Blood Of The Dawn

BOOK REVIEW by Willard Manus

“Lord, why do you send so much death our way?

Why do you look on as we kill one another?”

This excerpt from an Andean folk song pretty much sums up the essence of BLOOD OF THE DAWN, the powerful debut novel of the Peruvian writer Claudia Salazar Jimenez (Deep Vellum Publishing, deftly translated by Elizabeth Bryer).

Jimenez, who is also the founder and director of Perufest, the first Peruvian film festival in NYC, digs deep into Peru’s recent violent history: the decades-long battle between the Shining Path guerrillas and the country’s right-wing government.

The author looks at the conflict through a wide lens, using a multitude of mostly female voices to tell her story. One of the key characters is Marcela, a teacher and a mother who, for fiercely idealistic reasons, gives up everything to join the guerrillas. Another is Melanie, a photo/journalist whose assignment to cover the armed struggle has unforseen, horrific results. The third is Modesta, a farm woman caught up against her will in the savage battle between right and left.

Among the other characters are The President, a General, and a Shining Path leader who is forever quoting Mao (“power comes out of the barrel of a gun”). Jimenez skillfully orchestrates all of these voices, weaving them together to create a brutally honest portrait of a country being ripped apart by destructive class war. Both left and right have their reasons to do battle, but in the end neither side is worthy of our admiration or respect. As the novel shows so convincingly, they are both tainted by evil, all too willing to demonize, rob, rape and murder each other.

Man’s inhumanity to man screams out from these pages, with the only saving grace being the courage and compassion Modesta shows in her battle against the forces of darkness.