Posted by: Sally Ingraham | September 2, 2009

OT: The Villagers (Huasipungo) – Ecuador

The Villagersby Jorge Icaza

This was my sixth book for the Orbis Terrarum Challenge, and my August read. Considering that August is probably the busiest month of my year I’m pretty happy that I finished the book just over schedule on Sept. 1st! 🙂

I don’t read a lot of explicit social commentary, so this book was a little bit difficult for me. It is a realistic account of the life of the Ecuadorian Indian in the 1930s, in all it’s wretched, depressing, gory detail. Icaza wrote it in the hope that it would stir the conscience of those around him and shed more light on the true form of the “Indian problem”. He wasn’t incredibly successful, and while he is (according to the translator Bernard Dulsey) Ecuador’s finest novelist, he is far more respected abroad than at home.

The book relates the events of about a year in the life of Don Alfonso Pereira, a rich (although deeply in debt) landowner, the cholos – half white, half Indian – who live in his village, and the Indians whom he pretty much owns. The main activity of the book is getting a road built through the jungle so that progress and enterprise can reach Pereira’s remote land. This is used mainly as a jumping off point to show every variety of misfortune that could possibly effect the Indians lives. Between misuse, disease, and hunger it’s really rather awful.

The interesting thing to me was that Icaza provided an almost balanced picture. He showed how the hardship of their lives forced the Indians into alcoholism and thievery and horrible hygiene, and how the whites and the better off cholos hated and feared and therefore mistreated the Indians for their thievery and uncleanliness and disease – an endless cycle. Pereira himself is locked in a cycle of debt and social customs. Icaza didn’t offer any solutions – he just offered a panoramic image of what it’s like.

I wouldn’t say that I liked the book. It was…interesting. I learned some things. Sometimes you need books to be purely informative. I wasn’t able to identify with any of the characters, or even find sympathy for them though, which made my reading experience fairly painful. Of the books I’ve read so far for this challenge, this one also seemed like the most translated. The writing seemed very flat, even though the book is full of dialogue.

Of course I knew going into it that it wouldn’t be the most delightful read of my summer! I’m glad I read it, but I’m also very glad I’m done with it. 🙂


  1. […] 6. August The Villagers by Jorge Icaza – Ecuador […]

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