DRUMS FOR RANCAS by Manuel Scorza


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Lit by flashes of Swiftian humor, this dark thundercloud of a novel hovers over a surrealist landscape, bloodstained and terrible. It is the Peruvian Andes, where the indigenous people, descendants of the Incas, are powerless before an international (read ""United States"") company which is enclosing their grazing lands. A barbed wire fence moves among them like a serpent. ""Nine hills, fifty pastures, five ponds, fourteen waterholes, eleven caves, three rivers so deep they don't freeze even in winter, five villages, five graveyards--the Fence devoured them all in two weeks,"" says the author, who explains earlier that he is ""not a novelist so much as a witness"" (to real events occurring between 1950 and 1962). The Indians also have Peruvian oppressors to deal with, chief among them a sinister judge first met only as a black suit with six buttons. An unequal battle is joined when a folk hero in the Wild West tradition, Hawkeye, vows to kill the judge. Among the judge's friends is a big landowner who poisons fifteen of his laborers when they ask his permission to form a union, and then announces they died by a ""mass thrombosis."" On Hawkeye's side is a man who can read the future and another who talks with horses. But such folk magic is of no avail, and the novel ends with a moving description of the dispossessed Indians from the village of Rancas talking in their graves, a community even in death. This literately savage tale is only rarely confusing as it shifts between fantasy and reality, pity and scornful laughter. The words are like welts left by a whip on a naked back.

Pub Date: March 2nd, 1977
Publisher: Harper & Row