cover image The Gringa

The Gringa

Andrew Altschul. Melville House, $26.99 (432p) ISBN 978-1-61219-822-4

Altschul’s rousing and complex third novel (after Deus Ex Machina) follows an impassioned American who spends years in prison in Peru for her involvement with a group of revolutionaries. Inspired by the true story of late-20-century activist Lori Berenson, Altschul recasts Berenson as Leonora “Leo” Gelb, a Stanford student sick of capitalist America who travels to Lima in the 1990s to fight injustice. After witnessing the bulldozing of a shantytown by government forces and the arrests of protesters whom she later realizes have been forcibly disappeared, Leo falls in with the Cuarta Filosofía, Marxist insurgents for whom she leases a house that serves as the group’s headquarters. In 2008, 10 years after Leo’s imprisonment, her story is told by an ex-pat novelist named Andres, who’s been tasked with writing a profile of the “Gringa Terrorist” for a news website. As Andres chronicles Leo’s emotional trajectory into violent collaboration, imagining her angst and self-doubt, he begins to second-guess his efforts and confesses he’s made some things up. Blending historical details with literary allusions, Altschul successfully creates a postmodern, Cervantes-like labyrinth (“Everything is narrative,” one of Leo’s professors declares. “Thus, history is impossible”). Amid the clever games, Altschul’s stirring portrait of the strident yet earnest Leo poses a salient question about the value of personal sacrifice. (Mar.)