Lima: five books to read in the summer to get to know the city
Capital of intrigue, crime, contrasts and bourgeois pleasures, Lima’s chameleonic and complex nature is reflected in Peruvian literature. From comedy to crime, the portraits sketched by some of Lima’s finest writers offer geographical, political and social insights that cast the city in different lights, making Lima a destination to discover and discover again.
1 Conversation in the Cathedral by Mario Vargas Llosa (Seix Barral, 1969)
Vargas Llosa once said that if had to save only one of his novels from a fire, it would be Conversation in the Cathedral, set in the 1950s. Student activist Santiago Zavala talks with Ambrosio (his father’s chauffeur) in a bar on Alfonso Ugarte Avenue known as ‘La Catedral’ (due to its resemblance to a church). Through this dialogue, they examine the history of the country – its class divides and dictatorship – and tell the story of Lima landmarks, such as San Marcos University, San Martín Square and the banks of the River Rimac.
2 The Night of the Pins, by Santiago Roncagliolo (Alfaguara, 2016)
Middle-class Lima of the 1990s is the setting for this flashback-based novel that opens with four teenage friends who fantasise about exacting revenge on a teacher. In the background, the winner of the 2006 Alfaguara Prize explores the lack of communication between young people and their parents, the rigid moral corset imposed upon them in school and the city’s invisible boundaries, which separate the whites from the cholos, the so-called ‘good’ from the so-called ‘bad’.
3 Post pop, by Luisa Fernanda Lindo (Lustra Editores, 2009)
Poetry and music meld in this artist’s book (the digital version can be downloaded from the author’s website), which includes a CD with songs based on Lindo’s poems. The latter speak of the violence of times past, with images such as a bomb exploding in the night, and a desire that the world doesn’t end. Rather than talking about Lima, this book explores the mental state of those living in it, creating a kind of sensory map of the city.
4 The Imperfect Peruvian, by Fernando Ampuero (Alfaguara, 2011)
The book’s title refers to someone who – due to their appearance – is not considered Peruvian (and hence ‘imperfect’). The professional and personal adventures of Pedro José de Arancibia, a snobbish upper-middle-class journalist, revolve round a gentrified city embodied by the district of Miraflores – “the happiest and most modern”, according to de Arancibia himself. Ampuero gives us a bird’s-eye view of a Lima of privilege, excess, idiosyncrasy and double standards in a novel that he defines as a “false autobiography”.
5 The Circle of Killer Writers, by Diego Trelles Paz (Candaya, 2006)
The murder of the literary critic García Ordóñez is explored through four manuscripts of four versions of the crime, as told by those suspected of carrying it out. All of them are young writers who want to put an end to what they call “Lima’s cultural mafia”, and all were found to be targets of García Ordóñez’s pen. The Lima of this novel – set in the post-Fujimori era – is a cultural and literary world, whose intrigues, pretensions and dreams are exposed by Trelles Paz.