The proletarian novel has a long history in Latin America; so does the literature of the fantastic. Manuel Scorza, a Peruvian who lives in exile in Paris, has attempted to combine these two traditions in Drums for Rancas, the first volume in a projected five-part series on poverty and exploitation in Peru. The result is a strained, somewhat artificial work whose uneven tone places it somewhere between Cesar Vallejo's Tungsten and Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude.
The villain in this piece is the Cerro de Pasco Corporation - a fat target it ever there were one. The company, already owner of the large tracts of land on which its copper mines sit, seeks to encroach on the property held by the peasants of Rancas and other towns in the Central Andes. Its instrument of expansion is The Fence, which pushes its way through fields and towns with the aid of corrupt local officials and army officers - and despite the resistance of a viliant group of villagers led by one Hector "Hawkeye" Chacon.
The names of the characters, as well as the incidents on which the novel is based, are said to be real. "The excesses narrated in this book are but pale reflections of reality," says Scorza in the introduction. "The author is not a novelist as much as a witness." That is precisely the problem with Drums for Rancas: Scorza offers us much in the way of commitment, but not enough in the way of creation. (Harper & Row, $8.95)