One of the striking features of Latin American literature is that it mostly depicts the lives of white people who are part of the traditional upper class, even if stories about other groups are narrated. This is because, the biggest names in Latin American literature is predominantly white. Yet, there are exceptions among these writers who do portray authentic experiences of indigenous peoples.
José María Arguedas Altamirano was one such writer who literally spoke the language of the indigenous people of Peru. Aeguedas belonged to a Spanish-origin family but became fluent in Quechua. His novels depict Quechuan lifestyle and aspirations intimately, earning him accolades that other writers couldn’t.
How could he speak Quechua so fluently?
He picked up Quechua when he grew up with his step mother, and interacted closely with the folks in the servant quarters. He later escaped with a Quechuan family to avoid the torture that was caused by his step-brother. In addition to being a novelist, he was also an anthropologist and poet. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that he was so keenly involved with the indegenous poeple of Peru. His debut novel Yawar Fiesta is one of the best-selling novels in Peru, and is known for fusing Spanish and Quechua languages. In fact, this novel is a sort of creole language that came to represent the uniqueness of Peru.
Are his books available in English?
He is not translated very well in English, and books are hard to find. Yet, many English critics have called José María Arguedas as one of the greatest novelists of 20th Century. You might be able to find a translation on Amazon, or at a second-hand bookshop close to you. However, be warned that his books are often not printed and may be out of stock. Reading José María Arguedas will help you to gain a different perspective about Peru, and will help you to understand the country better when you arrive.