Understanding Peru — a country that boasts of having many of the world’s climates, a dramatic history and fascinating traditions — may prove to be a challenge, albeit a rewarding one. Here are five books that will guide you through the country, and convince you to put away your guidebook for a moment.
The first man of the Peruvian literature, Mario Vargas Llosa wrote dozens of stories set in Peru. In his novels, he comments on the difficult Peruvian reality, complicated history and the country’s quirks. Death in the Andes is a gripping page-turner that brings the readers back to the times of the Shining Path, the cruel Maoist guerrilla group that reigned in the Peruvian sierra since the 1980s. The novel mixes the country’s tragic history, local customs, and the landscapes of Peru in a masterly way. Llosa skillfully portrays traditional beliefs, and manages to include Peruvian poetic traditions in what can be classified as a political thriller.
This collection of texts on Peru’s history, culture and politics is the size of a brick. It’s a wonderfully vast selection of essays, poetry, legends, short stories, autobiographical accounts and more. As a result, The Peru Reader is a great help in understanding the contrasts of that country.
You can’t find any list on Peru-related reading without several stories about Machu Picchu and the Inca heritage. Turn Right at Machu Picchu is one of the more popular books. Mark Adams did a remarkable job, first researching thoroughly the Inca history, and then tracing the steps of Hiram Bingham, the legendary discoverer of Machu Picchu. Along with a murky Australian guide John Leivers, Adams explored the wild land of the Incas, and described it in such a light, graceful way, that it’s a treat to read even if you’re far away from any jungle.
The account of how a small flock of cheeky Spaniards conquered a mighty kingdom deep in the Andes reads like a fairy tale. John Hemming’s impressive scholarship, attention to detail (that causes the book to be almost 700 pages long) and outstanding storytelling skills, turn the story of the bloody contest into a spectacular read. Hemming’s story covers 40 years, starting from the initial invasion of Francisco Pizarro’s cruel band of 168 men, until the death of the last Inca emperor Túpac Amaru in 1572.
In Search of an Inca is a dense, informative account on the Incan influence on building the identity of the Andean peoples. Alberto Flores Galindo, a famous Peruvian historian and social scientist, writes about 500 years of history of the Andes, analyzing the utopian visions of implementing pre-Hispanic, Inca models into the postcolonial reality of Peru.