Fanático del rock. José A. Bravo de Rueda. Lima: Hipocampo Editores. 2021. 159 pages.
José Alberto Bravo de Rueda is a multifaceted writer belonging to the 1980s literary generation of Peru. Aside from being a university professor at North Carolina A&T State University, he is also a novelist, a poet, and a drummer in a rock band. His first novel was Hacia el sur (1992) and his second is Fanático del rock, whose highlight is his recounting of Peru’s social and political history in the last fifty years, alongside its sonic landscape. Along with other Peruvian-American writers, such as José Castro Urioste in his novel ¿Y tú qué has hecho? (2001) and Natalia Sylvester in Chasing the sun (2014), he maintains that the latest historical period in Peru begins with Juan Velasco Alvarado’s government in 1968 and ends in 2015, the year Bravo de Rueda started his novel. But, instead of proposing that Peru began its worst recession in 1968, as many conservatives do, Fanático del rock suggests that many positive changes occurred until around 1975, but were later followed by a conservative restoration process. To differentiate the phases of this period, the novel abandons a linear story, jumping from the present to the past. In the same way that another Peruvian-American writer, Rafael Dumett, does in his novel El espía del inca (2019), Bravo de Rueda examines the Peruvian past to find reasons for the current political crisis through the use of the crime fiction genre.
Fanático del rock begins in the recent era of civil conflict in Peru. Violence persists in this period, which began in 1993 and lasts to this day. Most assassinations, kidnappings, and massacres of the elderly, women, and children, have been motivated by socio-environmental struggles and disputes over control of urban and rural territories between criminal organizations. The novel tells the narrative of the armed fight pitting subversive groups, soldiers, and police against criminal violence, through the story of the kidnapping of British band “The Rockin’ Bones” (de Rueda’s parody of The Rolling Stones). The English musicians are on their way to a concert when they are abducted by Fernando Augusto Goicochea Muncha, an ex-major in the Peruvian army, whose fanaticism for rock music brings him to kidnap the band for the sole purpose of playing music with his idols. Major Goicochea trained in the U.S. and was discharged for his psychopathic excesses in the torture and summary execution of suspected members of the Peruvian Communist Party, Sendero Luminoso.
Bravo de Rueda’s novel imitates Peruvian reality. At the end of their guerrilla war, some organizers and members of the anti-communist death squad, Grupo Colina, as well as those who used their military power to inflict torture, were tried and sentenced to prison. Major Goicochea represents those members of repressive systems whose crimes went unpunished in exchange for their silence. Due to the lack of legal work, they became common criminals by refusing to return weaponry to the army and by having the military capability to carry out successful operations.
Goicochea finds an antagonist in detective Jorge Arteaga, whom the national police have charged with investigating and capturing those responsible for the band’s kidnapping. From the outset, Arteaga is certain Goicochea is the crime ring’s leader, given the professionalism with which the kidnapping was conducted. He is familiar with Goicochea’s tactics because they had met previously during Velasco Alvarado’s administration, when they both happened to be in an intelligence course offered to army officials and members of the Peruvian Investigative Police (PIP). In the course, they learned various methods of suppressing insurgents in low-intensity conflicts. Following their training, they participated in counter-insurgency operations. When Arteaga informs his superiors that Goicochea’s capture is forthcoming, they strangely throw out the case. The higher-ups fear that Goicochea would negotiate his freedom by giving information that could bring them to trial and convict them for their own violation of human rights and illicit enrichment during the civil conflict.
The following chapters explore the protagonists’ pasts. In their characterization, they dismantle prejudices and stereotypes that persist in real-life Peru. Major Goicochea, thanks to his persistence and talent, climbs the social ladder by migrating from Ayacucho to Lima and attending the Peruvian School of Army Officers, where he is successful in his military activities due to his organization and speed in making decisions. Meanwhile, detective Arteaga, who belongs to Lima’s upper middle class, falls in social standing. The son of freelancers leaves university to become a detective in the PIP school. There, he hones his analytic and planning abilities, which leads him to contribute to the capture of guerilla leader Abimael Guzmán, although he does not receive due credit.
Fanático del rock mentions several different Peruvian presidents to give the story a historical context, and the reader has the challenge of temporally situating the book’s events. Similarly, the story parallels a nostalgic recounting of mass music consumption from Velasco Alvarado’s 1968 administration until 2015. Instead of associating a musical taste with regional and social origins, Bravo de Rueda’s characters express interest in both local and foreign music genres. For example, the Ayacuchan and Quechua-speaking Goicochea not only listens to and dances traditional Peruvian huayno, but also rock music.
In summary, José Alberto Bravo de Rueda’s second novel uses the crime fiction genre to explain the social and historical trajectory of the violence-filled past fifty years, and Velasco Alvarado’s reforms that tried to resolve the most critical problems with the strengthening of a welfare state. However, the traditionalist restoration, started by dictator Morales Bermúdez (who introduced neoliberalism and authoritarian democracy), dismantled efforts to create a better society for all Peruvian citizens. At this stage in Peruvian history, armed violence, corruption, and increase in criminal activities have led to the creation of a narco-state. Additionally, Bravo de Rueda goes beyond the discourses of piety and demonization of the insurgents of this era, reconstructing the sonic landscapes of Peru with a trained ear, and referencing the skepticism that anything will change in the future.
Ulises Juan Zevallos Aguilar
Translated by Yanna Glaspy