By Claudia Salazar Jiménez
Translated from the Spanish by Elizabeth Bryer
An award-winning debut novel of politics, desire and pain by Peruvian author Claudia Salazar Jiménez. The lives of three women intertwine and are ripped apart during what's known as "the time of fear" in Peruvian history, when the Shining Path rebel insurgency was at its peak.
Publication Date: December 6, 2016
Blood of the Dawn follows three women whose lives intertwine and are ripped apart during what's known as "the time of fear" in Peruvian history when the Shining Path militant insurgency was at its peak. The novel rewrites the conflict through the voice of women, activating memory through a mixture of politics, desire, and pain in a lucid and brutal prose.
Claudia Salazar Jiménez, born in Lima, Peru, in 1976, one of the most recognized Peruvian writers of her generation, is also a literary critic, professor, cultural manager, and the founder of the literary journal Fuegos de Arena. She studied literature at the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos and holds a PhD from NYU. She edited the anthologies Escribir en Nueva York (2014) about Hispanic American narrators and Voces para Lilith (2011) on contemporary South American women writers and is also the founder and director of PERUFEST, the first Peruvian cinema festival in New York. Her debut novel Blood of the Dawn was awarded the Las Americas Narrative Prize in 2014. She also received the TUMI-USA Award in 2015. Her most recent publication is the collection of short stories Coordenadas Temporales (2016). She is currently based in New York City.
“A bold, breviloquent debut novel whose polyhedral story line plunges sans parachute into the bloody chamber of political violence unleashed during the massacre-ridden years in Peru.” —Valerie Miles, The New York Times
“With this courageous and necessary novel, Salazar Jiménez refuses to let the stories of the victims of ‘the time of fear’ get away. The violence that permeated Peru in the 1980s and 1990s is unspeakable, which is exactly why it needs to be spoken. That’s what Salazar Jiménez does in this beautiful, horrifying work of art.” —Michael Schaub, NPR Books
“Jiménez’s prose is clear-cut and doesn’t sugarcoat the realities of the insurgence and the effects it had on the people of Peru. When this debut novel was first published in Spanish, Jiménez received the 2014 Americas Narrative Prize. Read it, and you’ll see why.” —Cassidy Foust, Literary Hub
“Fiery and political debut.” —Publishers Weekly
“Blood of the Dawn is a delirious, harrowing onslaught of mixed allegiances and betrayals, punctuated with machete chops and the machine gun’s staccato call.” —Kenneth Rupp, The Habitat
“Jiménez’s frequent shifts in scene, tense, and perspective reflect the relentless insecurity wrought by Shining Path’s guerrilla tactics and terrorist acts… English-speaking readers will appreciate the ways in which Bryer’s translation preserves each woman’s unique cadence, reminding us that tragedy is experienced on a individual level, even as it ravages an entire country.” —The Arkansas International
“A brief novel, but an intense one, whose every word flexes with a taut power.” — Josh is Writing blog
“A hair-raising look at violence, women and Perú. Highly recommended. And visceral.” —Santiago Roncagliolo
“Among the best books of the year . . . Her use of short paragraphs, quotes, photography, testimony and the different voices, turn this death tale into a recovery of the women’s experience. Women are the ones who star in this sum of voices like a tragic chorus.” —Julio Ortega, El Boomeran
“It’s an original novel. Beyond the polemic topic, Blood of the Dawn only talks about literature. . . . Lyrical and cinematographic. If there are certain things that can’t be (shouldn’t be) told with words, we cannot silence them either.” —Sophie Canal
“This may one be the first novels to talk about this issue from the women’s point of view, and in a very effective way. . . . Blood of the Dawn is an original addition to the abundant literature on this difficult and polemic episode of our recent history.” —Javier Agreda, La República
“This incendiary novel manages to pair an honest look at a social and national trauma with an intimate portrayal of the personal tragedies within.” —Librairie Drawn & Quarterly
“Composed of very brief and stylistically varied sections—confession, interrogation, fever dream, prose poem—Blood of the Dawn rapidly switches between narratives, creating a sort of social collage.” —Ratik Asokan, The Nation
“Everyone who knows anything of history also knows that great social revolutions are impossible without the feminine ferment.”
blackout total darkness Where was it? all over Where did it come from? tense high towers fell to their knees bombs explode all raze blast burst Were you with the group? cooking at home while I waited for my husband blackout typing up the meeting’s minutes blackout developing some photos blackout get candles I don’t have enough six pages two towers the outskirts of the capital What did you say? you can’t sign comrade darkness excluded from the story submit or blow up bomb Did you find out what they did? wow you cleaned up your whole plate smile without candles eat three towers they say now more time more towers When will there be light again? candles turn on the radio I can’t find the matches three candles no matches make a spark with flint just kidding bomb we have a generator go to the epicenter where what we can’t see is happening bomb report what’s happening on the other side of the towers see Where were each of the three of them? blackout
They transported me here, to this jail in the capital, not long before our leadership fell. They almost always bring me to this room so Major Romero can interrogate me. Everything is white, whiter than a hospital. The three chairs. The table with the white melamine top. White walls, too. It’s already almost two weeks since I found out they’d caught them. I wonder what they’ve done to Comrade Leader. Fucking dogs. If they touch him, they’re all going to die; one by one we’ll take them down.
The only sound is the clock. Romero hasn’t shown up yet. It’s a bit chilly in this white room. Such a difference from that sandy place where I started my social work. I especially remember one day when the sun tested us. Unbearable, hellish. That’s what the heat felt like on that long stretch of sand settled by a swell of people. I was there with the engineer who coordinated the construction projects and with Fernanda, the social worker. I’d also taken along my four-year-old daughter. I thought it would be good for her to share games with children who had little or nothing.
The sandy ground stretched on and on, a boiling yellow cloak. The heat was stifling. I felt the sweat of my girl’s tiny hand in mine. One of the people in charge of the housing committee handed me a glass of water to relieve her thirst. Water was sold at the price of gold, offloaded from trucks that came barely once a week. The glass that my daughter just finished meant less water for one of these children.
She was more settled now so I left her with the other little ones and joined the community members to discuss the upcoming projects. They needed a network of potable water, drainage and public lighting to cover at least ten streets. They’d also asked the municipality for a health post with basic services and for a school to be built. Education is fundamental to breaking free from the structural inequalities that social organization is founded on; without it, the potential for change Mami!!! is practically non-existent. My years of experience as an educator give me the authority to confirm Mamiiiiiiiiii!!!!that without the appropriate level of Señora Marcela, your daughter!
I ran to where the children were playing. I came across my daughter stock-still in the middle of the sandy area, her little legs trembling in fright, almost not breathing, hiccupping, her face soaked in tears. She’d fallen over in a spot where sand had mixed with compacted earth and it was hard to stay upright. When she saw me, she stretched out her little arms and let fly a loud, distressed wail: Mami, there’s no ground here, carry me!
I picked her up and pressed her to my chest. She held onto me tight. Her little heart beat fast as a frightened bird’s. I wiped the sweat and tears from her face. I stroked her head and picked out the grains of sand that had nestled among strands of her hair. Calm down, I’m here now, nothing bad is going to happen, I said. I stroked her temples in a way that always relaxed her and she calmed down bit by bit. The children clustered around us on that lost stretch of desert: no shoes, threadbare clothes, barefooted on the hot sand, hardly any water and not a single complaint. For them there really was no ground beneath their feet. We couldn’t waste time on trivialities when there was so much to do. Alright now stop crying, be a brave girl.
“Teacher, how are you today?” Major Romero says, coming in out of the blue. He always calls me this. I humor him to see if he’ll let slip more about our Leader; I have a sneaking suspicion our future’s in his hands.
“Good morning, Major. Here I am, all ready for us to talk.”
Romero settles into the chair opposite me. He smiles. I have only two weapons left: my patience and my silence.
“Teacher, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know you over the past few days, and I’ve come to see that you’re very persistent—tenacious and strong-willed, a rock.” Romero shifts his weight in the chair as if wanting to mention something confidential. He leans towards me a little and says, his voice almost a whisper, “That’s why you had access to the Standing Committee, right?”
Their most important work was making decisions in the midst of war. Our one and only ideological line decided it. Comrade Leader, Comrade Number One and Comrade Number Three: a perfect trinity. Comrade Leader is the One, the guiding thought of our revolution. Comrade Two was the person who incorporated me into the party. Comrade Three was in charge of logistics. Three. A perfect, sacred number. A closed Circle. The Standing Committee. Organized secrecy at the epicenter.
The revolution could take no longer; sitting and waiting on reactions is what the State wants. To substitute one class for another, one number for another. Thought rules, but Mao said it: “Power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” Our military arm, Comrade Felipe, was a restless colt itching for combat. He said that in some rural communities, people had reacted negatively to the revolutionary doctrine. Some found it difficult to accept the revolution, but we trusted that they would absorb and grow to understand the guiding thought. There were clashes and some comrades fell, which emboldened police in zones paramount to our advancement. At that meeting, I remember how Comrade Felipe showed Comrade Three one of the FAL infantry rifles we had seized.
“This is what power is made of, comrade, feel it.”
It had been a long time since she’d held one. Now she focused on politics and theory, on what endures when arms are laid down. It didn’t feel so heavy to her, but its bulk braced her arm. Quick as anything, she unloaded and reloaded it. Then, as if suddenly uncomfortable, she gave it back to Comrade Felipe. The Leader prepared to speak to the assembled commissars to open the meeting. Comrades, it must be made clear from the first: the party rules over the barrel of the gun and we will never let it be the other way around. That said, the masses need to be educated on the crucible of Marxist-Leninist-Maoist thought, and the revolutionary army must mobilize the masses. Forceful measures are needed to take the qualitative leap of decisive importance for the party and for the revolution. To transform the orderless agrarian masses into an organized militia. Comrade Leader paused to observe people’s reactions. Not one murmur. Venerable silence in response to his words. Comrade Two maintained an unreadable look. Her posture was always erect, vertical, in line with the wall, where there was an image of Mao guiding his people beneath the red sun in perpetual advancement and transformation. A new dawn unfolding. Comrade Leader continued outlining the ideological plan. Comrade Felipe would be in charge of the tactical details this time, of overseeing how the action should proceed. The place had already been decided. The colt felt liberated and clenched the FAL rifle harder, the veins in his hands bulging.
Objective: to deprive our enemies of their undeserved upper hand, forcing them into submission. May our actions speak for themselves. They’re either with us or against us. Annihilate. We will start tearing down the walls and unleashing the Dawn. It will send a strong message. They’re not expecting this. Comrade Leader announced the name of the hamlet: Lucanamarca.
“Lucanamarca,” echoed Number Three, her voice raised almost to a shout, her fist in the air. Comrade Two looked at me with disquiet. She had let a few seconds go by without reacting and now lifted her fist in the air as well, reiterating the one and only decision.
how many were there it hardly matters twenty came thirty say those who got away counting is useless crack machete blade a divided chest crack no more milk another one falls machete knife dagger stone slingshot crack my daughter crack my brother crack my husband crack my mother crack exposed flesh broken neck machete eyeball crack femur tibia fibula crack faceless earless noseless swallow it crack right now eat it up pick the ear up off the floor don’t spit it out don’t crack five put them in a line machete crack blood soup spattering making mud their boots slipping comrade crack screaming screeching machete bones crack just ten were enough rope arms up you reek fetid crack you reek they reek your feet their cunts suet machete blow mud the floor chop chop penises testicles for your old mother to eat up open your mouth crack for pity’s sake machete blow there’s no money for bullets crack campesinos machete blow the party is god crack lip tooth throat blade blade blade ax blow crack ten enough machete blow crack the earth is soaked she can’t take any more blood crack pachamama vomits liquid of the people crack one’s escaping with a baby crack four months crack machete blow mother’s back howling shut up stab eye it won’t come out at last you’ve shut up bitch crack baby on the floor crack heavy stone soft skull baby crack three months crack lucanamarca
You head to the yunza happy as can be with Justina and Dominga. Thrilled, the three of you, to be off to the celebration to see what your presents will be this time. Justina wants to make the most of the occasion to meet up with Vicente from the other hamlet—she has a thing for him. Last time she managed to talk to him for a bit. Dominga has stepped out in her best dress for Fabián, it’s looking like they’ll move in together soon. Dominga told you that Fabián wrote love poems for her, that he called her his little vicuna and was really affectionate. Dominga’s fortunate to have landed such a catch—the councilor’s son, mind you. She’s so lucky, your dear friend. They’ve invited you to come along to see if you might meet someone for yourself.
Chicha flows like the hamlet’s river, plentiful, spilling laughter and jubilance throughout the community. You’ve put on the little red hat that your father Samuel just gave you for your sixteenth birthday. Mariano says you look pretty in red. You’re gorgeous, sweet cousin, give me a little kiss. He winds streamers around you; you let them fall free. How much chicha has Mariano had to drink? He wants a little kiss, he says. He’s crazy. The chicha sends him crazy. Your cousin is strong and also a good woodcutter: with one swing of the ax he parts the logs. He will probably be the one to fell the tree; he’ll fell it whole. He has thick eyebrows and eyes that look around and all over like a condor. He’s agile and strong as a puma.
You taste a little sip of chicha and at once your cheeks flush red; you’ve gone all rosy-faced, Modesta. Sweet rosy cheeks, says a young man you’ve just met. You laugh but you don’t say anything, you just lower your eyes and then keep them on Mariano, who has started dancing with the Huarotos’ daughter. This young man says his name is Gaitán and he doesn’t leave your side for the rest of the celebration. Everyone dances around the tree, which is chock-full of colorful balloons, fluttering streamers and presents. Which one will be yours? Everyone forms a circle and dances to the right. They halt. To the left; dancing, dancing. They move towards the tree and now move away. Forward and back. Hand in hand, the community dances. Gaitán breaks from the circle to swing the ax but, oh no, it doesn’t even make a mark on the tree. You have to put your back into it, you fledgling! the Quechán brothers yell out, pulling faces. When it’s Mariano’s turn, the tree booms and a present even falls from the trunk. Bring it down, champ, bring it down! He swings twice more and the tree topples. The community thrilling over its branches among the streamers; the presents and the popping balloons.