Peru: One Hundred Years of Writer Ciro Alegría

One hundred years ago, Peruvian writer Ciro Alegría was born in the Northern Department of La Libertad, and who wrote novels such as The Golden Snake (1935) and The Hungry Dogs (1939). Alegría's works often centered on indigenous Peruvians, and their way of life, which was often characterized by their oppression and hardship. However, he also also took great pride in indigenous culture and was a supporter of social justice for this population.

The blogger at Postre Literario [es] writes about this focus, “To talk with Ciro Alegría is to feel the pride in the indigenism that we have in our blood and that makes us different, unique, grand because of our history.”

Perhaps, Alegria's best-known work is Broad and Alien is the World (1941), which according to the La República newspaper, is “brilliant from the beginning. The novel Broad and Alien is the World takes place in a mountainous community in Northern Peru, troubled by the resistance of its residents and its wise mayor troubled by the plundering by the political bosses, the Holocaust, and the emigration by the victims.” The novel was awarded the Grand Prize for Continental Novel in 1941. The blog Desafío Perú [es] summarizes the work:

la aldea de Rumi, auténtica protagonista de la novela, cuya vida se describe maravillosamente, es objeto de la codicia del terrateniente blanco; destruida, sus habitantes se dispersan: unos mueren, otros son reducidos a esclavos o marchan a las grandes ciudades. El mundo es ancho y ajeno es así un gran cuadro épico de las luchas de una arquetípica comunidad indígena contra los tres poderes que quieren destruirla: la oligarquía terrateniente, el Ejército y el Gobierno al servicio de los intereses estadounidenses.

The village of Rumi, the true protagonist of the novel, whose life is marvelously described, is subject to the greed of the white landowner; destroyed, its residents are dispersed: some die, others are reduced to slaves or leave for the big cities. Broad and Alien is the World is an epic portrait of the archetypal struggles of an indigenous community against the three powers that want to destroy it: the oligarchy, the military and the government in service to the interests of the United States.

Gonzalo Espino of the blog La Alforja de Chuque [es] writes the following in an analysis of the book:

Un aspecto descuidado por la crítica es la singularidad de lo maravilloso -lo mágico maravilloso- que aparece a lo largo de la novela. Se trata de pasajes que resultan extremadamente sospechosos, por que cuestionan nuestro esquema de realidad, y aun siéndolo, los ubicamos como aspectos extremadamente ficcionales. Pongo, aquí solamente dos casos: el de la comunidad Muncha allí donde no hay agua, pero sin embargo una joven tiene “macetas de claveles” que crea esa sensualidad olfativa en medio de la sequedad o el otro caso, es el diablo que atraviesa los andes y que en el relato sabemos que es el Mágico.

A critical aspect is neglected by the singularity of the wonderful – the wonderful magic – which appears throughout the novel. It involves passages that become extremely suspicious, because they question our scheme of reality, and they still remain, placing them as extremely fictional aspects. I place here two examples: in the Muncha community there is no water, yet a young girl has “pots of carnations, which creates a sensual scent amid drought, another example is the devil that crosses the Andes Mountains and in the story we know that he is Magic.

Eduardo Jiménez of the blog El Observador [es] takes stock of his writing and notes that his other works did not reach the level than his most famous book:

siempre me pregunté porqué llegó Alegría a un silencio casi total luego de la publicación de El mundo es ancho y ajeno. Siguió escribiendo, sí, y publicando uno que otro libro desperdigado en el tiempo, pero sin llegar jamás a esa cúspide que significó El mundo… Sólo queda la especulación para dar una respuesta. Posiblemente sintió que ya había llegado a su límite, a ese non plus ultra que los escritores de verdad reconocen en su fuero interno y ser conciente que lo publicado después no estaría a la misma altura. Con El mundo es ancho y ajeno terminado y publicado, su pathos ya estaba agotado, salvo que hubiese repetido fórmulas, lo que un escritor auténtico jamás haría.

I always wondered why Alegría was in complete silence after the publication of Broad and Alien is the World. Yes, he continued to write, publishing one book after another throughout time, but he never reached the top as he did with Broad and Alien is the World … Only speculation remains. Possibly he felt that he reached his limit, in his “non plus ultra” that real writers recognize in their hearts and to realize that what they publish later will not be at the same level. With Broad and Alien is the World completed and published, his pathos was exhausted, unless he repeated the same formula, which no authentic author would never do.

Alegría spent a large part of his life in exile in Chile, the United States, Puerto Rico, and Cuba. As a member of the APRA political party, he was also jailed twice. It was here where he developed ideas for his novels. Writer Eduardo González Viaña tells an anecdote in his blog El Correo de Salem [es]:

Cuando lo conocí, varias décadas más tarde, Alegría me contó que allí, entre sueños y en medio de las cuatro paredes carcelarias, había visto a Rosendo Maqui y a los diversos personajes de su épica novela “El mundo es ancho y ajeno”. “Me moría de ganas de salir de allí para escribirla”.-me dijo. A Ciro le fue conmutada la pena de muerte por una prisión que padeció algunos años para luego exiliarse en Chile.

When I met him, many decades later, Alegría told me that there, among the dreams and in the middle of the four jail walls, he had seen Rosendo Maqui and the various characters of his epic novel “Broad and Alien is the World .” “I was dying to get out of there to write the book,” he told me. Ciro's death sentence was commuted in a prison where he suffered for many years and from there he was exiled in Chile.

There were several events honoring the life and works of Alegría, such as a ceremony at the San Marcos Cultural Center on November 4, according to the blog La Torre de las Paradojas [es]. In addition, in the city of Cajamarca, the IV Gathering of Peruvian Storytellers “Ciro Alegría.” More information can be found on the event's blog [es].

Translation by Eduardo Ávila

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