Book Notes: Santiago Roncagliolo’s La cuarta espada

I read a novel by Roncagliolo a couple of years ago but I have only a vague memory of what it was about. This usually means that I wasn’t impressed.

La cuarta espada, though, isn’t a novel. It’s a book-length investigative piece on the Shining Path, a Maoist terrorist organization in Peru, and its leader, a university professor Abimael Guzmán. And this book I loved.

The Shining Path was mostly defeated in the 1990s, so there’s enough distance to discuss it in an objective, non-hysterical way. I found out from the book a lot of interesting details about Guzmán that I didn’t know. Roncagliolo is a journalist by profession, and Latin American journalists of his generation (he’s my age) tend to be kick-ass great. The book is really well-written, and the author simply tells you what happened without trying to convince you of anything or promote an agenda.

Peru has definitely changed since the tragic times when the Shining Path was most active. There are still many problems, obviously, but the country is a better place than it was in the 1980s and 1990s.

This is a great book by a talented author. It’s part of a trilogy of investigative reporting books on Latin America, and I now definitely want to read the other two books in the trilogy.

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