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A Jagged Scrap of History


Discussed in this essay:

The Shining Path: Love, Madness, and Revolution in the Andes, by Orin Starn and Miguel La Serna. W. W. Norton. 384 pages. $28.95.

In 1988, Peruvians found a surprise at their local newsstands: stories of a murderous love triangle involving the country’s most wanted man, Abimael Guzmán, alias President Gonzalo. Starting in 1978, Guzmán, a former philosophy professor, headed a three-person committee that ran the armed Maoist guerrilla movement he called the Shining Path. His second-­in-­command, Augusta La Torre, was his wife. His third-­in-­command, Elena Iparra­guirre, was his wife’s best friend. The police had found a strange VHS tape in a Lima safe house vacated by a Shining Path cell. Guzmán and Elena, in a darkened room lit by red candles, performed a finger-­snapping dance to the wedding song from the film Zorba the Greek while guerrillas clapped along. Augusta was dead, and Guzmán was clearly with her best friend now. Elena beamed with happiness. Peru’s yellow press claimed that Guzmán and his new lover had conspired to murder his wife, as if any more proof were needed of the Shining Path’s evil than the bombs that had already killed tens of thousands of people across the country. Right-­wing governments all over Latin America called guerrillas of many types terrorists, but the Shining Path was the only group that really earned the label. An entire society jumped at the sound of a backfiring car and had candles at the ready for blackouts, since the guerrillas periodically took down the power system with dynamite. When the lights went out, Shining Path sometimes lit torches in the shape of a giant hammer and sickle in the mountains above Lima.

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is an assistant professor at the Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University. Her most recent article for Harper’s Magazine,Destined for Export,” appeared in the April issue.

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