La serpiente de oro, 1935 (The Golden Serpent, 1943)
Los perros hambrientos, 1938
El mundo es ancho y ajeno, 1941 (Broad and Alien Is the World, 1941)
Siempre hay caminos, 1969
El dilema de Krause: Penitenciaria de Lima, 1979
Duelo de caballeros, 1963
La ofrenda de piedra, 1969
Sueño y verdad de América, 1969
Siete cuentos quirománticos, 1978
Cantos de la revolución, 1934
Gabriela Mistral intima, 1969
La revolución cubana: Un testimonio personal, 1973
Mucha suerte con harto palo: Memorias, 1976
Ciro Alegría (ahl-ay-GREE-ah), the internationally prominent Peruvian novelist, short-story writer, journalist, and teacher, was born in 1909 at Hacienda Quilca, his maternal grandfather’s estate near Sartimbamba in northern Peru. He was the eldest of the five children of José and Maria Herminia Bazán Alegría. At age seven, he made the long journey to Trujillo to live with his paternal grandmother and attend school at the Colegio Nacional de San Juan, where his teacher was the renowned poet César Vallejo. Alegría contracted malaria and returned to the mountains to recuperate, completing his primary education in the Andean town of Cajabamba. He spent the year of 1923 on his paternal grandfather’s estate, Marcabal Grande, before returning to Trujillo for high school. He said later that this yearlong adventure of living and laboring with Indian and mestizo workers was crucial to his later identification with the country dwellers of Peru and with the plants and animals central to their lives.
During his high school years in Trujillo, Alegría wrote stories and poems, and he began to take great interest in political reform movements. He was particularly convinced by the ideas of José Carlos Mariátegui, who advocated major changes which would improve the condition of Indians. Alegría became interested in journalism, began to edit the student newspaper, and started to publish articles in the newspaper El Norte. In 1930 he enrolled in the National University of Trujillo and helped to found the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA) political party. In 1931 Alegría and others were jailed and tortured for their participation in what was deemed a subversive movement. When an APRA-sponsored uprising took control of Trujillo in 1932, Alegría was freed; when the government regained power, he fled but was imprisoned in a Lima penitentiary until freed by an amnesty in 1933.
Jailed again for conspiracy in 1934, Alegría was deported to Chile. In Santiago he married Rosalia Amézquita, with whom he subsequently had two sons. He won the prestigious Nascimiento publishing house prize for The Golden Serpent, a novel about the adventures of the boatmen of Calemar, in an Andean jungle valley, who ferry people and livestock across the treacherous Marañon River. Descriptions of the powerful Marañon unify a series of episodes that involve boatmen, farmers, fishermen, and occasional outsiders such as a young engineer from Lima who dreams of exploiting the mineral wealth of the remote region. Rural rhythms of life and death are described lyrically, and men are seen as heroic in their struggle for existence.
Alegría was hospitalized for tuberculosis between 1936 and 1938. His second novel, Los perros hambrientos (starving dogs), was published in 1938. It describes the life of Indian and mestizo inhabitants of the northern Andean area, recounted by an omniscient narrator who is a foreigner to the life he describes and thus explains it as he tells of the ravages of a terrible drought. As in The Golden Serpent, the world described is one in which humans live in very close relationship with an often-hostile natural world. They suffer from the harsh physical environment and from social injustices: The farmers do not own their land, and they are exploited by landlords and by the state. The dogs of the title are the companions of the oppressed peasants, and they share in their hardships and occasional joys and triumphs. Despite the horrors of drought and the suffering it brings, traditional rural ways of life are celebrated.
In 1940, thanks to the financial support of a circle of Chilean friends, Alegría was able to complete a third novel, Broad and Alien Is the World, which was published in 1941 in both Spanish and English. In Broad and Alien Is the World, Indian peasants are involved not only in a struggle with nature, as in Alegría’s two previous novels, but also in resistance to the landowning oligarchy and the legal and political structures which reinforce economic power. The traditional Indian way of life and its values are depicted sympathetically as Alegría describes the remote community of Rumi.
Alegría soon moved to the United States. He held many jobs; he translated screenplays for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, wrote and edited for various publications, and lectured at Columbia University in New York. His interest in political reform and human rights was sustained, and he published many articles on these subjects, although he resigned from the APRA party in 1948. Divorced from Rosalia Amézquita in 1947, he was married to Ligia Marchand in Puerto Rico in 1948. He worked on several novels, and in 1949 he began to teach classes at the University of Puerto Rico. He continued to work on a quartet of novels, only one of which was finished: Siempre hay caminos (there are always ways), which was published posthumously.
After serving as editor of the magazine Presente in 1952, Alegría moved in 1953 to Havana, Cuba, where he wrote for various magazines and worked on the novel Lázaro, the incomplete text of which was published after his death. Alegría and Ligia Marchand were separated. He taught at the Cuban Universidad de Oriente and in 1957 was married to a Cuban poet, Dora Varona. After twenty-three years of exile, Alegría was invited to return to Peru to participate in the Third Festival of the Peruvian Book; he spent three months there, lecturing at the University of San Marcos and traveling to various cities, including Trujillo. Back in Cuba, he witnessed many of the events of Fidel Castro’s revolution; Alegría’s account would later be published as La revolución cubana: Un testimonio personal (the Cuban revolution, a personal testimony).
In 1960 Alegría and his family returned to Lima. He was elected a member of the Academia Peruana de la Lengua. In 1961 he joined Fernando Belaunde Terry’s Popular Action party and ran for the senate unsuccessfully in the 1962 elections. In 1963 Alegría was elected a national deputy and resumed active political life serving in the Chamber of Deputies. His collection of short stories Duelo de caballeros (duel of gentlemen) was published in 1963 and gathers together many tales that had been published previously in English translation or in small magazines. Set in remote Andean areas, these stories tell of Indian culture and resourcefulness and of a close alliance between humankind and nature.
Alegría participated as a writer in many international conferences, and in 1966 he was elected president of the National Association of Writers and Artists. He died on February 17, 1967, of a cerebral hemorrhage. His fourth son, with Dora Varona, was born after his death. Varona began to edit and publish the many manuscripts Alegría left, and a series of volumes of novels, stories, and memoirs have appeared posthumously. Alegría is best known for his three magnificent early novels, which speak eloquently of the Indian and mestizo people of the northern Andean area of Peru.