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The King Is Always Above the People: Stories

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3.53  ·  Rating details ·  1,111 ratings  ·  151 reviews
A slyly political collection of stories about immigration, broken dreams, Los Angeles gang members, Latin American families, and other tales of high stakes journeys, from the award-winning author of War by Candlelight and At Night We Walk in Circles.

Migration. Betrayal. Family secrets. Doomed love. Uncertain futures. In Daniel Alarcon's hands, these are transformed into d
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Hardcover, 256 pages
Published October 31st 2017 by Riverhead Books (first published January 2nd 2009)
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Average rating 3.53  · 
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Carol
I rarely read short story collections and I'd not heard of Daniel Alarcon prior to checking this book out of the library. Was it the cover? The title? It's certainly not that I don't have plenty of books to read that I'm excited to read. And still. The wonder of libraries.

I knew in the first seventy-five pages that this would be on my "top 10 reads of 2018" list, no matter what the rest of the year holds, because of passages like this:

Geography is an accident, he said. The place you are born is
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Trish
One assumes from the title that the king spoken of is revered and placed in a position of honor. Very shortly we learn that the king is actually hanging by his neck, above the central square, the people looking up at him swinging there. Many things are different from the perspective of those on the flip side of north.

Alarcón is Peruvian-American, and his voice is strong (having seen poverty), male (having known brutality), and distinctive (not being North American). His biography is fascinating.
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Monica
So…Daniel Alarcon. This young man has taken the literary world by storm with this collection of stories. I have become a huge fan short story collections. These stories are fascinating, well crafted, interesting and odd. This is my wheelhouse and Alarcon is very talented writer with a new and different perspective. Alarcon writes about men of color of Latin descent. I don't read often enough about how men of color view the world and themselves. That said, it seems as if the collection only has o ...more
jo
Feb 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
dayum, this book. daniel alarcón is my new bff.
David
Jun 26, 2018 rated it liked it
It is unfortunate that these stories are collected. Individually some show promise, but there is a sameness to many of them and so they are less powerful gathered together. Here are four opening lines:

"It was the year I left my parents, a few useless friends, and a girl who liked to tell everyone we were married, and moved two hundred kilometers downstream to the capitol."

"I'd been out of the conservatory for about a year when my great-uncle Raul died."

"I'd been in Lima for the first half of the
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jeremy
Oct 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: shortstories, fiction
life has a way of punishing brave boys like you. life has a way of making brave boys like you punish themselves. particularly here. where you live. you already know that.
daniel alarcón's writing seems to become tighter and more focused with each passing book. always a gifted storyteller, a notable poise or confidence now permeates his pages, whereas before it came but in passing phases. the first story collection since his pen/hemingway-nominated debut, war by candlelight, his new one, the k
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Fran Becker
I don't usually read short story collections. I feel that as soon as I get to know a character the story is over and I feel vaguely unsatisfied.

But a couple of these stories were brilliant. I chose this book because much of it took place in Peru, part of a World Cup reading challenge - read 32 books representing the 32 countries competing in the World Cup. I was not disappointed. I can't say I learned all that much about Peru, but these stories explore the human heart and relationships: lovers,
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Mel
Jan 10, 2018 rated it liked it
This was just ok. The writing itself is exceptional, and overreaching. It demanded more of myself than I could invest- it was like the style itself wanted to prevent the stories from really being known. There were several moments where I lost the thread of what was going on and didn't care to pick it up again.
Dan
Oct 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
Daniel Alarcón is one of my favorite contemporary writers. I know him mostly from his novels and his work on the radio show Radio Ambulante. This is the first of his short story collections that I've read and it met with my expectations.

The stories are all free standing, yet a current of restless individualism animates them all. Most of the stories concern themselves with a young man, kinda single kinda not, who's arrived at a crucial juncture in his life. Does he do what's expected of him or do
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Doug
Jan 14, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I really liked Alarcón's last novel, which I gave a 5 star rating, so am rather surprised and disappointed that I found this NBA nominated follow up so utterly lacking. Partially this MIGHT be due to my antipathy towards the short story format, but mainly I just found these ten brief works to be dull and uninteresting, and while competently written, rarely surpassing that adjective. Seven of the stories are very short, and these just never seem to gain any momentum before they are over. (One of ...more
Anna Baillie-Karas
May 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
A strong collection of short stories. Alarcón is Peruvian-American (but has lived in many cities) & I loved the direct style but sense of South American place and life (of the men, mainly). Some stories are set in Lima & others in unnamed cities - but the way of life is conveyed in simple details: the old men sitting on benches who never left; the emigrants who return. Not great women characters but intelligent, thought-provoking stories. ...more
Audacia Ray
As I read these stories about men and boys doing fucked up things, I kept wondering: are these stories about toxic masculinity or an embodiment of toxic masculinity? I don’t know that I found the answer exactly but I wasn’t into it.
Chrysten Lofton
May 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
5.⭐ “No one had ever asked Maico such a thing. In fact, it wouldn’t have occurred to him that a question like that could even be asked. Describe himself.”

**spoilers**


If you’re following my reviews, thanks for rolling with me ♡

We’re on season four of Stitcher’s LeVar Burton Reads, and we’re gifted with "Republica and Grau” by Daniel Alarcón.

description

My first impression was that I’d missed something. The author is giving us zero internal dialogue and I'm not used to that. We have to read these acti
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Adam R
May 31, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: secondo
Solid work of short stories but nothing incredible. Alarcon definitely fleshes out the worlds with his little descriptions and tells interesting peculiar tales. For me, there was a certain lack of purpose to the stories, maybe this is part of Alarcon's training as a journalist, having a comfort with leaving things open ended. It often felt like stories were simply being recounted instead of building to a greater theme. The pacing of the book also feels incredibly slow, Alarcon focuses on many sm ...more
Gwendolyn
Jun 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this imaginative and versatile story collection. Alarcon explores issues of immigration, displacement, and powerlessness. The male characters, in particular, are well-drawn and complex individuals. (Small complaint: the female characters tend towards stereotypes.) Some of the stories include fantastical elements, so be prepared for that. The final story in the collection is really a novella, and it was my favorite.
Elena
Aug 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The King is Always Above the People further solidified Daniel Alarcon as one of my favorite authors.
Elizabeth☮
Dec 31, 2017 marked it as dnf
This started out promising and then fizzled. Just when I thought it was gaining momentum, I fell asleep several times trying to get through one of the longer stories. Time to move on.
Karin
There were a couple of stories I liked--but most of them I felt just had no point. Flat characters. Rounding up a star for the inspired narration.
Matt C
May 13, 2020 rated it liked it
There are a few stand out stories in here while others seem to have the same themes but executed less impressively. The entire collection feels like it takes place in the same city, which I really enjoyed. Some of the stories are very hard to decipher but overall it was an enjoyable collection
Amy
Jan 28, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: latin-america
The two star rating is because the first half of the book is closer to three stars for me, and the second half closer to one. There are several longer stories (closer to novellas, really) and a spattering of shorter stories. I tended to prefer the shorter ones, because they packed an actual punch. The longer stories all seemed too long, but at the same time their endings were more the story dribbling away than conclusions in any of the way endings can be satisfying. The writing itself could be q ...more
Alexis
May 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: summer-2018
A book of short stories. Some I enjoyed, some not as much. Many I read with a strong hope for something better for everyone in the end. Stories set in seemingly familiar places, some places with which I’m sure the author is well-acquainted. Stories of moments of reckless indulging and depressed passion and lots of sadness. And use. Relationships between people that broke my heart. But also culture and pride in culture and love for families, even dysfunctional ones with disordered love. I’m glad ...more
bianca guerrero
Feb 22, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018-books
Good book of short stories. some main observations:
-This was the first book by a male author I’ve read in a while and it is so, so, so clear that the author is a dude. Mainly because all of the women in the book lack depth, are presented for characters to ogle at or for their entertainment, and are not focal (with the exception of the last story, though even Clarisa lacked true depth) at all. I accepted it as a piece of this book but was disappointed that Alarcón didn’t do more.
-A lot of the st
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Patrick O'Donoghue
Feb 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
A collection of short stories by Daniel Alarcón, who I had not previously heard of. The title drew me to this one - one of my favourite titles of the year so far.
The narrator of most of these stories, while a different person, has the same narrative voice, which made the stories quite easy to get into. I thought the stories got better the further into the collection I got. We are never told the location of many of the stories, having to assume that they’re set in Mexico, or another Latin America
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Ming
Mar 11, 2018 rated it liked it
I hadn't appreciated short stories (and I still need a bit of more convincing). But I heard Hilton Als and Junot Diaz talk about James Baldwin and the short story form ( http://www.kwls.org/audio-archive/ ) and as a result, I am coming to see the snapshot beauty of short stories. Here Alarcón demonstrates mastery of this form. For instance the first story, "The Thousands," is 3-pages long and perfect.

I'm learning how to reconcile with a different reading experience. In reading this book, in part
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Shannon
Feb 21, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-harder-2018
Read Harder 2018: book with a cover I hate

I’m not sure where I heard about this book, but I’m a fan of short stories when the timing is right. Sadly, I don’t think this was the right time in my life for these stories. The overall tone was too dark for me and most of the stories lacked any sign of hope or redemption at the end.

Alarcón’s writing was not the problem. I liked the way the sentences sometimes lulled me to a different place. But I wanted to know where these stories were set. I wanted
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Sameer Vasta
Mar 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
One of the stories that Daniel Alarcón shares in this collection, “República and Grau,” features a blind beggar and a young boy who joins him to beg for money to supplement the family income. The boy changes his appearance, his mannerisms, all to make more money on the street corner. In “The Provincials,” Nelson pretends to be his more successful brother, turning pretense into personality, losing himself, and eventually, the people around him, too. What changes do we make to who we are in order ...more
Ian Mond
Nov 08, 2017 rated it liked it
There is a sameness to the stories that feature in The King Is Alway Above The People. This isn’t always an issue, I like a writer who is willing to explore the same themes from a number of different perspectives. Alarcon’s themes around fatherhood and class and the divide between the regional and the metropolitan are worth exploring, but having the point of view character be exclusively male meant that tonally the stories begin to blur together.

It says something that my favourite piece, the on
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Nancy
Nov 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I listened to the story Republica and Grau on LeVar Burton Reads. In this short story, Maico is a ten-year-old boy who is forced to beg with a blind man on a street corner and is to bring all his wages home to his abusive father. The boy is compliant and does what he can to please both his father and the blind man until they both betray him and use him as a pawn. I was aghast at both men, whose selfish machoism affected both Maico and his poor mother. I was so proud of Maico of how he stood up t ...more
Olivia
Nov 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
There stories dance in and out of locations and characters as though they were all part of the same overarching story. They were highly readable because of variety in length and style, but the ease with which I read did not lessen the impact of any story. In "The Ballad of Rocky Rontal", Alarcón traces the history of a boy who defends his mother to a man who committed a murder and goes to prison. In "Extinct Anatomies", a young man with pain intolerance imagines a dental assistant naked to get t ...more
Benjamin
Dec 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
What an incredible writer! I am constantly amazed at the amazing language that Alarcón creates, especially considering that English is his second language. He is one of fiction's bright stars. This collection continues his absolute mastery of the short form. A couple of the pieces don't completely click, but all are worth the effort. Most, however, are examples of why I enjoy short fiction so much: they show what skill it takes to condense plot, character development, theme, setting, and all the ...more
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Daniel Alarcón’s fiction and nonfiction have been published in The New Yorker, Harper's, Virginia Quarterly Review, Salon, Eyeshot and elsewhere. He is Associate Editor of Etiqueta Negra, an award-winning monthly magazine based in his native Lima, Peru. His story collection, War by Candlelight, was a finalist for the 2006 PEN/Hemingway Foundation Award, and the British journal Granta recently name ...more

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