Although conceived initially as “a biographical sketch to introduce a selection of [Portal’s] poems in translation,” Kathleen Weaver’s survey of the life of the famous Peruvian poet and political activist Magda Portal (1900 – 1989) is more than this. It offers an engaging introduction to Portal and her times, especially the two decades of her involvement in APRA, Peru’s first mass-based, populist political party, and emergence as a champion of the rights of women.

Weaver develops several themes in this straightforward chronicle of Portal’s life story. One is the apparent conflict between Portal’s artistic ambitions — in 1923, her poetic talent won her first prize in Peru’s most prestigious literary contest — and her political ambitions or desire to rally to the fight for social justice then being waged by leading members of her generation. Although Portal never completely gave up her writing,...

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