David's Reviews > War by Candlelight: Stories

War by Candlelight by Daniel Alarcón
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's review
Oct 29, 08

bookshelves: read-in-2008, unexpectedly-terrific
Read in October, 2008

The stories in this debut collection are extraordinary. Daniel Alarcón was born in Lima, raised in Alabama, spent time in Peru as a Fulbright scholar, and now lives in Oakland. Most of the stories in "War by Candlelight" are set in Peru; three take place in New York City. Whether writing about political instability in Lima or emotional turmoil in Manhattan, Alarcón writes with a kind of unobtrusive brilliance that is astonishing. I'd finish one of these stories, marvel at how awesome it was, only to find the next one even more brilliant.

"Third Avenue Suicide" (in which Reena, an Indian immigrant, keeps stalling on introducing her Peruvian boyfriend to her mother), "Lima. Peru. July 28" (a painter gets sucked into revolutionary violence), "A science for being alone" (Miguel learns that his former girl friend, the mother of his five-year old daughter, whom he has planned to propose to, intends to emigrate to the U.S.) were three of my favorites. All three are extraordinary, But they are eclipsed by the title story, and by "City of Clowns", probably the best short story I've read in the last five years.

It's not just the writing that is excellent. Whether it's a result of the insight that comes from the dual perspective of the emigrant, or a consequence of Alarcón's innate smartness, there is genuine wisdom in these wonderful, disturbing stories.

Get yourself a copy of this book. Then read it.
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