La narrativa de Jorge Eduardo Benavides: Textos críticos. Edited by César Ferreira and Gabriel Saxton-Ruiz. Lima: Universidad Ricardo Palma, 2018. 216 pages.
La narrativa de Jorge Eduardo Benavides: Textos críticos [The fiction of Jorge Eduardo Benavides: Critical tests] brings together a collection of essays that analyze the work of this renowned Peruvian author through diverse and methodical critical approaches. Edited by César Ferreira and Gabriel Saxton-Ruiz, the book presents nine important reflections that shed new light on the author’s fiction.
In the book’s opening essay, Jorge Eduardo Benavides discusses the craft of writing. He considers the ups and downs budding authors face when completing a novel and suggests that there are two types of writers: “Compass” writers and “Map” writers. “Compass” writers are intuitive; they carve out their path as they travel it. They develop plot a bit blindly, playing with words and measuring their expressive possibilities. They piece sentences together as they write. On the other hand, “Map” writers need to develop a plan; they make notes and they plot out their routes clearly before beginning to write. His essay is a close look into the ways writers navigate the challenges inherent in crafting fiction.
In the volume’s second essay, Álex Lima analyzes the cartographic and metaphysical trajectory of Benavides’s characters in what has been deemed his “political trilogy.” The novel Los años inútiles (2002), the first in the series, recounts Alan García’s first presidential term (1985-1990). El año que rompí contigo (2003) follows suit, narrating Alberto Fujimori’s ascent to power in 1990. The trilogy concludes with Un millón de soles (2008), which takes place during Juan Velasco Alvarado’s military government (1968-1975). This essay examines the protagonists’ multiple journeys in these stories. While these are physical movements illustrating the many social contrasts of Lima as a vast metropolis, they are also temporal and psychological voyages that mark the protagonists’ lives. Such movements have the virtue of multiplying the realities showcased in the narrative.
In the third essay, Eric Carbajal studies the complex social relations of a fragmented Peruvian society during the armed conflict between the Shining Path and the Peruvian State, as well as the economic crisis of the 1980s in El año que rompí contigo (2003). With an anthropological approach, this essay details, among other issues, the multicultural identity of Aníbal, the story’s protagonist, and his many contradictions.
César Ferreira, for his part, explores the framework of La paz de los vencidos (2009), a novel in which the main character is living in the Canary Islands. The anonymous protagonist is a young Peruvian writer questioning his identity, culture and homeland. The text invites us into his personal diary, which serves as the novel’s narrative format. Yet, the diary is also the protagonist’s refuge, as well as a mirror reflecting his tribulations as both a marginalized and solitary subject in Tenerife. The story’s main theme, according to Ferreira, is the hardships of exile, with its many nuances and challenges.
Gabriel Saxton-Ruiz studies in-depth Un asunto sentimental (2012). The novel takes place in Berlin, Venice, Barcelona, Madrid, New York, Lima and several other cities, which therefore locates this text within the genre of travel literature. For Saxton-Ruiz, the novel is also highly political, evoking violence in Madrid and the terrorism battering Peru in the 1980s. The travel literature genre not only allows Benavides to build the novel’s core theme, it also inspires him to experiment with the narrative form in order to tell a love story that is full of starts and surprises.
Eva Valero’s thorough essay on Benavides’s collection of short fiction, La noche de Morgana (2005), is a particularly valuable contribution to this volume. Valero argues that Benavides constructs the impressive thematic corpus of his novels in these stories. Additionally, she explains how these texts include nods to the works of Ribeyro, Cortázar and other forebears of the Latin American short story. As a result, this collection is noteworthy given the way Benavides cultivates highly realist texts alongside others more in line with the aesthetics of “lo fantástico.”
Following the above are essays by Katie Ginsbach on El enigma del convento (2014), a transatlantic historical novel, and Gerardo Castillo on El asesinato de Laura Olivo (2018), in which Benavides displays his talent for detective fiction. The collection closes with an interview by Raúl Tola with the author.
This volume on Jorge Eduardo Benavides’s work is an impressive achievement for its editors, in which Ferreira and Saxton-Ruiz call attention to the work of a prolific author in contemporary Peruvian literature. With a wealth of narrative resources, Benavides’s work explores such varied themes as Peruvian political life, the experience of exile, and the changes of power in Fernando VII’s Spain, all of which enable him to build a rich and intricate literary corpus.
La narrativa de Jorge Eduardo Benavides: Textos críticos is, in sum, a requisite point of entry into the novels and short stories of this talented Peruvian author.
Translated by Amy Olen