País de Jauja by Edgardo Rivera Martínez
Lima. Alfaguara. 2022. 640 pages.
EDGARDO RIVERA MARTÍNEZ’S first novel, País de Jauja, received immediate critical acclaim when it was published in Peru in 1993. Some thirty years later, it is considered a canonical work in Peruvian letters. This edición definitiva of País de Jauja not only underscores the author’s artistic excellence; it is also a tribute to his many contributions to the topic of mestizaje in contemporary Peruvian culture.
País de Jauja is set in 1947 and takes place in the town of Jauja in the Peruvian central highlands. The novel follows Claudio, a teenager from a middle-class family, over several weeks of summer vacation. During this time, Claudio’s life is marked by a series of events that serve as a rite of passage to a higher level of intellectual and affective maturity, including his discovery of sexuality. The protagonist’s mother, who encourages his musical vocation, plays an important role in his life, as does his older brother, who promotes Claudio’s literary interests. With his mother’s guidance, Claudio records lyrics to Andean music that will be played on the piano. In addition, he is fascinated by Homer’s Iliad, which he reads over the summer, as well as the Andean oral legends he hears from an elderly housekeeper. Thus, the boy who began his summer playing with his classmates quickly reaches a degree of maturity as he realizes his artistic vocation and, more importantly, becomes aware of his multicultural heritage.
In this coming-of-age story, the town of Jauja itself is the real center of the novel. Jauja serves as a symbiotic, utopian space promoting the intermingling of cultures in a genuine process of mestizaje. Moreover, it is a mediating space between the experience of modernity rooted in Lima, Peru’s capital, and the remote Andean world. In Jauja, the Apus—the tutelary gods of the mountains—and the mythical Amarus—winged serpents inhabiting the sacred mountains—still exert their influence over the lives of its inhabitants. In short, Jauja is not only a version of paradise where people from all over the world migrate for the curative power of its climate, but it is also a symbol of the felicitous union of Western and Andean values that have traditionally been considered incompatible in Peru’s cultural history.
Edgardo Rivera Martínez is a key name in contemporary Peruvian letters. As País de Jauja clearly demonstrates, he is a gifted storyteller who presents mestizaje in a positive light—a complex but all-inclusive process in which Peru can see itself as a diverse, multicultural nation.
University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee