The First Steps Towards Reconciliation: Memory Work, Critical Consciousness, and Emancipation in Renato Cisneros’s La distancia que nos separa
Renato Cisneros’s best-selling novel La distancia que nos separa marks an important shift in how Peruvian authors approach the political violence that took place in the country during the last three decades of the Twentieth Century. Marketed as a fictional biography of Cisneros’s father, the infamous Peruvian Army General Luis Federico “el Gaucho” Cisneros, the novel is presented as a critical analysis of the Military Officer’s life by his fifth child (a fictionalized version of the author). This critical approach, explained here with the aid of Kuhn’s concepts of “memory work” and “critical consciousness,” and Rancière’s ruminations on “emancipation,” entails remembering even the most negative aspects of el Gaucho’s life in search of new and deeper meanings. Although this type of approach is laudable and necessary, especially considering that the novel showcases it as a model to be followed to examine Peru’s recent history, this article argues that La distancia que nos separa’s protagonist-narrator ultimately and purposely fails in his quest for “critical consciousness” about his father. By selectively challenging some of el Gaucho’s most questionable actions but not others, the narrator winds up painting a redeeming portrait of his father and presents him as a violently passionate man who, scarred from severe heartbreaks and a rocky family history, was simply misunderstood. Moreover, the protagonist-narrator ends up finding plentiful pride in his family’s background and, thus, avoids any challenges to his (and his father’s) status in the Peruvian elites, the segment of the population whose indifference towards the plight of the mostly indigenous victims of the country’s political violence exacerbated its brutality.