As the copyright costs of making course packs rise, I am always on the lookout for good anthologies. The Peru Reader tops the list. The editors’ particular aim is to offer a picture of Peru that is an alternative to the timeless “tropes of mystery and exoticism” through which Western writers often depict the Andes (p. 2). The collection, therefore, lets Peruvians themselves speak. Many of the pieces have been translated into English for the first time. (Students should be forewarned to check the endnotes for explanations of Spanish and Quechua terms.) The voices are diverse: renowned writers and political leaders share the pages with peasants and women from the shantytowns. The Workshop for Social Photography, which put cameras in the hands of common people, provides vivid visual images. The resulting mosaic reveals the dynamism of Peruvian culture and society.
The anthology ambitiously covers a period from the pre-Columbian era to the neoliberal regime of Alberto Fujimori. Insightful scholarly essays from a variety of disciplines (by outsiders as well as Peruvians) help to put the documents, testimonies, and fiction of each period in context. Nevertheless, most students will need to get a clearer sense of the chronology and geography from lectures or an accompanying textbook. The sections that most easily stand on their own, and that provide an overview not readily available elsewhere, cover Shining Path and the development of the coca economy. In particular, testimonies from all sides of the war—a guerrilla cadre, a soldier, and victims of each side—are compelling and chilling.
In addition to the testimonies, the volume’s selection of poems, song lyrics, and short stories will undoubtedly spark students’ imaginations and hold their attention. “The Pongo’s Dream” by José María Arguedas, translated into English for the first time, is a gem that crystallizes both the endurance of colonial power and alternative visions of it. “The Choncholí Chewing Gum Rap” demonstrates the ongoing fusion of various cultural influences. Selections from Peru’s famous authors, including César Vallejo, Julio Ramón Ribeyro, Alfredo Bryce Echenique, and Mario Vargas Llosa, and from lesser-known contemporary women poets pull the reader from one section to the next.
The material is so extensive and diverse that students might lose sight of historical trends. Pairing pieces from different sections would provoke discussion about both continuities and transformations. For example, the death sentence of late colonial rebel Túpac Amaru and the bloodthirsty vision of Shining Path offer an intriguing counterpoint. The essay on contemporary peasant patrols by Orin Starn could be compared and contrasted with the efforts of nineteenth-century peasants to make a place for themselves in the nation, as analyzed by Florencia Mallon. The teaching potential of The Peru Reader is great. I highly recommend its use for students.