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War by Candlelight: Stories Hardcover – March 29, 2005

4.6 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From 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 compañeros, 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, Alarcón's voice is fierce and assured, and his debut collection engages.
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From Booklist

Born in Peru and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, Alarcon returned to Peru on a Fulbright and now evokes the sorrows and beauty of that ravaged land with a precision and steadiness that stand in inverse proportion to the magnitude of the losses he so powerfully dramatizes. Floods and earthquakes destroy what little equilibrium remains in a relentlessly violent world in which the authorities and the rebels are equally vicious and corrupt. In "Flood," a carnival of carnage erupts as floodwaters rise, and Alarcon's young narrator reports, "We were blind with happiness." In another tale, a young painter gives up his studies in Lima to join the revolution, but things get off to an ignoble start. In "City of Clowns," first published in the New Yorker, a reporter turns a casual assignment into a metaphysical experience. Keenly aware of how "life can disappear just like that," and cued to the fact that even as technology seems to erase barriers between cultures, it fails to foster genuine communication, Alarcon, gifted and perceptive, joins a new wave of incisive literary border-crossers that includes David Bezmozgis, Courtney Angela Brkic, Judy Budnitz, and Rattawut Lapcharoensap. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (March 29, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060594780
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060594787
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,101,524 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Marco Antonio Abarca VINE VOICE on April 8, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Globalization is a funny thing. Who would think that one of the best up and coming South American writers would be a Peruvian American from Birmingham, Alabama who writes in English. What makes him a South American is that Alarcon is a gifted chronicler of life in Lima, Peru. There is nothing nostalgic or romantacized about Alarcon's Lima. It's Lima, La Horrible. A grotesque, third world city that is for some odd reason is an almost charming city in its weirdness.

As an American going back to the city where he was born, Alarcon sees Lima in a way most Peruvians miss. Alarcon has no need for magic realism. Alarcon's protagonists are handyman thieves, unemployed bank clerks, dog killing revolutionaries and journalists who on occassion ride the city's buses dressed in clown outfits. Throw in a parade of shoe shine boys and a Senderista or two and you have that strange mix that is modern day Lima.

Alarcon's short stories are precise and well written. You can almost see the finger prints of the Iowa Writers Workshop. This is a very good first collection of short stories for a young writer. I am looking forward to seeing future books. It will be interesting to see whether he stays a South American writer or turns his talents to the Latino immigrant experience in the United States.
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Format: Hardcover
This slim book of stories has been touted as one of the best books of spring.

In "Third Avenue Suicide," a young American, David, lives with a woman of Indian descent in a Manhattan apartment. Her mother is set on having Reena marry a man of her own race, so Reena and David hide all traces of David's living with Reena whenever the mother pops over, which is quite a lot. "They had been living in the apartment for ten days when David was first asked to disappear." This would be a humorous in-law type tale except for a tragic development way out of left field which makes David feel like an exile from his own life.

In "Absence," a Peruvian painter called Wari is visiting New York where a show of his work is going up at a university-affiliated gallery. In flashback he contrasts the hopelessness of his life in Lima, with the marvels of Manhattan, and contemplates not going back, casting his fate to the winds of exile. His show is not well received and, as Daniel Alarcon describes his paintings, they are not memorable. Wari befriends the girlfriend of his American sponsor, a warmhearted woman called Leah, who attracts him with her efforts at intimacy.

Several of the stories take place in Latin America, where a revolution is going on. Perhaps the strongest of these is "Lima, Peru, July 28, 1979" in which a cadre of young rebels spends the night killing black dogs, each one representing a capitalist. When Lima runs out of stray black mutts, the narrator, Pintor, is charged with painting the not-quite black ones a more solid black. Alarcon makes heavy play out of the way that Lima's packs of feral dogs resemble the young men who want them dead. Pintor winds up having a confrontation with a well-meaning policeman that ends in an unhappy way.
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Format: Paperback
Before I landed on a Mario Vargas Llosa ‘s “Death In The Andes” as my book to represent Peru, I had already purchased “War By Candlelight” by Daniel Alarcon, a collection of his short stories. Once I learned that Alarcon had moved to the Untied States as a three year old I thought a better representation of the nation would be the Nobel Prize winner. But not to let a book go to waste I made my way through the his stories. My edition (published by Harper Perennial) contains a meaty section on the writer himself and although he left a troubled nation when only a small child, he did return to teach photography as a Fulbright Scholar and in his younger years did return each year for a visit. This collection of short stories all reflect on Peru so maybe I shouldn’t have been so hasty to make Mario Vargas Llosa my pin up boy for the month!!

This collection contains nine short stories.

First up we have “Flood” a tale of three youths who participate in a riot (after starting it by throwing a rock) in Lima during a downpour. The subsequent consequences of their actions and their visits to the local “university” (the jail) tell the story of a Capital in chaos. The city is divided by gangs, the jail by rebel forces and other criminals, the persecution as well as the disbelief that violence is not just a way of life. A simple story but one that reveals a melting pot of issues.

For my full review go to [...]
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Format: Paperback
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.

I highly recommend "War by Candlelight".
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