Edited by Will Evans
In an article in El País, Spanish writer Antonio Muñoz Molina noted contemporary Peruvian novelists’ aptitude for creating narratives infused with historical and political reality: novels that set out to capture the real. Blood of the Dawn’s allusions to events of the recent past—some oblique, others named, but all with real-world equivalents unmistakable for Peruvian readers—make it not out of place, I don’t think, to name those events here so readers of the translation are better equipped to find out more.
There is another reason to do so. Historian Cecilia Méndez G. has argued that, while the Shining Path insurrection has had an indelible effect on Peruvian society, it is a period that many Peruvians, especially those who live in the capital, do their utmost to forget. Dwelling on this “time of fear,”—or, for Quechua speakers, the “sasachakuy [difficult] time”—which claimed at least 70,000 lives, is too painful. The urgency of representation present in Blood of the Dawn is a courageous response to this amnesia, a demand to remember as much as an attempt to represent, a pointing toward the real as well as a transformation of that real by means of the imagination.
So, a list: the 1983 Lucanamarca massacre, the 1985 Accomarca massacre, the 1986 prison riots and massacres (including at the women’s prison in Santa Mónica), the 1991 Barrios Altos massacre and the 1992 Tarata bombing. Reference is also made to a 1989 video that features the Shining Path leader dancing to “Zorba the Greek” with the high command.
The Quechua words I decided not to gloss mostly represent complex ideas from the Andean cosmovision, where features of the landscape are invested with spirit. Some rough approximations: Apus are sacred mountains or powerful mountain spirits; Pachamama is something like Mother Earth; and Pachacuti is a space-time turnover, a chaotic time where everything is turned on its head after a thousand-year cycle of the earth ends and the next begins. Another Quechua term derives from Andean experiences of colonialism: the Pishtaco is a mythological bogeyman, often a white stranger, who kills Andean individuals to steal their body fat. Body fat is a sign of vitality and beauty in the Andes. Add to this the Andeans’ horror on observing the way Spanish conquistadores treated their wounds with the fat of their enemies’ corpses and you have the makings of a myth set to endure. Its modern incarnations include the belief that sugar-mill machinery uses human fat as grease—a critique of Western capitalism if ever there were one.
Blood of the Dawn manages to compress a great deal into very little space, which has made translating it an absorbing and sometimes daunting challenge. One remarkable feature is the way a single idea is expressed twofold through content and form. For example, the plot’s focus on women as drivers of history is reflected in how their stories are told: Salazar Jiménez reminds us that language is a means of articulating systems of domination, patriarchy among them, through her steadfast refusal to use the full sentences dictated by standard grammar. In another example, Blood of the Dawn wrestles with how we might begin to represent violence in light of the physical and psychic damage it wreaks. The fragmentary nature of the narrative—its rapid switching among scenes, perspectives, grammatical tenses and persons, and especially the sections that turn away from grammatical organization almost completely—articulates the near impossibility of relating trauma while at the same time offering up an ambitious attempt to do the same.
A key challenge in bringing across all this compressed complexity was trying to reflect the different voices of the protagonists. These voices are painted with Quechua-inflected Spanish (in sentence structure as much as vocabulary), Maoist ideology, echoes of Catholic catechism, the language of elitist prejudice and racism, and much more besides. Through the rhythm of Modesta’s voice, I hope I have conveyed something of the repetitions that call to mind predominantly oral cultures, where lodgment in the listener’s memory is often favored over economy of expression. With Marcela/Marta, I have tried to emphasize the sense of indoctrination into Shining Path ideology. For example, when the word “encarnado” (“in the flesh,” “embodied,” “personified”) is used to describe the way she exemplifies the revolution, I opted to include a biblical allusion by translating “revolución encarnada” as “the revolution made flesh” in an echo of both the 1611 and standard versions of the King James Bible, “the Word was made flesh” (John 1:14).