Cien cuyes by Gustavo Rodríguez
Lima. Alfaguara. 2023. 258 pages.
In early 2023 Gustavo Rodríguez’s latest novel, Cien cuyes, was awarded Spain’s coveted Premio Alfaguara de Novela. Cien cuyes tells the story of Eufrasia Vela, a middle-aged woman from humble origins who cares for senior citizens in upper-class neighborhoods in Lima, Peru. Eufrasia is a migrant from northern Peru as well as a single mother who must provide for her son, Nicolás. To do so, she routinely crosses the city on public transportation to serve Ms. Carmen, an elderly widow who needs both domestic help and emotional support because her own daughter pays no attention to her. Later, Eufrasia works for Jack Morrison, a retired and widowed medical doctor who is fond of jazz and good whisky but lives in a state of soul-crushing solitude. After both Carmen and Jack pass away, the protagonist begins working in a retirement home where a group of upper-class seniors have formed a chosen family they call “the magnificent seven.”
Eufrasia soon proves to be a warm and generous caregiver who looks after the group both physically and emotionally. For the seniors, life moves along in a slow routine of medications, bland meals, TV movies, ailments, and the occasional conversation in which they reminisce about key moments in their lives, only to remember that the end is around the corner. The bond Eufrasia establishes with her elderly patients is deep—so much so that when they ask her to help them end their lonely lives, she agrees to it. However, Eufrasia’s choice ends up leading her to an ethical crossroads and many unanswered questions.
Cien cuyes is a tragicomic novel about an important subject: our ability to care for the elderly in modern-day society and euthanasia as an option for dying with dignity. It is a fast-paced narrative with witty dialogue replete with references to film and pop culture. In addition to old age, Rodríguez’s story touches on a number of significant issues, such as the many gaps between the rich and poor in Peru, empathy, and the ability to form human bonds regardless of social differences. It is also a novel that confronts the reader with important ethical questions about the meaning of a life well lived. A remarkable talent, Gustavo Rodríguez is a writer to follow in contemporary Latin American literature.
University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee