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Revista Interamericana de Bibliografía (RIB)
Número: 1
Título: 1998

Orin STARN, Carlos Iván DEGREGORI, and Robin KIRK, eds. The Peru Reader: History, Culture, Politics. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1995. vii + 531p., illus, index.

This is an anthology in which the editors seek to present the “voices” of Peruvians about their country as well as the analysis of outsiders that have studied Peru. The result is, as they put it, “a mixed-field, cross-disciplinary anthology” (p.5) that spans a spectrum of epochs and topics.

The volume provides an enhanced picture of Peruvian ethnohistory as it explores the complex interactions of power and culture over time. Thus, the volume covers a lot of ground, from the pre-Inca civilizations, the conquest and colonial rule, the Republican period, the advent of modern politics, the break-up of the old order after 1968, leading up to civil strife caused by the Shining Path and the terror that ensued during the past 15 years.

The first half of the collection has particular merit for historians in that it contains essays and excerpts from the writings of key contributors to Andean historiography such as Garcilazo de la Vega, John Hemming, Ricardo Palma, Steve J. Stern, Alberto Flores Galindo, Florencia Mallon, Luis Valcarcel, and José Carlos Mariátegui. Each of these authors has explored fundamental issues at specific periods making major contributions and providing scholars with much to consider about aspects of Peruvian history.

The second half of the book contains materials that take several different tracks. It covers the forging of a “third Way”of state-centered development by the reformist military government of Velasco Alvarado in 1968, the emergence of the Shining Path, the drug problem, the growth of the informal sector, and other issues related to hardship and fear as a result of Peru’s socio-economic deterioration during the 1980s.

Like many anthologies, this book is uneven and unbalanced. It mixes academic and nonacademic writings which do not always form a coherent whole. As the editors note, the reader contains “a collection of poems, colonial chronicles, a folktale, a menu, a travel account, a death sentence, a classified memo, autobiographical accounts, novel excerpts or short stories, song lyrics, speeches, and essays” (p.2). In its effort to provide a deeper understanding of Peru it presents aspects of Peruvian society related only to culture, history, and politics. That is, the book excludes aspects of economics (e.g the guano boom, the fishing boom, the debt problem) and a number of other social issues. Part of the reason might be that two of the editors are anthropologists with an affinity for history.

Is this a representative collection of Peru? The anthropological angle is a limiting factor even if the book merits attention and is, indeed, an invaluable reference tool. Another limitation is that excerpts taken from books do not always do justice to the original works because they leave the reader with a thirst for more. There is no doubt that putting together a reader on Peru is a strenuous task. Peru is a poorly integrated country, or more to the point, a society deeply divided along class and racial lines that has had difficulty in coming to grips with its own reality. Peru is a country of many facets with a deeply troubling history. Although there are gaps that the book fills (e.g. material made available for the first time in English) and some it fails to fill, it provides a relatively good collection of articles that explain aspects of Peru’s complex history, its diversified culture, and the volatile political climate of recent years.

University of Pittsburgh                                                                                                                                            RUBÉN BERRÍOS
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA