When planning my trip to Peru last Christmas, I was recommended to read Yawar Fiesta by Jose Maria Arguedas. At the time, I was unable to find it in English, but I put it in the London Library suggestions book and, lo and behold, here we are, in a version translated by Frances Horning Barraclough. It’s quite a short novel, some 150 pages, but clearly packed with intense emotions.
It starts with a careful, and quite fascinating, account of an Indian town, Puquio, in a remote area of
Then the central government moves to ban bull-fighting. The main part of the novel is an account of how all these different groups react to this, and how it affects their relations with each other. The Yawar Fiesta of the title is the "bloody fiesta" in which bull fighting of a particularly bloody sort is both the central part of the "fun" for all, but is also a competition between the various parts of the town. In the end, a bull of magical reputation, Misitu, is captured in the mountains and brought to the town, where both the traditional Spanish style bullfight, and a more brutal local version take place. The town throughout is fierce, savage, uncompromising - but these latter pages are very strong meat indeed. I found them compelling but distasteful, and the picture of the relations between classes became increasingly hard to follow and confusing - though this was partly rooted in the reality Arguedas is describing.
This is not an easy book to read; partly the material is intrinsically remote from our experience, and the issue an incomprehensible one for most of us. But it is lively and powerful, and I wish I'd read before travelling to Peru. But I think it would be easier if the translator had translated everything, rather than leaving Spanish and Quechua word scattered through the text, to be interpreted with footnotes and a glossary.