War by Candlelight

War by Candlelight

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by Daniel Alarcón

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Something is happening around the globe: mass movements of peoples, dislocations of language and culture in the wake of war and economic crises -- simply put, our world is changing.

In this exquisite collection, Daniel Alarcón takes the reader from Third World urban centers to the fault lines that divide nations and people. Wars, both national and


Something is happening around the globe: mass movements of peoples, dislocations of language and culture in the wake of war and economic crises -- simply put, our world is changing.

In this exquisite collection, Daniel Alarcón takes the reader from Third World urban centers to the fault lines that divide nations and people. Wars, both national and internal, are waged in jungles, across borders, in the streets of Lima, in the intimacy of New York apartments. These are lives at the margins of the globalized and not-yet-globalized worlds, the stories of those who shuttle between them and never quite feel at home in the cities where they were born: an unrepentant terrorist remembers where it all began, a would-be emigrant contemplates the ramifications of leaving and never coming back, a reporter turns in his pad and pencil for the inglorious costume of a street clown.

War by Candlelight is a devastating portrait ofa world in flux, and Daniel Alarcón is an extraordinary new voice in literary fiction, one you will not soon forget.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Civil strife and natural disasters mark these nine unflinching stories set in upper Manhattan and the blighted countryside and atrophied capital of Peru. Callous government forces destroy a prison controlled by rioting inmates in the grimly poetic "Flood." In the "City of Clowns"-first published in the New Yorker-social protests crowd Lima, where "dying is the local sport," while narrator Oscar, a jaded young journalist, grapples with his father's death and with his father's second family, which includes other sons and a mistress who seems to be befriending his mother. A revolutionary, who, with his compa eros, worships "frivolous violence," prowls around looking for black dogs to slaughter in "Lima, Peru, July 28, 1979." His brief, almost tender interaction with a passing cop is a striking example of doomed connection. And an accidental explosion kills a well-educated guerrilla in a Peruvian jungle, leaving his infant daughter fatherless, in the affecting title story. Even the collection's warmest scene-a father gives his impish five-year-old a make-up kit for her birthday in "A Science for Being Alone"-is muffled by her and her mother's impending emigration to the United States. Though his vision often seems bleak, Alarc n's voice is fierce and assured, and his debut collection engages. Agent, Eric Simonoff. (Apr.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Alarcon's first collection is a mixed bag, both stylistically and in terms of quality. The most rewarding of these nine stories are those that deal with broken relationships, be they familial, amorous, or simply human. In "City of Clowns," which appeared in The New Yorker in 2003, Oscar comes to grips with his deceased father's double life. In "Third Avenue Suicide," David must find a place to hide out every time visitors come so they won't discover he's living with his girlfriend. "Absence" explores the plight of the defenseless immigrant, separated from his homeland. Some of the shorter pieces, however (e.g., "Flood" and "A Strong Good Man"), fail to ignite. The Peruvian-born Alarcon writes in a strong, vibrant style, with recognizable characters and realistic situations. The names and places are Hispanic in name only; the stories transcend a sense of place. Three stories were previously published in prominent publications. For larger literary fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 12/04.]-Lawrence Olszewski, OCLC Lib., Dublin, OH Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Nine diverse stories show this Peruvian-American newcomer's passionate involvement with his material. Whether it's a deadly landslide, a no-holds-barred neighborhood turf war, or a guerrilla war convulsing a nation, Alarcon jumps right in with a fearlessness that becomes his most striking quality. Six of these stories are set in Peru, three in New York City. In "The Visitor," a man huddles with his three children, the only survivors of an Andean mountain landslide that has buried their town and their mother. It's short, but it cuts to the bone. A poor Lima neighborhood erupts in "Flood," but the fierce joy of a street fight pales into insignificance when the state decides to end a prison riot by burning down the institution, roasting the inmates alive. For his two longest stories, Alarc-n replaces linear narrative with a mosaic from different time periods. The title piece runs from 1966 to 1989, when Fernando is killed by a bomb in the jungle. For years, he had been torn between the "bourgeois fantasies" of raising a family and the inescapable duty of fighting with the guerrillas. Alarc-n limns his ambivalence with grace and power. There is no ambivalence, however, in "City of Clowns," which first appeared in the New Yorker's 2003 Debut Fiction issue; there's only the dull anger of reporter Oscar, whose father Don Hugo has just died. Oscar can't forgive his father for having left the household to start a new family with his black mistress, Carmela, or his sweetly humble mother for making a separate peace with Carmela. There's much more to this multilayered story, where everyone in "beautiful disgraced Lima" has their own hustle. Best of the New York stories is "A Strong Dead Man," about aDominican teenager who struggles with his father's death from a stroke. "Third Avenue Suicide" is a carefully observed domestic drama, but it's left unresolved. The extremes of death and war and poverty are what impel Alarcon to his best work. A rare combination of technical accomplishment and generous heart.

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Read an Excerpt

War by Candlelight

By Daniel Alarcon

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Daniel Alarcon
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060594802

Chapter One


I was fourteen when the lagoon spilled again. It was up in the mountains, at the far edges of our district. Like everything beautiful around here, no one had ever seen it. There was no rain, only thick clouds to announce the coming flood. Then the water came running down the avenue, pavement glistening, taking trash and rock and mud with it through the city and toward the sea. It was the first flood since Lucas had been sent to the University, a year into a five-year bid for assault. The neighborhood went dark and we ran to the avenue to see it: a kind of miracle, a ribbon of gleaming water where the street should have been. A few old cars were lined up, their headlights shining. Street mutts raced around us, barking frantically at the water and the people and the circus of it. Everyone was out, even the gangsters, everyone barefoot and shirtless, moving earth with their hands, forming a dike of mud and rock to keep the water out. Across the avenue those kids from Siglo XX stared at us like they wanted something. They worked on their street and we worked on ours.

"Watch them," Renan said. He was my best friend, Lucas's younger brother. Over in Siglo XX they still had light. I could taste howmuch I hated them, like blood in my mouth. I would've liked to burn their whole neighborhood down. They had no respect for us without Lucas. They'd beat you with sticks and pipes. They'd shove sand in your mouth and make you sing the national anthem. The week before, Siglo XX had caught Renan waiting for a bus on the wrong side of the street. They'd taken his ball cap and his kicks, left his eye purple and swollen enough to squint through.

Buses grunted up the hill against the tide, honking violently. The men moved wooden boards and armloads of bricks and sandbags, but the water kept coming. Our power came on, a procession of lights dotting the long, sinking slope toward the city. Everyone stopped for a moment and listened to the humming water. The oily skin of the avenue shone orange, and someone raised a cheer.

In the half-light, Renan said he saw one of the kids that got him. He had just the one good eye to see through. "Are you sure?" I asked.

They were just silhouettes. The flood lapped at our ankles, and the work was fierce. Renan was gritting his teeth. He had a rock in his hand. "Hold it," he said.

I felt its weight and passed it to Chocho. We all agreed it was a good rock.

Renan threw it high over the avenue. We watched it disappear, Renan whistling the sinking sound of a bomb falling from the sky. We laughed and didn't see it land.

Then Siglo XX tore across the avenue, a half dozen of them. They were badass kids. They went straight for our dike and wrecked it. It was a suicide mission. Our old men were beating them, then the gangsters too. Arms flailed in the dim lights, Siglo XX struggling to break free. Then their whole neighborhood came and then ours and we fell into the thick fight of it, that inexplicable rush, that drug. We spilled onto the avenue and fought like men, side by side with our fathers and our brothers against their fathers and their brothers. It was a carnival. My hands moved in closed fists and I was in awe of them. I pounded a kid while Chocho held him down. Renan swung his arms like helicopter blades, grinning the whole time, manic. We took some hits and gave some and swore inside we lived for this. If Lucas could have seen us! The water spilled over our broken dike but we didn't care. We couldn't care. We were blind with happiness.

We called it the University because it's where you went when you finished high school. There were two kinds of prisoners there: terrorists and delinquents. The terrucos answered to clandestine communiques and strange ideologies. They gathered in the yard each morning and did military stretches. They sang war songs all day and heckled the young guards. The war was more than ten years old. When news came of a successful attack somewhere in the city, they celebrated.

Lucas was more of a delinquent and so behaved in ways that were easier to comprehend. A kid from Siglo XX caught a bad one and someone said they saw Lucas running across the avenue back to our street. That was enough for five years. He hadn't even killed anyone. They lightened his sentence since he'd been in the army. Before he went in, he made us promise we'd join up when we were old enough. "Best thing I ever did," he said. We spoke idly of things we'd do when he got out, but our street was empty without him. People called us Diablos Jr. because we were just kids. Without Lucas, the gangsters hardly acknowledged us, except to run packages downtown, but that was only occasionally ...


Excerpted from War by Candlelight by Daniel Alarcon Copyright © 2006 by Daniel Alarcon. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author

Daniel Alarcon's debut story collection, War by Candlelight, was a finalist for the 2006 PEN/Hemingway Award. He has received a Lannan Literary Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Award, and has been named by Granta magazine one of the Best American Novelists under thirty-five. He is the associate editor of Etiqueta Negra, an award-winning monthly magazine published in his native Lima, Peru. He lives in Oakland, California.

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War by Candlelight 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved the short stories included in this collection... great style!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago