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Broad and Alien Is the World by Ciro…

Broad and Alien Is the World (1940)

by Ciro Alegría

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3.5 stars rounded up. Review to come ( )
  JenPrim | Jan 15, 2016 |
Broad and Alien is the World was a reading selection of my classic book club. I did a bit of research on the web to try to put the book into the context of its time. Alegría intended to focus attention on the ill treatment of the Indians of Peru. But the political intent of the book was readily apparent even without knowing the context, for some of the characters seemed like caricatures.

We found the writing somewhat stilted but agreed that this may have been due to the translator. One of our group has retained enough of his high school Spanish to be able to point out sentences that in English are bland but in Spanish are flowing and alliterative. As best we can tell, this book has only been translated once, by Harriet de Onís. How would the book fare in the hands of a different translator? (On the web I found an article originally published in 1977 that includes a comment on the role of Harriet de Onís in the decision to publish this book in English. The attitude of the time seems to have been to translate “relevant” literature as opposed to “modern” literature.)

Although no one else in the group was bothered, I personally found the time line of the book confusing, with current events interspersed with flashbacks to events long past. As best I can tell, the main action of the book takes place from about 1920 to 1925, with flashbacks to at least 16 years earlier. To me, these were signs of a disorganized plot. But another member of the group saw these jumps not as flashbacks but as literary renditions of the phrase “tell us a story,” with Alegría doing with this novel the same thing the village storyteller did--interspersing stories with the main action of the book.

We all found greater immediacy in the last half of the book, when main character Rosendo Maqui is imprisoned on false charges. Since author Ciro Alegría was himself twice imprisoned for political reasons, the emotional impact of his own experience seems to be shining through in this part of the book.

All of us were taken with the depictions of Indians living close to the earth and its seasons. The view is idealized, of course, even though this idealization is tempered with scenes of the disasters that nature can inflict, such as a lightening storm over the mountain village. And, toward the end of the book, in a step away from this idealized view, Alegría shows how rational thought must overcome the villagers' superstitions in order for improvements to be made to the fields and houses.

We all found the book depressing throughout. For me, there was one passage that seems to summarize the author's entire point of view. In this passage, an Indian named Honorio has been released from jail and goes home to find everyone gone and the houses burned. “He looked at the ashes of his pitiful cabin and said to himself: 'They must have left. There's no reason why they should all die.' When the heart is determined to hope it is blind.”

And none of us liked the ending: everybody we rooted for died. We would cheerfully have chopped out Part V and ended the book while the surviving Indians were rebuilding their lives. But I guess that would have softened Alegría 's hammer blows at the ranchers, politicians, military, and government who all conspired to treat the Indians as beasts of burden. ( )
1 vote TallyDi | Oct 17, 2008 |
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