Much of the narrative of Beneficiaries of Deceit is based on events I have witnessed and lived. All of the characters in this novel are somewhat disguised people I have met over the years. The result—like life—is a blend of fact and fiction. And like so much we encounter in life, this story unravels along different routes that eventually converge.
The story began when I was a student at Harvard and received a Rockefeller Fellowship in my senior year, as did Jake win a Minot Fellowship when a senior at Cabot College. A Rockefeller Fellowship allowed a senior to pursue a project abroad upon graduating. I chose Peru and had a vague idea of studying poverty among the campesinos in the stark and beautiful altiplano. I did this and began my writing career there but I, like many recipients of a Rockefeller Fellowship who despite best intentions, did not—at that tender age—really know what I was doing. At a certain point during the fellowship year, like Jake, I migrated to the jungle and spent time with a former Peace Corps volunteer similar to Donaldo in the book. And a campesino very much like Alfonso, a character in the book, introduced me to some incredible ruins that the jungle was steadily consuming.
When I returned from Peru, I worked for a number of magazines, wrote some books, and began teaching writing and journalism, hence my knowledge of both the honorable ambitions and the follies of academia, so painfully evident. While Cabot College is wholly fictional, many of the events that transpired there, do indeed transpire in real settings.
I recently became curious about the fate of the ruins of San Gabán and returned to that region of Peru to try to rediscover them. Peru has changed a lot since the setting of this book. Now a road travels the length of the San Gabán valley and into Brazil. The jungle in the valley has changed, become more dense, and a bit sinister. The ruins are gone, at least I was unable to relocate them, even with considerable assistance. Or maybe, given the present density of the jungle, I walked two feet from them, but entirely missed them.
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