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At Night We Walk in Circles

In an unnamed South American country, a young boy comes of age, joins a theater troupe, and is taken on a journey in which art and life become blurred in confusing and violent ways

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At Night We Walk in Circles,
by Daniel Alarcón,
Penguin Group,
384 pp.

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Reviewed for The Barnes & Noble Review by Tess Taylor

A few years ago, in an unforgettable novella, Nobel Prize winner Imre Kertész offered a haunting meditation. His spare "Detective Story" depicts a trial taking place in a nameless South American dictatorship, where a member of the former secret police is being questioned at the end of a despotic regime. Under the guise of his testimony, the policeman-turned-prisoner narrates the story of his involvement in the torture of a wealthy family who seemed to be plotting against the government. What emerges is a tale of ambivalent complicity: a story that asks not whether the narrator is innocent but what – in the face of unjust regimes – it means to be innocent at all.

It was impossible not to think of Kertész's novella while reading Daniel Alarcón's latest novel, At Night We Walk in Circles. This was certainly because some of Alarcón's setup eerily echoes Kertész's: Alarcón's novel also takes place in an unnamed South American country where the shadows of a recent violent regime are fading. An unnamed narrator, whose circumstances are not revealed until two-thirds of the way through the book, describes the conditions under which a young boy named Nelson comes of age, joins a theater troupe, and is eventually taken on a journey in which art and life become blurred in confusing and ultimately violent ways. And, as in Kertész, the narrator's own situation eventually raises questions about how and why we make stories – and at what cost.

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