Starn, Orin, and Miguel La Serna. The Shining Path: Love, Madness, and Revolution in the Andes.

AuthorSherman, John W.

Starn, Orin, and Miguel La Serna. The Shining Path: Love, Madness, and Revolution in the Andes. New York: Norton, 2019.

The challenge of reaching a general audience is commendably met by anthropologist Orin Starn (Duke University) and historian Miguel La Serna (University of North Carolina) in this engaging sweep of the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) war in Peru. The emphasis is predictably on narrative, and the content gravitates toward the well-known personalities, incidents, and flashpoints of the long struggle: the seminal role of Abimael Guzman, violence in the Ayacucho countryside, the massacre of journalists at Uchuraccay, the rise of peasant self-defense rondas in the highlands, Sendero urban terror, the 1990 presidential election contest between Mario Vargas Llosa and Alberto Fujimori, the subsequent autogolpe, and the hunt for--and final capture and public display of--Guzman. Though a work of nonfiction, the book reads like a dramatic, plot-twisting novel.

The narrative is skillfully woven around significant persons, with redux clearly designed to keep the curious neophyte engaged. There are also pockets of more depth here: the authors give us insight on Augusta La Torre (Comrade Norah), Guzman's first wife, and good detail about their lives in hiding. We receive a very thorough accounting of the life and death of Maria Elena Moyano, the outspoken anti-Sendero activist (and victim) of the gritty metro-Lima barrio Villa El Salvador. What is encouraging, from an epistemological view is the range of sources employed for this broadly flowing book: Stern and La Serna tapped into key participant interviews, most significantly among both rank-and-file and senior Senderistas, many of whom remain in prison. They also drew upon police dossiers and documents, though these seem to have still yielded a mainstream accounting of the tracking and final capture of Guzman. One hopes that the scores of interviews will produce a follow-up work--a thicker accounting of the Sendero leadership's prosecution of the war, ideally.

For his part, La Serna has led us in this direction with a second recent book, With Masses and Arms: Peru's Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (2020). Having interviewed several key Movimiento Revolucionario Tupac Amaru (MRTA) participants, he chronicles the organization from inception to collapse, relatively deemphasizing the 1997 siege of the Japanese ambassador's residence. This slightly weightier book on a narrower topic...

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