Prior to spending six months teaching and travelling in Peru I thought it sensible to become aquainted with the country's most celebrated author. I was in for a shock. This is not the perfect travel companion for a visit to the country, beginning as it does with the stoning to death of two French tourists by the Shining Path. Set at the height of the terrorist war waged by Abimael Guzman's Maoist guerillas, the book centres around two policemen posted to an isolated Andean mining town to investigate a succession of disappearances. The book explores their boredom, paranoia and bleak fatalism as they become haunted by the spectral superstitions of the mountain community, fear of death at the hands of the Sendero Luminoso, and their own questionable pasts.
Vargas Llosa uses alternating dialogue to portray narratives that are separated spacially and temporally, enforcing one of the writer's principal themes: the struggle of individual liberty in an oppressive reality. Partly influenced by Satre, and partly by Modernism, Vargas Llosa is a willfully experimental and uncompromising author that goes to great lengths to disorientate and unsettle the reader. Death in the Andes, like many of his novels, operates principally on an allegorical level, creating a vivid tableaux of Peruvian myth, culture and politics at a critical time in its development. Brutal and depressing (not one to take on the bus to Macchu Picchu!) it is partly a hard-boiled detective story and partly a metaphorical journey into Peru's heart of darkness.