At Night We Walk in Circles
By Daniel AlarcÓN
(Riverhead Books, Hardcover, 9781594631719, 384pp.)
Publication Date: October 31, 2013
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The breakout book from a prizewinning young writer: a breathtaking, suspenseful story of one man’s obsessive search to find the truth of another man’s downfall.
Nelson’s life is not turning out the way he hoped. His girlfriend is sleeping with another man, his brother has left their South American country, leaving Nelson to care for their widowed mother, and his acting career can’t seem to get off the ground. That is, until he lands a starring role in a touring revival of The Idiot President, a legendary play by Nelson’s hero, Henry Nunez, leader of the storied guerrilla theater troupe Diciembre. And that’s when the real trouble begins.
The tour takes Nelson out of the shelter of the city and across a landscape he’s never seen, which still bears the scars of the civil war. With each performance, Nelson grows closer to his fellow actors, becoming hopelessly entangled in their complicated lives, until, during one memorable performance, a long-buried betrayal surfaces to force the troupe into chaos.
Nelson’s fate is slowly revealed through the investigation of the narrator, a young man obsessed with Nelson’s story—and perhaps closer to it than he lets on. In sharp, vivid, and beautiful prose, Alarcón delivers a compulsively readable narrative and a provocative meditation on fate, identity, and the large consequences that can result from even our smallest choices.
Daniel Alarcón is author of the critically-acclaimed story collection War by Candlelight, and the novel Lost City Radio, winner of the 2009 International Literature Prize. His writing has appeared in Granta, n+1, and Harper’s, and he has been named one of The New Yorker’s “20 Under 40.” Alarcón is Executive Producer of Radio Ambulante, a Spanish-language storytelling podcast, and he lives in San Francisco.
“Wise and engaging…a provocative study of the way war culture ensnares both participant and observer, the warping fascination of violence, and the disfiguring consequences of the roles we play in public…[a] layered, gorgeously nuanced work…the ending is a quiet bomb, as satisfying as it is ambiguous.”
—New York Times Book Review
"The delicate precision, mounting tension and unfolding tragedy in this masterful book make it difficult to remember the story did not actually take place...Alarcón teaches us, in these pages, that perception and memory are relative. We see what we want to see, we believe what we want to believe. Performance can consume and distort. And time moves differently for all of us."
“Alarcón is one of those rare writers getting away with doing exactly what he wants… Like Rachel Kushner’s...The Flamethrowers, this is a story about the initiation of a young artist …[At Night We Walk in Circles is] consistently compelling…Alarcón’s smoothly polished prose [is] flecked with wit and surprisingly epigraphic phrases…with lines that knock the wind out of you.”
“Engaging and illuminating…an outstanding second novel from Alarcón, a work that creates a multilayered world and invites you to enter it.”
—Hector Tobar, Los Angeles Times
“[A] surrealistic tour de force.”
—O, The Oprah Magazine
"Masterful... a profound meditation on how identity is less a fixed substance within us, than an ever-shifting performance in reaction to a perceived audience."
—Anthony Marra, San Francisco Chronicle
“Alarcón's purpose here is to disorient us, stripping away markers of place and identity, until we have to see the world on different terms.”
— David Ulin, Los Angeles Times
“Daniel Alarcón has become one of the most important modern voices for the countries south of the border... Beautiful and compellingly told, [At Night We Walk in Circles] sets out to answer the basic question of how to live a good life in a bad place... Alarcón’s work never feels unsure of its importance or its relevance. This novel make the case that Lima really is as important as Istanbul, and the Andes as urgent as Appalachia. The ghosts of South America may be quiet, but Alarcón reminds us not to forget them.”
—The New Republic
“Masterful…[At Night We Walk in Circles] feels as natural and uncontrived as it is ingeniously constructed. Alarcón ferries back and forth in time with such alacrity that rather than feeling dizzy or confused he allows us to revel in the ways that our past — personal and national — affect our present….a sterling novel…brave, thoughtful and astute…Elegant in its construction, it feels perfectly suited to bring Alarcón’s tremendous talent to a wider audience.”
“Compelling…an intellectual puzzle.”
—The Boston Globe
“Alarcón’s writing is…fluid and mesmerizing…So much fights for our admiration, not least the clever allusions between the actors and the characters they play, the powerful portrayals of lives ruined by war and prison, and the evocative, if sobering, depictions of lost love.”
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Successfully takes up many of the great themes and sorrows of the Latin American present.”
—The Charlotte Observer
“Alarcón is a young, talented writer who is on the cusp of a breakthrough, a state of mind perfectly captured by the compulsively energetic voice of At Night We Walk in Circles… [a] gripping story.”
—The Daily Beast
“Daniel Alarcón’s At Night We Walk in Circles is just about perfect... he skillfully weaves the past, present, and future…Alarcón [is] a man who knows what he’s doing.”
—The Coffin Factory
“There are novels that strive to imitate life, novels that sometimes succeed strikingly — even heartbreakingly — at imitating life. Then there are novels that seem to be the very stuff from which life is woven. Daniel Alarcón's third book, At Night We Walk in Circles, is an example of the latter. Alarcón's prose is seductive — detached, but also terribly intimate — and the accumulated effect of his paragraphs is a story so engrossing that it feels instantly like a classic. The book reads not like something that has been written by a talented young writer, but like something that has always been. It feels, in other words, timeless. And yet, it is timely, too. Despite an almost fable-like quality, At Night We Walk In Circles captures the rhythms of our generation and pulses with the zeitgeist of this economic moment... At Night We Walk in Circles is Alarcón's most ambitious and successful work yet — it not only lives up to the extraordinary promise of his first two books, but also promises much more to come from this wise and visionary young writer."
“Fascinating, and is a page-turner to boot.”
—The Huffington Post
“Highly readable…vivid and lovely.”
“A slow motion mystery…full of keen insight, dynamic characters, and post-modern flair…carefully constructed and deeply intriguing… The prose is cleanly evocative, the narrative is compelling and nuanced, and the slow mystery that burns at the heart of the book will not disappoint.”
“Riveting… a fast-unraveling mystery of role-playing and retribution, told in compelling prose that is smart, subtle, and totally engrossing.”
—Booklist (starred review)
“Involving and dramatic…Alarcón strings the reader along expertly as he slowly complicates and shifts the perspective in this tragic tale of characters, citizens, lovers, and artists being influenced by the dangerous forces of political history and human desire.”
“How Alarcón manages this layered and complex structure is one of the novel's many pleasures. The country is nameless, but the descriptions are specific and vivid…At Night We Walk in Circles is a breathtaking novel, intimate and sweeping, about the capriciousness of fate and how its ultimate brutality can come in the form of absence and longing.”
“Daniel Alarcon's latest book is his strongest yet…a moving exploration of fate, destiny, dissent and the artistic imagination.”
—NPR (Best Books of 2013)
“Accessible and entertaining…a quick and comic read with enough heft to hold up to multiple rereadings; a shiny little jewel that rises to the top of my pile for the year.”
—Bookriot (Best Books of 2013)
“[I] can't stop thinking about [At Night We Walk in Circles]. This haunting novel…tells a story of personal estrangement, loss, chance and danger in a straightforward, at times playful manner that belies the novel's complex and ruthless intelligence.”
—Francisco Goldman, San Francisco Chronicle Writers’ Favorite Books of 2013
“The Peruvian-born author delivered one of the finest works of contemporary Latin American fiction with this intricate and engrossing novel of an actor in an underground theater troupe mounting a production of a politically controversial play.”
--Flavorwire.com (Favorite Novels of 2013)
“Nabokov says that imagination is a form of memory, and this novel is a perfect example of this claim. In writing about a place, its people and its history, Daniel Alarcón's memory catches the evanescent details of everyday life, while his imagination, never for a moment blurred, creates a powerful story with so many intricate characters. This is a novel written with extraordinary vision and wisdom.”
—Yiyun Li, author of Gold Boy, Emerald Girl and The Vagrants
“This is a devastatingly good novel and a masterful work by a gifted storyteller. Via the tangled lives of a small group of Peruvian actors, and in clear, compelling prose, Daniel Alarcón weaves a suspenseful tale about illusion and longing, love and denial — about all the kinds of human exile.”
—Jon Lee Anderson, author of Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life and The Fall of Baghdad
Praise for Daniel Alarcón
“A prodigious talent.”
—The Washington Post Book World
“One of the most exciting and ambitious writers to emerge in recent years.”
“Alarcón, like the best storytellers, reveals to us that the world we have secreted in our hearts spins in a bigger universe with other hearts just as good and just as bad as our own.”
—Edward P. Jones
“Reading Alarcón feels like witnessing the arrival of a John Steinbeck or Gabriel García Márquez.”
—Minneapolis Star Tribune