the area. The Sendero Luminoso's activities--and Carreno's casual aside acknowledging that the Civil Guard has committed atrocities in return--create an atmosphere of menace that is further compounded by the officers' inability to communicate with the sullen and hostile seruchos. These mountain people treat the easygoing Lituma ``as if he came from Mars.'' Indeed, affluent coastal Peru might as well be Mars to the sierra's impoverished Indians, who prove less receptive to the guerrillas' Marxist sloganeering than to the blandishments of a mysterious local couple who may have instigated sinister rites with links to those involving pre-Columbian human sacrifice. If Vargas Llosa is making a point about the eternal, intractable nature of violence in Latin America, it is so buried as to be virtually invisible. No matter: his vigorous storytelling and intriguingly complex structure--past and present mingle in the intertwined narratives of various characters--offer ample satisfaction without any overt message. (Feb.)