Email this review


In these two Peruvian allegories, Ortega tries to use caustic humor to convey a nation haunted by government repression, daily terrorism, and communism -- but fails when every joke falls flat. The first novella, ""Ayacucho, Goodbye,"" focuses on the plight of a young campesino leader named Alfredo Cánepa. In order to halt his involvement in the socialist peasant uprising, the government publicly accuses him of being a Red terrorist, tortures him, throws him into a ravine, blows his limbs off one at a time with grenades, and buries him in an unmarked grave. But Cánepa can't rest without a proper Christian burial, and that can't happen because so many body parts got lost in the excitement. So the dead man gathers himself up (at least, what's left) and makes for Lima to collect the bones that remain in police custody. He meets lots of people along the way, including fellow reformers who complain (""You're not dead and you're not alive. In the revolutionary struggle there's no room for centrists"") and some cocaine dealers who force him to become a carrier (""You only have one choice...and it's the choice this country faces too: either get rich or die right now""). Readers root for Cánepa in his struggle to reach his final resting place -- but less because he deserves it and more because it means an end to the painful dialogue. Fortunately, the next novella, ""Moscow's Gold,"" proves less irritating. Here, a high school student suffers when his best friend Alberto reveals he's a Communist. The narrator wants to think Alberto has been brainwashed and tries to focus on the things they have in common (writing, books, and women), but during high school military training, when the two find themselves on opposite teams, the narrator's true animosity surfaces. Ortega's heavy-handed approach and obsession with satire overshadows these potentially powerful narratives.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1994
Page count: 112pp
Publisher: Latin American Literary Review