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At Night We Walk in Circles Hardcover – 16 Jan 2014
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‘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.
Top customer reviews
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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. However, there is a warning contained in the title of this book: there is a fair bit of the story going around "in circles" and at times it feels like an interesting short story preceded by a long lead in. It's a book that I enjoyed while I was reading it but not one that screamed out to me to pick it back up again. This is, I think, due to the fact that the early part in particular is somewhat slow paced. In some ways perhaps this is fitting as the three actors head into the rural areas from the city, but while not a particularly long book, the nub of the story is relatively brief and doesn't really kick off until late on in the book.
Nelson gets more and more caught up in an uncomfortable role, which is both blackly funny but also very sad.
In the main, the topic of the book seems to be about fate and to some extent things repeating themselves. Alarcón is particularly good at describing the horrors of prison life and while there are similarities across the generations between writer Henry and young Nelson, Alarcón seems to be hinting also at the obstacles faced by those of Henry's generation, which were political and about a noble struggle over a repressive regime, while the younger generation seem to get into similar scrapes but with less noble, more personal causes.
There's no doubt this is an interesting and entertaining book and at his best, Alarcón has a touch of the classic Russian writers, notably Dostoevsky, about him. My reservations about it arise I think more due to the structure of the book and the mysterious narrator. To me, this gets in the way of getting to the depths of what are some very interesting characters. There is a tacit suggestion that the reader might know "what happened" at the outset - which of course they don't - and this doesn't help. The narrator is focussed on tracking down the story rather than on characterization and for me, this slightly detracts from the book, as indeed does the ending. But Alarcón is certainly a writer to follow.
An enjoyable read indeed.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
The discourse style, however, is brilliant. There are so many voices. The many voices require the reader to consider so many perspectives about the plot and the characters. The unreliability of memory and other persons' perspectives is ever present. The main narrator interviews those involved in the story, both major and minor. Pieces of interviews are sprinkled into the arc of the story at the appropriate time. Like a good suspense story, certain important facts are withheld until needed.
Alarcon has avoided "The Danger of a Single Story" that Chimananda Ngoze Adichie so eloquently describes in her TED Talk of the same name. We hear so many narrators that we are allowed to develop our own perspective based on the information provided by the various "reporters."
The author plays freely with time without the reader becoming confused. I listened to this book and was always on the edge of my seat and constantly working at trying to fit in the timeframe of each piece of narrative; almost like working a well-crafted puzzle. I enjoyed the book so much that I am listening to it a second time now that I know how it ends.
I am still wrestling with my hard-nosed removal of that final star in the rating. If I just ignore the flaw the ending introduces, I would recommend this whole-heartedly to everyone and add it to my Top 10 List. Perhaps I will come back and bump my rating up to 5 and put it on my list after all.
"At Night We Walk in Circles" follows the well worn structure of the travel narrative. Three friends/actors leave the capitol city to travel up into the mountains to recreate a legendary theatrical tour from the war years. At its core, this narrative is a trip back into time and memory in an attempt to deal with a war time trauma. Alarcon is a gifted writer and it was a pleasure to follow him on this journey. But I must confess, the point of the journey alluded me. "At Night We Walk in Circles" is a good novel but not as strong as the first two.