Drawing on over a decade of ethnographic research in Quechua-speaking communities in rural Ayacucho, Kimberly Theidon explores the devastating impact of Peru's prolonged [End Page 124] civil war of the 1980s and 1990s, a conflict fought by Shining Path rebels, counterinsurgent state forces, and Andean peasants. Many Andean men and women participated in the Shining Path as militants, sympathizers, or forced recruits, while many others joined militarized peasant patrols to fight against the insurgents. Theidon examines community members' experiences of extreme fratricidal violence, where perpetrators of political violence were often the brothers, cousins, and neighbors of their victims. She also explores the dynamics of communal reconciliation, investigating how community members have engaged local perpetrators of violence in the aftermath of the conflict.
Moving beyond simplistic formulations of trauma, Theidon considers the complex ideas Andean community members have about their own suffering, including theories about fright-induced soul loss, llakis (painful sufferings connected to memories), and physical afflictions. Rich in highly compelling ethnographic detail, the book offers troubling accounts of dehumanizing violence and extreme poverty. Theidon includes extensive discussions of rape victims and war widows, examining their complex situations and exploring how these individuals describe their own experiences. Theidon then moves into a comparative discussion, showing how the processes of war and postwar reconstruction differed between communities in northern Ayacucho and those in the department's center-south. Whereas the first Shining Path militants who entered northern communities were outsiders, the first cadres in center-south communities were often community members, as the Shining Path had prioritized political work in this region before launching its armed struggle in 1980.
Theidon explores why Andean peasants in both regions chose to participate in the Shining Path, and she considers how community members now remember that participation. The postwar differences between the regions are especially striking. While northern Ayacucho communities have begun processes of social reconstruction, purposefully reintegrating repentant militants back into community life, there has been a notable lack of reconciliation in the center-south and communal social tensions remain high.
The book includes interviews with an exceptionally broad range of individuals. We hear from evangelical pastors, military commanders, male and female members of peasant patrols, former Shining Path militants, and especially from community residents. Theidon also pays particular attention to children, sharing their perspectives and experiences. Throughout the text, she provides many methodological reflections, offering frank discussions of the anthropologist's responsibilities in postwar contexts, the gender dynamics of interviews, and her collaboration with research assistants. She offers forceful interventions about the ethics of studying rape, making a strong argument that truth commissions, scholars, and ordinary citizens need to pay much more explicit attention to men's roles as rapists. Theidon also discusses her work with the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, providing insights into both the accomplishments and the limitations of the commission's work.
The book has a few structural weaknesses: the first chapters are somewhat disjointed, some of the interview conversations seem unnecessarily long, and the book lacks a [End Page 125] proper conclusion. The book would also have benefited from an engagement with recent historical works on twentieth-century rural Ayacucho, including studies by Miguel La Serna, Ponciano del Pino, and this writer. Those studies offer historical perspectives on several of the questions Theidon explores, including Andean peasants' ideas about justice, authority, and the Shining Path, as well as discussions of the historical differences between communities in Ayacucho's north and center-south.
The book's shortcomings, however, do not detract from its power or significance. Theidon's fine study is essential reading for scholars of Peru and for those interested in the legacies of political violence, truth commissions, and postwar reconstruction. Indeed, this study is one of the most important books in Andean anthropology published in the last decade.
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada