Drawing on Peruvian government archives, two scholars recount the fortunes of a headline-grabbing Peruvian guerrilla movement.
It’s never a good idea to join a political party founded by college professors, who think in coldblooded abstractions. Such was certainly the case with Abimael Guzmán, who, in 1980, founded Shining Path, a Maoist-with-deviations gang in which his wife and other women took leadership roles. As Starn (Cultural Anthropology/Duke Univ.; The Passion of Tiger Woods: An Anthropologist Reports on Golf, Race, and Celebrity Scandal, 2011, etc.) and La Serna (History/Univ. of North Carolina; The Corner of the Living: Ayacucho on the Eve of the Shining Path Insurgency, 2012, etc.) show, there wasn’t much questioning of the supreme leader, who took the curious path of attacking peasants as well as government troops. For its part, the Peruvian government, which, under Alberto Fujimori, was certainly corrupt enough to merit a revolution, committed atrocities of its own even while preparing for the day of Guzmán’s fall by building a maximum security prison intended just for him. Of interest to literary historians is the go-between investigative work of the novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, who emerged from events disgusted enough to quit politics and move to Spain. “The citizenship change, Fujimori taunted, showed that his globe-trotting rival had never been a real Peruvian in the first place,” write the authors, though Vargas Llosa had his revenge by winning the Nobel Prize a few years later. Guzmán was eventually caught and imprisoned, ending Shining Path’s most active period. The authors do a fair job of recounting events, though often ham-fistedly: The fact that Silence of the Lambs was playing in Lima movie theaters at the time does not qualify Guzmán for the sobriquet “Peru’s own Hannibal Lecter,” and it’s a bit overblown to throw in the gruesome torture of rebel leader Túpac Amaru two centuries earlier as evidence for how comparatively easy the “white doctor and…celebrity prisoner” Guzmán had it.
Shining Path was significant enough to warrant a better book at the hands of someone like Mark Bowden. For the moment, however, this adequate one will do.