After last month’s rather abortive beginning to my Latin American Readalong (which was because Paradiso turned out to be one of the most ridiculously densely-written novels I’ve come across in a long while (and not at all short either)), here’s February’s book, just in time.
The Yawar Fiesta of the title is a festive bullfight held in the town of Puquio, up in the Peruvian mountains. The bullfight is a traditional Indian affair, for which the bravest Indians get liquored up beforehand and then all go into the ring with the bull to test their machismo (and therefore the superiority of their ayllu [district / community]), leading usually to a fair few of them getting killed, before putting an end to the bull, not with any namby-pamby swords or banderillas, but with a stick of dynamite. The plot involves the government wishing to outlaw this barbaric spectacle for the good of the Indians themselves, and replace it with some more respectable style of bullfighting – you know, with a proper toreador and that sort of thing. Naturally, the Indians aren’t really interested in this.
Arguedas’ real concern, however, is the inter-relations within the community, its historic development etc., which is all explained in the build-up to the fight. On the one side we have the Indians; on the other the government, as represented by the subprefect, yet these two sides never speak: their conversation is entirely mediated through two other groups: the elders of the town (white Spanish, descendants of those who took the land off the Indians in the first place, and who now exploit the Indians population), and the Indians who have travelled down to Lima, become educated and returned. In essence, while being opposed to the Indians by their position, the elders really want the traditional bullfight to go ahead, and only pretend they do not to the subprefect, for they enjoy the sight of blood like anyone; and the students, while being Indians, oppose their bullfight, because they see it as a means of the exploitative landlords keeping the Indians in a barbaric state. Hence, not much understanding all round.
You may not be entirely surprised from all this to learn that Arguedas, who grew up in Puquio, was trained as an anthropologist. The novel does at times read more or less like an anthropological study – it is full of Quechua words and terms; though, to be fair, an anthropological study which builds to a nice climax.
Next month: José Donoso’s Curfew.