Blood of the Dawn, by Claudia Salazar Jiménez

On the third of April, 1983, Shining Path guerrillas attacked the hamlet of Lucanamarca, killing sixty-nine villagers, hacking them to death with machetes. Women and children were among the dead. This was the first of the Shining Path’s massacres, but it would not be the last. Lucanamarca. Accomarca. Barrios Altos.

Blood of The Dawn is not an easy book to read. Nor should it be, by any stretch of the imagination. It deals with one of the bloodiest periods in Peruvian history, known as the “Time of Fear”. The Shining Path insurgency claimed the lives of nearly 70,000 from its outbreak in 1980 to the present day. This is no accident—the Maoist insurgents’ leader, Abimael Guzman said that “the triumph of the revolution will cost a million lives”. In bare, unstinting prose, The Blood of The Dawn traces the separate but intertwining paths of three women who were variously affected by this war.

Blood of the Dawn, by Claudia Salazar Jimenez
Blood of the Dawn, by Claudia Salazar Jiménez

There’s Melanie, a photographer who lives in Lima, but wants to escape to the country, to head to the central provinces and record the atrocities taking place for posterity. She longs to slip her security detail, to view the experience unmediated, as she sees it, by security and government censorship. Modesta is a smallholder in an even smaller village, farming guinea pigs. Her life is hard, her land unforgiving, but it’s her’s nonetheless, and she doesn’t want to leave. Then, there’s Marcela, perhaps the most intriguing of the three. As a schoolteacher, she believes that the children of Peru are being neglected by the government. Her solution? Leave her husband and her child and join Shining Path.

These stories intertwine and twist, but converge towards the end of Salazar Jiménez’ narrative, in a series of horrifically violent episodes. Blood of The Dawn is a brief novel, but an intense one, whose every word flexes with a taut power. The violence that permeated the interior provinces of Peru in the 1980s and 1990s might well be unspeakable, but Claudia Salazar Jiménez’ novel tries its utmost to articulate these horrors.

Claudia Salazar Jiménez, trans. Elizabeth Bryer, Blood of the Dawn, Deep Vellum (Dallas: 2006)

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