At Night We Walk in Circles is set in an unnamed, war-scarred Latin American country. The book follows young actor and aspiring playwright Nelson as he traverses his nation, performing in a provocative play called The Idiot President.
It's Daniel Alarcon's second novel — his first was Lost City Radio, published in 2007. The Peruvian author says there are some parallels between him and his protagonist, dreaming of a life as an artist.
"It's true that there are people who live the idea of being an artist, as opposed to the idea of making art," Alarcon says. "Nelson's a snob, to a certain extent I'm a snob, but I say that with a great deal of reverence for art as a vocation and as a way of life. ... Sometimes I feel like it's the only sane way to live."
Alarcon spoke with All Things Considered host Arun Rath about the novel and his creative process.
On the book's central character
Nelson is kind of a bookish young man growing up in a war-torn country. He decides at a very young age he wants to become a playwright, wants to be a storyteller and sort of pursues that dream.
I should say, he doesn't pursue it with much diligence, in a sense that this dream is someways based on this fantasy and this notion that he's going to someday leave for the United States because his older brother has already moved to the United States. And there's this idea that this visa is dangling before him and it's going to sort of save him from making any tough decisions about adulthood.
And he sort of gets stuck in that space, and eventually stumbles into this opportunity to join the theater troupe of his hero, a man named Henry Nunez.
On the plot of Henry Nunez's fictional play, The Idiot President
The Idiot President is based on a play by a friend of mine named Walter Ventocia. He gave me the script ... and I adapted it and changed it, but basically the president is joined by his idiot son and then a servant, and the premise of the play is that every citizen in the country is afforded the privilege of attending to the president each day.
They have to do his chores, they have to ... tie his boots, they have to read his correspondence, they have to basically play to his ego — which is enormous — and at the end of each day, the servant is sacrificed, is killed.
On the creative process and why At Night We Walk In Circles took so long to produce
There was nothing about the writing of this book that was fast-paced, or dynamic. This was a terrible, terrible seven years of creative stasis and dysfunction. ...
Writing a novel is not at all like riding a bike. Writing a novel is like having to redesign a bike, based on laws of physics that you don't understand, in a new universe. So having written one novel does nothing for you when you have to write the second one.