From the Quechua oral tradition to the Hispanic colonization and the Spanish literature that would result, Peruvian literature has a rich and complicated history.
Through exploitation and violence, Peru, originally the seat of the Incan Empire, became the seat of the Spanish empire for the 16th and 17th centuries — largely because of its supplies of silver. This would change in the 18th century due to power changes and an Indigenous revolt, and Peru was declared independent on July 28, 1821, as part of José de San Martín’s quest to free Argentina and shove Spain out of the region. Indigenous rights would continue to be a topic of debate, protest, and suppression up until today.
In the 20th century, Peru has been a story of military juntas and authoritarian rule — of guerrilla warfare and the suppression of Indigenous and communist opposition —of periods of nationalism and economic difficulty. Many of the books below refer to or dig into some part of that century — Claudia Salazar Jiménez writes of the violence surrounding the Shining Path movement, while Santiago Roncagliolo writes about a story of deep-seated corruption and secrecy in law enforcement.
These eight Peruvian books in translation span a wide range of styles and genres, from surrealist and hazy short stories to creative memoir to rich, bloody historical fiction.
Please note that while I took great care to list content warnings where I could, things can fall through the cracks. Please do additional research on the recommended titles if needed.
Little Bird by Claudia Ulloa Donoso, Translated by Lily Meyer
A stranger keeps coming into the narrator’s apartment and staring at her plant. A woman rescues a bird her cat attacked, but accidentally carries it into her job interview. A woman ends up accidentally married due to a misunderstanding. Donoso wrote these surreal, strange stories for a blog while suffering from insomnia after her move north of the Arctic Circle. They all are infused with the haze of late nights and dazed fatigue. Schweblin fans will love Donoso’s short stories.
Content warnings for fatphobia, body horror, suicidal ideation/suicide, violence, depression/insomnia.
Blood of the Dawn by Claudia Salazar Jiménez Translated by Elizabeth Bryer
This short novel is powerful and difficult, a poetic story about a militant insurgency in Peru as told through three women: social worker Marcela who dedicates herself to the cause, a small-town woman named Modesta, and journalist Mel, who decides to try and tell the truth about the violence happening in the mountains. It’s painful and really digs into the trauma that exists around and following the violence of brutal massacres by guerrilla group Shining Path in the 1980s. It’s intense and gives voice to a painful piece of history.
Content warnings for violence, racism, rape, torture, homophobic language.
The Distance between Us by Renato Cisneros, Translated by Fionn Petch
In this memoir-of-sorts, Cisneros goes on a journey to try and dig into who his father was. The man was General Luis Federico “The Gaucho” Cisneros, a leader within Peru’s oppressive military regime of the 1970s and 1980s. But he was also Renato’s father, who died when Cisneros was only 18 years old. How can he reconcile those two people, to try and understand the man after his death? This award-winning bestseller is available in English translation thanks to the amazing Charco Press.
Content warnings for torture, violence.
The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa, Translated by Edith Grossman
In alternating chapters, Llosa tells the stories of Urania Cabral, who has just returned home to the Dominican Republic to see her father for the first time since she left while Trujillo still reigned. This gives a full account of dictator Trujillo’s final day alive that tries to give an inner look at the man and how he functioned and led. It tells the stories of the conspirators who killed him, in the end, and their fates (often violent). It’s one of many novels where the sometimes-controversial Nobel Prize winning author Llosa writes about violence being glorified in order to make his case against the glorification of machismo and all the damage it can do.
Content warnings for torture, sexual assault/rape, pedophilia, physical abuse and violence, child abuse, racism.
Nine Moons by Gabriela Wiener, Translated by Jessica Powell
Nonfiction writer Wiener digs into the dark humor of pregnancy — into its anxieties, its painful physicality, and its bizarre twists and turns — in this vividly snarky take on what it’s like to birth a child. Wiener is totally unafraid to be messy and honest about pregnancy, whether it be about hormonal spikes, illness, misinformation, or everything and anything in between. In her afterword, she also talks about being polyamorous and her child coming out as trans nonbinary, and how in retrospect she regrets the focus she had on gender as a mother. It’s an exciting queer nonfiction read.
Content warnings for excessive focus on gender binary.
Yawar Fiesta by José María Arguedas, Translated by Frances Horning Barraclough
In this rich novel, Arguedas writes of the small town of Puquio, where Indigenous communities are trying to keep their traditions alive amidst the constant wear of bureaucracy and power. The crux of the novel is the bull-fight, the climax of an annual Indigenous festival, and the men in charge who decide to shut it down. Indigenous author Arguedas uses Quechua, poetic description, complex town politics, and humor to reveal to the reader the beauty of the Indigenous community and how their communal projects and energy are being slowly warped and snapped by a bureaucratic top-down capitalist system.
Content warnings for violence, racism/anti-indigenous sentiment, homophobic slur.
Red April by Santiago Roncagliolo, Translated by Edith Grossman
It’s a difficult, bloody time in Peru, and prosecutor Felix Chacaltana Saldivar is just trying to do his job. He doesn’t understand the whirling politics around him, or the underlying messages officials try to pass along. As a surprising murder plot unfolds, he’s put in charge of the case — but only by digging in will he really begin to understand the pain and corrosion of the society he’s living in. It’s a noir thriller that gains a dark humor from the gap between the corruption and implied violences the reader can see are happening and what Felix seems to actually register.
Content warnings for animal death, body horror, sexual assault, violence, classism.
Lessons for a Child Who Arrives Late by Carlos Yushimito, Translated by Valerie Miles
This is one of the only translated works by Peruvian-born author Carlos Yushimito (and there need to be more!), who was named one of the best Spanish-language authors under 35 by Granta alongside peers such as Samanta Schweblin and Alejandro Zambra. In this collection of surreal short stories inspired by Brazil, a tin man gets a beating heart, insects flail, mirrors warp, and people are disconnected — reaching for each other, striving for something just out of reach.
Looking for more works in translation? Check out these books from Indonesia, Catalonia, Japan, Southeastern Europe, Argentina, Central Africa, Japan, Ukraine, and Germany, and books translated from Arabic, Modern Greek, and French. Or you can check out all of our in-translation content.
If you have recommendations or requests for future lists of books in translation, or if you want me to know about a book I missed, please let me know on Twitter!