If you fly high above Peru's parched southern coast, you'll see one of the world's enduring mysteries, the Nazca lines: geometric shapes and renderings of animals and plants, some of them miles long, scratched into the surface of the desert. How did their ancient creators draft these gigantic patterns with such precision? According to one theory, their shamans drank a liquid that took them on soaring psychedelic journeys whose visions were later traced in lines on the ground. Today, as you hover above them, you come to a singular realization: in Peru, magic realism is more than a literary genre, it's embedded in the landscape.
Marie Arana's first novel, "Cellophane," is set not in the western desert but in the eastern rain forest, yet it's still steeped in the mysticism of Peru's pitiless nature and outsized human ambitions. Her protagonist, the aging engineer Don Victor Sobrevilla Paniagua, is obsessed by his desire to build a cellophane factory on the banks of the Ucayali River. To that end, he has dragged his family to this savage terrain from the coastal city of Trujillo, propelled by a prophecy he received as a child: "Beware! There are those who think you a dreamer. Pay them no mind. They are small-minded people with dubious motives." Doggedly pursuing his destiny, he builds a hacienda called Floralinda ("Beautiful Flowers") in a "wilderness of mud."
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