I first learned about Daniel Alarcón in The New Yorker’s collection of 20 authors under 40. His story in the collection, “Second Lives,” chronicles the disparate paths of two brothers, the older of whom moves from their South American country to the United States, while the younger is left behind to feel trapped in his own home. The younger brother, Nelson, is the main character of Alarcón’s newest novel, At Night We Walk in Circles, which takes place years after the short story and was published in October. It’s receiving heaps of well-deserved praise. Alarcón has been the recipient of a PEN USA award, a Guggenheim fellowship, and is a former Fulbright scholar to Perú. At Night We Walk in Circles is his third book.
I met Alarcón at the 2012 Aspen Summer Words festival. Their theme that year was “Solazú,” an invented word used to summarize the idea of celebrating stories from across Latin America and the Carribean. Alarcón was one of the speakers, sharing the stage with Francisco Goldman, Edwidge Danticat, Luis Urrea, Gioconda Belli, and others. Later, after the panels on homelands and violence, I stepped into a hallway in the Hotel Jerome Bar to find Alarcón staring at an old newspaper that was framed on the wall. The newspaper was from the day of a famous event, the moon landing or V-J Day, but he was looking at one of the small columns near the bottom of the page. He pointed to it, then motioned me over.
“This is a short story,” he said. “I wish I knew what happened here.” The column was something absurd: a man robbing a hospital, or something like that. It was missing all the important details, the whys and the hows, leaving the decades-later reader to fill in the blanks on their own.