Alarcón on being read in Peru

Daniel Alarcón, who moved to Alabama from Peru as a kid, nervously anticipates the appearance of his short story collection, War by Candlelight, in the country of his birth.

Certainly the world of Peruvian letters does not need me. There are writers of my generation attacking the same themes I have attempted to address, and many are doing so with real verve and skill. A publishing renaissance is underway in Lima, and this year Peru can celebrate that two of the three major prizes in the Spanish-speaking literary world — the Alfaguara Prize and the Herralde Prize — were won by Peruvians, Santiago Roncagliolo and Alonso Cueto, respectively.

In a few months, my first book of stories, War by Candlelight — published last year in the United States — will be published in Peru…. My incomplete knowledge of the place will be on display before critics who are least likely to be forgiving. To be panned by an American reviewer would probably have more of an impact on my career, but similar treatment at the hands of Peruvian critics might do more spiritual damage. I’ve taken what I know about a place, written it in English, and now those people depicted in the stories will have their say. Exoticism will not color their understanding of the work, and the stories will be read on their own merits. These readers will not be seduced by a pretty sentence or a well-observed detail: They will know instantly if the book is true or not, whether I have added something of substance to the discussion of Peru’s national trauma or have simply plagiarized our suffering.

In 2005, Eyeshot published some of Alarcón’s dispatches from South America.


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