Alonso Cueto: La viajera del viento (The Wind Traveller)
Ángel is the younger of two brothers. His older brother, Daniel, has been quite successful. He runs a transport company and is happily married to Marissa, described a a lovely girl. Ángel studied law at university but joined the army, fighting Shining Path guerrillas, at least in part because of issues with his parents. However, he has now resigned from the army and works in a shop selling glass and crockery. He lives alone in an dilapidated building. Every morning he woke with the conviction that he was running out of time. It was a feeling that he was not completely present, that there was something missing in the air, something he could not explain.
He goes to a local café for lunch as usual. He ordered a coffee with milk, unaware that his life was about to change. It seems that a key event happened to Ángel while serving the army. The army was ruthlessly fighting the guerrillas and they defined as guerilla anyone whom they did not like which meant many innocent local people were caught up. When they did catch them, they were brutal. Torture, rape and arbitrary executions were the norm. Ángel did try to keep away from that side but he was well aware that it was going on.
One day, he sees a young woman brought in. When they started torturing her, Ángel fled as he could not stand it. When he returned the captain was highly critical but let him off. However, as a punishment, he was to take the bodies and dump them by the road, the standard practice. If any of them moved, he was to shoot them. When he got to the usual dumping place and started opening the bags containing the bodies, one of them moved. It was the woman. She was in a bad way but begged for mercy, saying that she had young children to look after. I know you, why did you do this to me, I know you, used to be together, don’t you remember, back when we were kids. He has no recollection of knowing her as a child. He shot her and fled. Soon after, he left the army.
One day, in his crockery and glass shop, a woman comes in to buy a hundred glasses. It is the woman he shot. Does she recognise him? She does not seem to. She asks for the glasses to be delivered and he agrees to accompany her with the glasses to her home. However, he is convinced that it is her and he will go back to her house and stalk her. He confronts her but she denies knowing her. On one occasion an angry older man comes out, claiming to be her father, and threatens him.
He decides to do some research into her, with the help of a fellow former soldier who works in the Public Records Office. He then goes to the Human Rights Commission, where he does find some information. Again he goes to her house and again the alleged father is there. This time it all goes terribly wrong.
Ángel ends up in prison but, surprisingly, he does not find it a terrible experience. He gets on well with his fellow inmates and the guards, his brother Daniel is trying to get his convictions overturned and he develops new skills, in his arts and crafts classes. In here I don’t have to worry about getting up early to go work in a store, about some guy breaking my jaw in a fight, he says to his brother. The latter remark is a reference to his side career as a prize fighter.
He does get out eventually and starts a new and happy life. But, as in any good novel and sometimes in real life, his past is going to catch up with him.
This is an excellent novel, dealing with two key issues. The first is the horrors of the war against the Shining Path guerillas, when many innocent people were arrested, tortured, murdered and lost their families, livelihood and homes. The second one is the issue of guilt and forgiveness. Ángel and Daniel were not well treated by their parents and cannot really forgive them but, of course, Ángel’s main issue is that he cannot forgive himself for what happened to the woman he shot. He discusses it with his brother, with his fellow inmates and with a priest in the prison. All try to help him but, to a certain degree, they can only help him so much. He needs to help himself and perhaps involve the woman.
The war against the Shining Path was a horrendous time in Peru. Cueto, however, aims to show that most Peruvians are essentially decent people. Virtually all Ángel’s fellow inmates, despite their crimes, and the guards seem to be, as are various minor characters he comes across. Clearly, there are some nasty people as well. Apart from Ángel himself, we meet four of his fellow soldiers after war. The Captain, a really vicious man, is catatonic in a hospital. Ángel visits him regularly. Clearly his condition is meant to show his guilt. His friend Cholo, who works at the Public Records Office, is trying to put it all behind him and get on with his life. He meets two other former comrades. One does not express a view. However, the other clearly indicates that he misses the brutality. Ángel attacks him. Of course, given his own crimes and complicity in the crimes of others, we have to ask whether Ángel is guilty. Cueto is convinced that he should be forgiven. I suspect that not all readers would agree.
First published 2016 by Planeta
First English translation by University of Texas Press in 2020
Translated by Jessie Mendez Sayer