LIMA, Peru — In early July, Lima’s first independent book fair took place in the municipal square of Barranco, a neighborhood brimming with young artists on pastel-colored bikes and covered in street art that mixes aerosol graffiti with Peruvian patterns and iconography. Along three long folding tables, artists, salesmen, writers, and publishers peddled their printed goods from plastic chairs.
Books with cardboard covers, decorated with hand-drawn illustrations, lined one of the tables. Two teenage girls stood behind the works, their arms crossed across their chests.
“We made the covers at our high school in San Isidro [a neighborhood in Lima],” one of the teens explained, “The authors are our teachers.”
While these books are handmade, other tables were lined with professionally bound books bearing the seals of publishing houses. At the table hosted by Ediciones Altazor, glossy covered books were stacked high, donning the bylines of predominantly Peruvian authors, seasoned with others from Bolivia, Ecuador, and Chile. The bestsellers on this table were those of the terror genre, their cover art featuring the dim lighting and green tint of a horror film still. Icons from famous fairy tales pranced across the covers of another selection of books, including one famous Brothers Grimm creation: the fair-skinned Snow White and her gang of dwarfs in tow.
“These are reinterpretations,” Stalin Alva, the artist responsible for the cover art on many of Ediciones Altazor’s books, said. “In this book, seven different writers, all Peruvians, tell the story of each dwarf, explaining why each one is the way they are.”
At a neighboring table, a man named Elio Osejo Aguilar popped up as people approached, his thumb marking a page in a thin book which he thrust into their hands.
“Pick four verses … pick four of them and you will have a better understanding of the suffering of my pueblo,” Aguilar said, holding his haiku-filled book titled Nóstos, a Greek word which translates to “homecoming.” He stood proudly at the table where his own novel and collection of poetry were on display alongside books written by various authors from his town in the Sierras.
“I wouldn’t have been asked to come to the Lima Book Fair which is what makes this so special,” he said, picking up another one of the books, “Sometimes it’s like if you’re not in Lima, you don’t exist, so this gave me the opportunity to bring our work to Lima. These are written by people who are teachers or doctors or professionals but who also write stories.”
Another stand sold accordion comic books, hand-drawn fanzines, and stickers featuring graffiti-like characters. Inside the pages of Lima Enferma, one of the long-running fanzines and among the stand’s best sellers, an interview with a Buenos Aires-based punk rock band named Odioso Dios (translating to Hateful God) blared in blocky black print. This fanzine was on sale for 2 soles, approximately $0.66.
Not all of the book fair’s popular items carried such a subversive streak. Just a few tables down at the Summa publishing house’s table, a very different type of Peruvian story captivated shoppers.
“Sarita Colonia is by far our best seller,” Valentina Garcia, the woman behind the counter explained.
Another woman with blue eyeliner and short red hair chimed in, “Yes, this is a very famous story. She isn’t a saint, but Sarita Colonia was a young woman who is extremely popular among the Peruvian people.”
Sarita Colonia was born in Huaraz, near the Cordillera Blanca mountains, in 1914, and moved between this city and Lima throughout her short life. When her mother died, Sarita Colonia, as the oldest sister, returned home to take care of her younger siblings while working at a bakery and selling fruits and vegetables on street corners to try to make enough money to sustain her family. She was known to be generous, despite having very little. At 26, she died of malaria. Since her death, she has acquired a near-cult following and many people attribute miracles to her powers, like bringing a stillborn back to life or saving a drag queen from the bullets of a homophobic gang. Despite her popularity, the Roman Catholic Church does not recognize her as a saint.
From tales of miracle-working near-saints to fanzines on fastcore and powerviolence punk, the range of titles sold at Lima’s first independent book fair illustrate the diverse ways in which Peru’s writers and artists interpret the country’s unique history within the context of globalized culture.
The Independent Book Fair of Barranco at the Plaza de Barranco in Lima ran July 3–5.