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José María Arguedas: Todas las sangres [All the Bloodlines]

I must admit that I struggled to translate the title into English and came up with, reluctantly, All the Bloodlines. The book has not been translated into English but has been translated into other languages and you can see their guesses below, which, on the whole, show that they struggled, too. The German went really wild, coming up with Drink My Blood, Drink My Tears.

The book starts with Don Andrés Aragón de Peralta climbing to the top of the church tower, with a festival going on in the square below. It looks as though he is going to throw himself off – and many of the people below, his two sons, Fermín and Bruno included – think he is. No-one would be surprised, as he is usually drunk and seems to be this time though, in fact, he is not. Instead he harangues the crowd damning and cursing his two sons in particular and calling the priest the Antichrist. He starts in Spanish and then switches to Quechua. He tells the crowd that when he dies, they can come to his house and help themselves to all his goods, though his wife, also an alcoholic, is still living there.

We learn that the two sons have managed to take possession of their parents’ property – land, livestock, mines and Indian workers. The two sons do not get on, though they make a temporary truce at this point and are doing so, when their father comes down from the tower. He heads to his room, dismisses his servant and, we soon learn, dies, presumably by suicide. Indeed, it is almost certainly suicide but, as suicides cannot be buried under Catholic rites, the family has to pretend that he died naturally.

Bruno is the youngest son and the more volatile. He owns much of the agricultural land, livestock and the Indian workers. He is brutal with his workers. We see early on that he has one man, who has spoken out about rampant poverty in a neighbouring village, beaten about the face. When Bruno realises that the man was telling the truth, he only gets a curt apology. His brutality extends to the women, as he feels that he has the right to take any woman he wants and does. Bruno is very much in favour of the feudal system though that does extend to him seeing himself as the protector of the Indians.

Fermín is more pragmatic and more modernising. He sees the future not so much in agriculture as in mining. The family has cleverly bought up much of the land in the area. We see the local non-Indian population getting together and bitterly complaining about it, not least because many of the mines they own are now exhausted. Some of them urge their colleagues not to sell but it is clear that some of them are in dire financial straits.

Another key player is Rendón Willka. He was the first Indian child to matriculate from the local primary school. It was thought that he would not last, as the other boys would give him such a hard time but he stood his ground. It is he that stands up for the rights of the Indians and for which he pays the price.

The focus turns to the mine and, it seems, everybody is trying to outdo everyone else. The Indians want more money. The engineer, Hernán Cabrejos, is secretly working for the US mining firm, Wisther-Bozart, and is trying to sabotage Firmín’s operation so that Wisther-Bozart can take over. Firmín and his wife, Matilde, are trying to outsmart the other whites who own land, keep Wisther-Bozart at bay, exploit the Indians and, in Firmín’s case do down his brother (though his wife is not entirely in agreement with his statement Bruno must die.)

Inevitably Fermín finds out about Cabrejos’ dirty deeds and fires him. He then tries to sell the mines to people other than Wisther-Bozart but without success. However, he still hates his brother, and Matilde, while briefly supporting him, declares that she does not want to be around and decides to move to Lima. She will later change her views.

While all this is going on, there are other events taking place. Bruno has got Vicenta, an Indian woman pregnant. This is, in itself, not surprising. However, he is convinced that she is going to give birth to a boy and starts making preparation for his son and heir.

Cisneros is a local landowner who manages to buy a large property. As a result he considers himself lord of the manor and expects everyone to treat him as such, from the Indians to the Aragones de Peralta. He will be sorely disappointed.

Things get steadily worse as everyone seems to be fighting with or trying to outdo everyone else, while Wisther-Bozart are successfully moving in. The main victims, inevitably, are the Indians. Wisther-Bozart want to pay then a lot less than Firmín pays them and, as the director of the company says, this will be a good investment for them with good returns for minimal investment. When the company essentially annexes the village of San Pedro, riots break out and, again, it is the Indians who suffer.

Arguedas makes no secret of the fact that he is on the side of the Indians who are the main victims here, as in his other works. He damns the others: the rich (represented by the Aragones de Peralta), the not so rich whites who are happy to exploit the Indians, the US economic imperialists and the officials, both local and national, who are easily bought and clearly not on the side of the Indians. This is by far his longest work, which gives him plenty of scope for showing his political views and he does not hold back.

Publishing history

First published 1964 by Losada
No English translation
First published in French as Tous sangs mêlés by Gallimard in 1970
Translated by Jean-Francis Reille
First published in German as Trink mein Blut, trink meine Tränen by Kiepenheuer & Witsch in 1983
Translated by Suzanne Heintz
First published in Italian as Tutte le stirpi by Einaudi in 1974
Translated by Umberto Bonetti