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At Night We Walk in Circles Hardcover – 16 Jan 2014

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate (16 Jan. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007517394
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007517398
  • Product Dimensions: 14.2 x 4 x 21.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 390,289 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


‘Alarcón is a serious, talented, charming and often beautiful writer’ Guardian

‘Daniel Alarcón is a serious talent … ‘At Night We Walk in Circles’ is a complex exploration of memory, storytelling, fate and identity … Alarcón summons both the city and the provinces of his native land with tremendous vigour and reveals the loneliness that lies at the heart of his characters’ Financial Times

‘Comedy and menace are held in exquisite tension … beautifully plotted and paced … This is a clever book, not a clever-clever one, with a metafictional dimension that raises the emotional temperature rather than cooling it. As a heartwarming road novel, a pair of doomed love stories and a propulsive, irresolvable murder mystery folded into a scrupulous inspection of narrative ethics, it's some feat’ Guardian

‘Alarcon’s conscious reimagining emancipates him from writing a kind of fictionalised anthropology. It allows him to write a fable for any small country ravaged by the Cold War, by the drug trade, by violent political factionalism, and by the displacement of traditional societies through neoliberal economic policies.’ Telegraph

‘The novel succeeds as a powerful elegy for a vanishing world and captures the dying light of a radical moment.’ Ted Hodgkinson, Literary Review

‘Poignantly vivid … Alarcón’s depiction of the twin traps of illusion and despair, his portraits of people defeated by life or refusing to accept defeat, ring powerfully true’ Prospect

‘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

About the Author

Daniel Alarcón was born in Lima, Peru, in 1977 and raised in Birmingham, Alabama. His collection of short stories, ‘War By Candlelight’, was published in 2005 to great acclaim, and was followed by a novel, ‘Lost City Radio’, in 2007. His writing has appeared in ‘McSweeney’s’, ‘n+1’, and ‘Harper’s’, and he has been named one of the 20 best writers under 40 by the ‘New Yorker. He lives in Oakland, California. ‘At Night We Walk in Circles’ is his second novel.

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Ripple TOP 500 REVIEWER on 20 Jan. 2014
Format: Hardcover
Peruvian-born Daniel Alarcón returns to South America in this story of one man's downfall and the twists and turns of fate that not only contributed to this but also which compelled the narrator of this story to seek to understand what happened. The main character, a young man named Nelson whose plans to follow his older brother to the US are halted when his father dies forcing him to care for his mother, has trained to be an actor but his career is going nowhere. Then he lands a part in a notorious three person play that is going to tour the provinces. One of the trio is the play's writer, Henry, a man who was imprisoned under terrorist charges when the play was first produced. With Nelson's ex girlfriend now pregnant with another man's child, the temptation to get away from his life in his home city is too tempting. No one could have forecast what the impact this tour would have on his life though.

The narrator of the novel remains a mystery until very late in the book and the style is very much one whereby there are constant references to "what would happen later" but as with the identity of the narrator, the reader has to wait a very long time to find out what this is. That knowingness by the narrator but withheld from the reader is a tricky thing to carry off and there are times when it becomes a little irritating. While it does afford the writer to build up the suspense, it also runs the risk of alienating the reader from the action slightly.

Alarcón is one of my favourite American (where he has lived since he was three) short story writers and some of what makes him so compelling in the short form is evident here. He has great skill in painting clear images of situations and a satisfying level of dry humour to situations.
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Format: Hardcover
I love the way it's written and how it weaves the storylines between the characters and time frames. I find it gripping. I also get to know a little bit about the recent history of Peru: the people, its culture and its socio-political situations etc.
An enjoyable read indeed.
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By Glyn Luff on 20 Aug. 2014
Format: Hardcover
Worth the read
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 55 reviews
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
"The spectator feels at home nowhere, for the spectacle is everywhere." 26 Aug. 2013
By Evie Getchell - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
One of the epigraphs for Daniel Alarcon's third book, AT NIGHT WE WALK IN CIRCLES, is an interesting paragraph from thesis 30 of Guy Debord's THE SOCIETY OF THE SPECTACLE and it reads as follows:

"The spectacle's externality with respect to the acting subject is demonstrated by the fact that the individual's own gestures are no longer his own, but rather those of someone else who represents them to him. The spectator feels at home nowhere, for the spectacle is everywhere."

I read that paragraph several times before I started this novel but I didn't fully grasp its meaning or absorb its relevance until after I finished the book.

The novel is being marketed as "a breathtaking, suspenseful story" and even though I found it well paced and engaging, I would say the taste of irony is much more predominant than that of suspense.

The novel is set in an unnamed country in the Andes sometime after "the war" and a theatrical event entitled "The Idiot President," performed by a "guerrilla" theater troupe known as Diciembre, is at its core.

The story takes off with a touring revival of the legendary play to the country's provinces, starring a young aspiring actor named Nelson, the play's author Henry Nunez, (Nelson's idol and one of the original Diciembre players once imprisoned as a terrorist), and another original member of Diciembre, now a theater owner, named Petalarga.

The plot thickens and turns complicated as art imitates life and fate conflicts with identity when Nelson makes a spontaneous acting decision that results in shatteringly ironic consequences.

"Nelson was well liked, but hard to know. The role they all wanted, to form part of Diciembre's historic reunion tour, had gone to him, their talented, arrogant friend; and now he was in the provinces, becoming a new, if not improved, version of himself."

Is the performance then only a representation of reality or does it become reality itself?

Well penned prose, a tone of melancholia, and a touch of gallows humor create a enthralling narrative that is a cross somewhere between Samuel Beckett and Mario Vargas Llosa.

"...He felt then that he entered a gray period of his life, from which there was no easy escape. One could not enter the world of a play. One could not escape one's life. Your bad choices clung to you. And even if such a thing were possible, it would require strength of will he lacked, or a stroke of good fortune he didn't deserve."

AT NIGHT WE WALK IN CIRCLES is a Latin American story of originality, wit and feeling. Did I find it suspenseful? Not really. But did I find it a gratifying reading experience? Yes, absolutely.

Daniel Alarcon holds nothing back in his storytelling and delivers an acute perspective that will remind the audience that "The spectator feels at home nowhere, for the spectacle is everywhere." If I could I would rate this novel 4.5 stars.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Type of novel that keeps you thinking after you finish. 6 Nov. 2013
By PencilStubs - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Note: I received an advanced reading copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

My first impression is that At Night We Walk in Circles is the type of multilayered book that an English major could painstakingly dissect and then gleefully churn out pages and pages exploring literary device use and the underlying purpose and meaning of every story element. I will admit that I am a former English major, but, currently in the midst of writing research papers for grad school, I don't have the energy to be writing the lengthy literary analysis this book deserves and will be basing this review/rating on the novel's entertainment value.

The novel is about the life of Nelson, an aspiring actor and playwright, who lands a role in a touring theater troupe lead by his role model. Not an exciting premise by itself, but there were a few things that kept me reading: The narrator is unknown (until the last quarter of the novel), and pieced together the events that lead to Nelson's fate through interviews with his friends and family and from his abandoned journals. I was motivated to keep reading to find out who the narrator was and what had inspired them to investigate and retell Nelson's story. By the end, something significant and worthy of story-telling does indeed happen to Nelson, and, throughout the novel, the narrator drops hints that this something was not a good thing, maintaining a sense of apprehension that kept me turning the pages. The touring theater plotline takes an unexpected and unfortunate turn, which sets in motion the events that lead to Nelson's ironic and surreal downfall.

Overall, Nelson and the supporting characters were well fleshed out and interesting to follow. I found that I grew to care about Nelson enough that I felt pretty bad about what happens to him, and I continued to ponder over his life and fate even after I was done reading. The author's (Daniel Alarcon) writing is richly detailed and flows smoothly. While not urgently paced, the novel does have a relaxed momentum and was an enjoyable, engrossing read that I finished in a few sittings.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Role engulfment in the Andes 19 Oct. 2013
By Stephen O. Murray - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
As was his first novel, Lost City Radio (2007), Daniel Alarcón's new novel is set in what again seems to be Péru (with a capital on the coast and recent history of a long Maoist rebellion and violent counterinsurgency inland/upland). It begins in the coastal capital city (rather like the author's birthplace, Lima) in which Nelson, recently fledged from drama school, is selected to play the part of the servant in a three-man play "The Idiot President," which got its author, Henry Nuñez (who played and will play again the titular arrogant president), imprisoned (in what seems to be the Lurigancho prison) on suspicions of being a subversive. Another veteran from the earlier run during times of counterinsurgency Patalarga owns a ramshackle theater and is eager to go on the road to the highland (Andean) hinterlands in a revival of the Diciembre troupe.

A bit more than the first half of the novel chronicles the relationship of the three players and their performances before rural audiences, most of whom have no idea what a theater or a play is.

Early on, the reader learns that Nelson had an intense love relationship in prison with someone named Rogelio, and when in the vicinity of Rogelio's native village, Henry veers there and visits Rogelio's family. Surprises start cascading there and I don't want to be guilty of plot-spoilers, but can say that role engulfment (the collapse of the role distance which has already not been understand by audience members along the way) ensues in a quite Pirandellian situation.

Who the narrator -- who has assiduously interviewed witnesses of the second Diciembre tour, including surviving members of the troupe, and who has Nelson's diary -- is gradually emerges. There is considerable foreshadowing of disaster, though not the one I expected.

I do not see any gain from obscuring the location of the story to an unnamed country that is Perú in all but name. And I think the novel could have been trimmed down, but having read it on a long flight was content to be enthralled by the tale(s). I felt a bit let down by the sly ending and wonder how others will react to it.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Coming of Age in the Andes 18 Jan. 2014
By Matthew Geyer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This novel, by a talented young Peruvian immigrant to America, tells the story of a young man in an unnamed country that's clearly Peru. A ten-page first chapter sets the stage in pitch-perfect prose, delivering the history of a leftist theater group long since disbanded, and its aging principals who will take Nelson along on one last tour of the political play one of them penned back when. If ever there was a book that sets out its contract with the reader in the first ten pages, and delivers on it in the next three hundred or so, this is it. Read the first chapter in the bookstore (or online) and buy it if you like what you're reading.

Further into the early going, we get a quiet conversation between two siblings almost accidentally lost to each other, in pointed and spare dialogue that delivers all the punches between the lines; then a perfect dramatization of the approach-avoidance conflict of a young man's leaving home after years of feeling unfairly caged there. The sojourn that follows is a coming-of-age tale for Nelson, juxtaposed against a day-of-reckoning for an almost-old man, Henry, looking back through all the years and all the mistakes and all the pain of being who he turned out to be.

The story is told--reported, really--by an unknown narrator, whose identity and involvement are revealed slowly, like breadcrumbs left along a path . . . and like the story he has to tell. The story proceeds on several different timelines in various places, and some reviewers have complained of being too often lost in all that. I've always seen myself as among the least adept at following this sort of thing novel, but I found nothing hard to follow here, the narrative so deftly and subtly sign-posted that I can't recall ever questioning where we were or when.

I will say that the breadcrumbs approach--the parceling out of pieces of information--started to feel a bit overdone near the end. But the overall story is so inventive, so full of sorrows and hopes and dreams and so well put together, that this is a minor quibble. One other quibble, more significant perhaps, is the very last twist--the end game, as it were. It's brilliant, just brilliant; but it does strike me as inconsistent with the narrative conceit involving our reporter.

Finally, I see a Guardian reviewer complains that the reporter-narrator distances the reader from the story in too many places; I never felt that way. I do agree with this reviewer when he says "Alarcon will write a great novel some day."

He's already written a very good one.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
wonderful, thought provoking novel 3 April 2014
By avid reader - Published on
Format: Hardcover
First off, let me say (and I know that I am going to get a lot of flak for this), that I don't feel that a review should summarize the whole plot. I tend to think that some reviewers just use this device to inflate their reviews (uh oh, more flak--sorry guys).

Now for my review as follows:

I first heard about this wonderful book when I read in the NY Times that it had been nominated for a PEN/Faulkner award.
I did my research and was intrigued. I was lucky enough to get this as a library download--I assume the buzz hadn't started yet.

This is one of the most brilliant books I have ever had the pleasure of reading. The mood is somber, but not
oppressive. The characters are sympathetic and unforgettable. The author weaves history, politics, love and
friendship into a spellbinding narrative.

I am urging my husband to read it so we can discuss it.

(This is exactly the kind of review I like to read--short and to the point). Enough said.
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