6 Great Books Set in Peru That We Love

6 Great Books Set in Peru That We Love

Friday, 4 December, 2020

Sure, you could go to Peru to hike through the mists at Machu Picchu or swim in the Pacific on a beautiful beach, or make friends with adorable alpacas. All of this is possible in the shadow of the Andes Mountains.

You might also dine on the world’s best fusion cuisine in Lima or Cuzco after a day spent wandering a world-class museum or flying over the mysterious Nazca Lines carved into the desert.

Here are six books set in Peru that took us to all these wonders on the page: two memoirs that illuminate Peru’s enchanted landscapes, two cookbooks that explore the culture and fusion cuisine, a detailed account of Incas vs. conquistadors, and a gorgeous novel of friendship and adventure.

To hear us discuss these books and more, listen to our podcast Peru: Andes Adventures, Fusion Food, and Piles of Gold.


The Bedlam Stacks - Natasha Pulley

The Bedlam Stacks
> Natasha Pulley

This novel takes you high into the Andes mountains of 19th-century Peru and deep into the heart of native lore. It begins as an action story, but then unexpected magic slowly creeps in and bam! hits you in the solar plexus with romance, adventure, surprising revelations, and big feels.

When we meet our hero Merrick Tremayne, it’s 1859, and he’s at his family’s dilapidated estate in Cornwall, England, ostensibly recovering from a severe leg injury, but mostly hiding from the world and licking his wounds. A former smuggler with the East India Company, he’s mourning the loss of his career, his physical prowess, and a much-anticipated journey to Peru.

Then the India Office comes calling again, insisting that he continue with his mission to Peru to filch the bark of the cinchona tree, crucial for the treatment of malaria. It’s a terrible idea — he can barely walk, and his confidence is at an all-time low — but it’s also a terribly attractive idea. Soon, he’s on his way to South America, armed with a map, reassuring promises, and the help of his old friend, an able-bodied explorer.

Once they arrive at their destination — a village surrounded by forests in the Andes — they meet a band of locals that will change everything Merrick understands about himself and his family. {more}

‘So — to be clear,’ I said at last, because they had both been waiting for me to speak in a loaded silence that sounded a lot like they wanted to make sure I definitely could speak still. ‘We are being sent to steal a plant whose exact location nobody knows, in territory now defended by quinine barons under the protection of the government, and inhabited by tribal Indians who also hate foreigners and have killed everyone who’s got close in the last ten years.’ — Natasha Pulley

The Last Days Of The Incas - Kim MacQuarrie

The Last Days Of The Incas
> Kim MacQuarrie

How did Francesco Pizarro’s 168 Spanish conquistadors crush an empire of 10 million Incas? The Spanish were outnumbered 200-to-1, but they seized the Inca capital of Cuzco and rid themselves of Emperor Atahualpa in just one year. This is the amazing true story of how it all went down.

This historical re-enactment has everything: Shakespeare-level drama and intrigue, almost unimaginably large piles of silver and gold, Inca warriors, greedy conquistadors, guerrilla warfare, lifelong friendships that implode in moments of betrayal. It’s powerful and suspenseful, a 500-year-old story that feels fresh and relevant to current politics.

Author Kim MacQuarrie relates the events of the 36-year war between the Spanish and the Inca in compelling detail. It unfolds almost in real-time with a near day-to-day account of the tense conversations, battles, and behind-the-back negotiating (back-stabbing) that went on for decades among Pizarro, his brothers, the other conquistadors, and the Incas.

It’s an all-star cast of heroes and anti-heroes, all out to prove their manhood and get (or keep) the abundant treasures found in the Andes. {more}

Clouds choked their descent, the men losing sight of the front and rear ends of the column as the cavalry was suddenly converted into helmeted silhouettes, bathed in a light gray mist. Drops of water like perspiration collected on the Spaniards’ armor, coalescing into rivulets that then descended like tiny streams of quicksilver. They now followed their native guides single file down into the dark and alien underworld of the Amazon rain forest. The men sweated under their armor and cotton clothes while in the distance, sounds they had never before heard welled up—deep, lionlike roars that to the Spaniards sounded like the guardians of hell screaming, coupled with strange, haunting trills that wafted through the dripping forest and no doubt sent chills down many of their spines. — Kim MacQuarrie

Turn Right at Machu Picchu - Mark Adams

Mark Adams was a successful editor for National Geographic Adventure Magazine, spending his days at a desk, writing about thrilling excursions, but not taking them himself. Then one day, he decided he needed an adventure, and he set out to retrace the steps of Hiram Bingham, who introduced Machu Picchu to the rest of the world in 1911.

Adams’ trek took him over 100 miles on foot through some of the most beautiful and challenging terrain on the Earth. He was joined on his journey by 60-something, vastly experienced Australian explorer John Leivers, a real-life mashup of Indiana Jones and Crocodile Dundee. This unlikely duo hires a crew of porters and llamas and a cook, then they set out to conquer the Andes.

This book is far better than it needs to be. What could have been a humorous fish-out-of-water story is, instead, a moving and inspiring story with plenty of insight. Through descriptive, conversational prose, Adams gives us a solid write-up of Hiram Bingham’s life and adventures, as well as an excellent summary of the arguments about why Machu Picchu even exists. {more}

On a globe it looks like a swollen California. Within that space, though, are twenty-thousand-foot peaks, the world’s deepest canyon (twice as deep as the Grand Canyon), unmapped Amazon jungle and the driest desert on Earth. — Mark Adams

The Boiling River - Andrés Ruzo

The Boiling River
> Andrés Ruzo

Andrés Ruzo’s grandfather had told him the legend of the boiling river in the rainforest of Peru. But when he asked his professors if a boiling river in the Amazon was possible, they unequivocally answered, ‘No.’ So he set out on an adventure to prove them wrong.

Buckle up for a geothermal thriller that combines enthralling adventure mixed and exciting scientific study. At the heart of the story is Ruzo, a geoscientist who became fascinated by stories of powerful shamans, silent warriors with poisoned arrows, spiders big enough to eat birds, and snakes that swallowed men whole, and a river that boiled.

With a shaman as his guide and mentor, Ruzo navigates obstacles of the plant, animal, and human world to find the boiling waters so hot that locals brew tea in the river. On his quest, he meets cattle farmers and loggers, runs afoul of government interests and political concerns, enjoys once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and walks along paths that have intrigued people for hundreds of years.

The world around us, he argues, is rich with amazing things; we still live in a world where shamen sing to the spirits of the jungle. {more}

I am standing on a rock in the middle of a river. Nighttime in the jungle pours around me. Instinctively, I reach up and turn off my headlamp. The blackness is complete now, and I pause, waiting. I had missed the darkness. I breathe in. The air is thick and abnormally hot, even for the Amazon. As my eyes adjust to the dark, the outline of the jungle slowly distinguishes itself from the night: blacks, grays, dark blues, even silvery whites. It’s amazing what we miss when the lights are on. The moon is hardly a sliver, and innumerable stars dominate the sky above, illuminating the vast jungle and bathing each leaf and rock with their soft light. All around me, vapors rise like ghosts in the starlight. Some are thin streams of mist; others are clouds so large that their billowing appears to be in slow motion. I lie down on the rock and am still, watching the steam rise into the night. — Andrés Ruzo

The Fire of Peru: Recipes and Stories from My Peruvian Kitchen - Ricardo Zarate, Jenn Garbee

The Fire of Peru
> Ricardo Zarate, Jenn Garbee

Ricardo Zarate has been called ‘the godfather of Peruvian cuisine’ with good reason. A graduate of culinary colleges in both Lima and London, he’s established restaurants in LA and Las Vegas that celebrate Peru’s irresistible combination of South American ingredients with international influences.

Zarate grew up in Lima’s oldest district in a large Catholic family with 13 kids. It was a family tradition for the elder siblings to help the younger get established in life. When his turn arrived, Zarate’s older brothers and sisters sent him to culinary school in Lima and later to London’s Westminster Culinary College. He eventually opened his first Peruvian restaurant: a lunch stand in a Hispanic market.

What makes this book a real stand-out is the headnotes that introduce each recipe and the informative sidebars sprinkled throughout. Zarate is a wonderful storyteller, and he packs charming details and helpful how-to tips in his notes. You, too, will want to hang out with his Uncle Lucio or learn to slice tuna sashimi-style at Zarate’s side.

So pour a pisco sour, pop some Andean corn, and maybe even spin an Yma Sumac tune on the hi-fi. {more}

My uncle Lucio on my mom’s side of the family was from the mountains, a man of pure Incan blood. In addition to Spanish, he spoke Quechua, the traditional language, and looked like a living Ekeko good luck charm, from his chiquito stature right down to his yankees, traditional shoes made from old tires. Mi tío never wavered from tradition, even when it came to snacks, and would only pop his maíz chulpe (large-kernel corn) straight up. In the Andes, herders stash the dried and toasted kernels in their packs as fuel for treks up the mountainside, and restaurants all over Peru serve the crunchy corn before a meal or as the traditional side for ceviche. — Ricardo Zarate

Ceviche: Peruvian Kitchen - Martin Morales

> Martin Morales

Martin Morales has been cooking since he was 11 years old, learning his way around the kitchen with his great-aunts Carmela and Otilia. He may have started cleaning rice and peeling potatoes for his aunties, but now he calls the shots at his restaurants in London.

The book, in fact, opens with a quote from his Aunt Carmela, ‘Aquí se cocina con cariño,’ which means ‘here we cook with loving care.’ That sentiment shines on every page; there is no mention of food without an emotional attachment, a family story, a detail that connects the dish to Peruvian culture or history.

He recounts going to the beach with his father, sitting on the sand, eating ceviche from food stalls. He makes recipes for lomo saltado (beef stir-fry), antichuchos de corazón (beef-heart skewers), grilled fish, slow-simmered chicken, and crispy Andean corn feel like poetry.

A welcoming host and supportive guide in the kitchen, Morales embellishes his how-to tips with charming personal stories of his life in the kitchens of Lima and London with friends, family, and food. {more}

I spent as much time as I could on Makaha Beach in Lima, learning to surf and trying to tame the waves. I loved the Pacific Ocean and relished eating all the delicious fish and seafood that came from it. My father would take us to stalls in the nearby district of Chorrillos for ceviche. Sitting on the beach with the sun pounding down on me and my mouth alive with the lime and chile kick of ceviche was as exhilarating as riding the tallest wave. — Martin Morales

Top image courtesy of Alexander Schimmeck/Unsplash.

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keep reading

With adorable alpacas, astonishing Inca ruins, and irresistible cuisine, Peru is a wonderland for travelers. In this episode, we dig into history and culture, then recommend great books for your armchair travel.
This weekend, why not go exploring in the snow-capped mountains of Peru? You'll be swept up in local folklore, face your greatest fears, and find your truest friendship. You might also get caught up in a gunfight!
Forget corn chips and margaritas! We're about to upgrade your snack time with irresistibly crunchy-salty corn from Peru, washed down with a tangy, zingy pisco sour. This is snacking, Peruvian-style. Cheers to you!
Feast your eyes on Peru's colorful, vibrant fusion cuisine and the mind-boggling beauty of its scenery. From Pacific beaches to the tippy-top of the Andean mountains, Peru is a destination to fuel your imagination.
The stir-fry dish known as Lomo Saltado is the perfect representation of Peru's fusion cuisine where East meets West, a flavorful, savory recipe that combines Peruvian chile peppers and pisco with Chinese soy sauce.

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