Mario Vargas Llosa

Death In The Andes

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Death In The Andes Summary

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Death in the Andes (1993), a mystery novel by Peruvian and Nobel Prize-winning author Mario Vargas Llosa, is loosely a sequel to the novel Who Killed Palomino Molero?, following Corporal Lituma, a policeman from the prequel who has been transferred to Naccos, a rural town in the Andes. As punishment for a past failure, Corporal Lituma and his assistant, Tomas Carreno are sent to this town full of construction workers. When three men disappear from the town, Lituma and Carreno investigate—themselves comprising the entire police force. Though they initially suspect the Shining Path, a sect of Maoists, their investigations reveal that it is a more sinister actor. The novel employs magical realism, referencing ancient South American spirituality and mythological entities to examine the unique life of the Maoists, who live on the border of the order-affirming modern and chaotic pre-modern world.

The book begins just as the Peruvian army sends Corporal Lituma to Naccos. Originally from Piura, a major city on the coast, he anticipates a stark situational transition. The first confirmation comes when he realizes that the majority of Naccos’ Indian people only speak Quechua, rather than his native Spanish. Due to this language barrier, Lituma relies mainly on Deputy Carreno, who grew up in this region, as he accumulates information about the three men’s disappearance.

The narrator contextualizes the area’s fraught climate by explaining a few independent incidents where the Sendero Luminoso, the Communist Party of Peru, terrorized Peruvians. He gives the example of the brutal and xenophobic stoning of two French tourists and a group of ecologists working on a humanitarian project. To the detectives, xenophobia is a possible explanation for the disappearance of the three subjects at hand, since they could be easily interpreted as outsiders. One is mute and works for the Corporal; another has albinism, making him visually “other”; and the third is an outsourced foreman working on the construction of a new road. The Senderos’ antagonistic fear of outsiders makes them the most logical suspects.

Meanwhile, in a second narrative unrelated to the investigation, Carreno entertains a homesick Lituma each evening with stories about an affair he had with Mercedes, a prostitute from Piura. This episodic resurgence of Carreno’s tale punctuates the story with context about the difference between modern Peruvian subjectivity and the more rural and insular one of the Andean Indians who descended from the Inca Empire.

During their investigation, the two officials find that the only sufficient public meeting place is a run-down cantina owned by a couple, Dionisio and Adriana. The relaxed nature of the place allows Lituma to interview its patrons and owners for possible leads on the case. First, he learns about the mute missing man, Pedro Tinoco. Mute from birth and an orphan, he enjoyed working as a farmer and herdsman. When a group of livestock was sent by the Senderos to roam aimlessly in the mountains because they believed the livestock only benefited foreign traders, Pedro stayed with the herd. The animals integrated into the wild and dispersed into caves, but Pedro became close enough to them to live among them. One day, he was discovered by the terrorists and forced to call the herd out of the caves; the terrorists then killed them all.

After Pedro’s incident, he wandered the country. Carreno eventually found him, employing him in Naccos as a simple tasker. One night, they ask him to come to the cantina for beer. They learn that Pedro has disappeared after being given multiple drinks.

The story then diverges to that of the man with albinism, Casimiro Huarcaya. Casimiro ran away from home as a child, finding work as a peddler. Learning to be independent, he drifted between towns, selling goods at local markets. One day, he became infatuated with a Quechua girl and later got her pregnant. Guilty, he gave her money to either support the child or fund an abortion. He tried to stay connected with the girl during his travels, but never saw her again. Several years later, while selling his goods in a village, the girl ran out of a mob that was ambushing him to brutally rob him. Now one of the Senderos, the girl tried to kill him with a shotgun. Casimiro survives and returns to the cantina one evening. He tells the officers that he has been brought back to life as a pishtaco, or vampire. He gets drunk and disappears again.

Finally, Lituma discovers the story of the third missing man, Demetrio Chance. The foreman of the crew building a new highway, he vanished four days before Lituma’s arrival in Naccos. Lituma discovers that his real name is Don Medardo Llantac; he was previously a governor of another village in the mountains. Fleeing an attack by the Senderos, Medardo had hidden in an open grave. Once the Senderos cleared out of the town, Medardo took his wife to Naccos and changed their names.

The novel ends at the point of the three men’s re-disappearance from Naccos. After a scrupulous investigation and many interviews, Lituma’s efforts are futile, as the men seem too entangled in the politics of the region to remain stationary or for their narratives to be fully recorded. Realizing that there has been no Sendero activity in Naccos specifically, Lituma hypothesizes that Dionisio and Adriana, the cantina owners, are complicit. The book leaves off with Lituma struggling to understand their connection to the disappearances. Death in the Andes ultimately refutes the notion that all mysteries are fully solvable, entangled in immensely rich and complex, but opaque, regional and political histories.