This vivid, gritty, sometimes gruesome, yet touching narrative history covers the complete spectrum of players and survivors, from humble Andean villagers to the illustrious Nobel laureate, Mario Vargas Llosa. This is an agile and meticulously researched book that contains fascinating revelations ... Starn and La Serna have created a timely reminder of the dangers of inflexible dogma and an important work that belongs in every collection.
The Shining Path draws on an enormous archive ... The result of all this legwork should have been an authoritative account of the Sendero insurgency, but Starn and La Serna’s narrative is often clumsy and is strewn with errors. They show little interest in reasons or context, focusing instead on the personalities at the center of the drama ... On the rare occasions Starn and La Serna do venture some kind of analysis or argument, it tends to devolve into tired Cold War clichés ... a full reckoning—let alone a reconciliation—remains elusive.
La Serna and Starn tell the history of Shining Path from various perspectives of people belonging to a range of social classes. The technique, minus some literary high jinks, is reminiscent of Conversation in the Cathedral, the best novel of one of the blundering villains of their story—Mario Vargas Llosa. The dominant threads are histories of Guzmán, La Torre, and Iparraguirre, with an emphasis—overemphasis, really—on their love stories ... the book is notable for the relative absence of North Americans who are too often the unnecessary narrator-guides to books about Latin America ... Starn and La Serna do not give a convincing sense of why people were drawn to join the Shining Path. The authors briefly mention Moyano’s interest in liberation theology, the left-wing variant of Catholicism with a 'preferential option for the poor.' But they do not draw out this connection, nor do they analyze another religious development that pulled in the opposite political direction ... I finished more than three hundred and fifty pages and still wondered why people took up dynamite to join a group that demanded blood sacrifice from followers.