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  You are in: Home > Latin American Studies > The Colonial Divide in Peruvian Narrative  

The Colonial Divide in Peruvian Narrative
Social Conflict and Transculturation

Misha Kokotovic

Misha Kokotovic is Associate Professor and Director of the Latin American Studies Program at UC San Diego. He is the author of many articles on racial discourse and indigenous culture in Latin America.



Peru is a nation built on the still extant colonial divide between indigenous peoples and the descendants of their Spanish conquerors, a divide that finds expression in the short stories, novels, and essays by renowned Peruvian writers such as José María Arguedas and Mario Vargas Llosa. The Colonial Divide in Peruvian Narrative explores debates over Peru’s modernization and cultural identity in post-1940 literature, exploring how Arguedas, Vargas Llosa, and others confronted challenges of language, style, and narrative form in their attempt to write across their nation’s cultural divisions. It examines how modernization affected the relationship between Peru’s white elite and its indigenous majority, how historical change stimulated the emergence of new narrative techniques, and how these in turn made possible an understanding of the historical contexts in which they arose.

Though Peru is its principal focus, the text engages with current studies of modernity at the postcolonial margins of the Western world by contributing to an understanding of the class and ethnic conflicts generated by rapid modernization in culturally heterogeneous nations. The Colonial Divide will add to the growing body of critical literature on the ways in which modernity in formerly colonized nations such as Peru is inflected by the enduring legacies of colonialism.


Introduction: Social Conflict and Narrative Form

1 Modernity from the Margins: Narrative Form and Indigenous Agency in Broad and Alien is the World and Yawar Fiesta

2 From Development Theory to Pachakutiy: José María Arguedas’s Anthropology and Fiction in the 1950s

3 Between Feudalism and Imperialism: Indigenous Culture and Class Struggle in All the Worlds and Drums for Rancas

4 The Criollo City Transformed: Andean Migration in Urban Narrative

5 Mario Vargas Llosa Writes Of(f) the Native: Cultural Heterogeneity and Neoliberal Modernity

Epilogue: More than Skin Deep? Social Change in Contemporary Peru


“This valuable book views modern Peruvian narratives of ethnic conflict through the prism of transculturation – the mutual influences of indigenous and criollo (Spanish American) cultures. It challenges the popular assumption that modernization and democratization go hand in hand and asserts that an imposed modernization has only increased inequality in Peru. To Kokotovic (Univ. of California, San Diego), cultural reciprocity is essential to bridging the ethnic chasm that separates the two Perus. He focuses on Peru’s famous Indianist writer José María Arguedas, who rejected absorption of the Indian and incorporated the language, music, and worldview of Andean Peru into his multilayered narratives. Such hybridity is anathema to Peru’s criollo elite, who regard the Indian as an atavistic dead weight. For Arguedas, however, indigenous peoples are autonomous actors capable of negotiating modernization. Thus, to transculturalists, indigenous culture and modernity are not contradictory; the problem lies not with the Indian but with criollo prejudices and an alien modernization. Kokotovic’s compelling point is that narrative transculturation produces a heterogeneity that enriches literature and suggests ways of achieving a more just society. Though Kokotovic is somewhat hard on those who do not share his views, his insightful study will benefit students of Latin America and modernization alike. Highly recommended.” Choice

The Colonial Divide in Peruvian Narrative strikes me as potentially the most concise and yet also the most clarifying, forthright and plainspoken study of modern Peruvian fiction in English. It enters the tangle of what has now become a very developed but also chaotic-seeming critical literature on Peruvian narrative and indigenism - especially on the central figure throughout, Arguedas—and argues without cavil or poorly-digested ‘theoretical’ declarations that the concept of ‘transculturation’, as laid out above all by Ángel Rama, simply makes better sense of the field than anything else. Kokotovic has clearly mastered the critical literature he seeks to reform. By valuing coherence over novelty, he has written an intellectually satisfying, useful and informative piece of literary history and criticism.” Neil Larsen, Professor of Comparative Literature and Critical Theory, University of California, Davis

“Kokotovic has provided a comprehensive review of contemporary Peruvian literature – a remarkable analysis and discussion of literary theories in the field of Latin American studies and beyond. The theoretical discussions he pursues will allow his readers a better understanding of how intellectuals and cultural subjects perform within and outside academic institutions.” Professor Guido Podestá, Dept. of Spanish and Portuguese and Director, Latin American, Caribbean and Iberian Studies Program (LACIS), University of Wisconsin-Madison

“Kokotovic’s study presents a clear and coherent account of complicated cultural conditions and crosscutting textual responses in Peru over a period of of fifty-two years (1941–1993). ... His study offers a clear exposition of two of the most influential models for understanding literature and culture in Latin America. It provides a nuanced analysis and assessment of key works of contemporary Peruvian fiction." Bulletin of Spanish Studies


Publication Details

Hardback ISBN:
Paperback ISBN:
Page Extent / Format:
296 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Release Date:

May 2005 h/b
March 2007 p/b

  Illustrated:   No
Hardback Price:
£47.50 / $67.50
Paperback Price:
£19.95 / $34.50

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