Latam BookLook: “The King Is Always Above the People” by Daniel Alarcón

With this collection of short stories, one of the most heard Latin American voices of the moment delivers truthful snapshots of the human experience

What’s it about?

“The King Is Always Above the People: Stories” is a book of short stories by one of the most powerful contemporary voices of Latin America, Peruvian Daniel Alarcón. The collection circles around immigration, power structures, being Latin American in the US. It is about growing up in less than favorable situations and trying to figure out what the world has to offer. It is about unfair political and power structures. The characters help to depict what being a part of the world in the late twentieth and early twenty first centuries has been like. Although the stories depict different moments in the lives of different characters, they all look to show a raw and realistic form of the human experience. For this reason, they are often stories about pain, and about the disappointments we all face throughout our lives.  

Leer en español: Latam BookLook: "El rey siempre está por encima del pueblo" de Daniel Alarcón

Who wrote it?

Daniel Alarcón was born in Lima, Perú, in 1977. He grew up in the United States, and has a Masters in Fine Arts from Iowa’s Writers Workshop, which is considered one of the most important writing schools of the world, where authors like John Cheever and Kurt Vonnegut have taught fiction. Alarcón also co-hosts one of the most important Spanish language podcasts of the US National Public Radio, Radio Ambulante. He was also featured in The New Yorker’s 20 Under 40 Fiction issue in August of 2010, one of the most prestigious literary publications of the English speaking world. He has also published two novels, “Lost City Radio” and “At Night We Walk in Circles”, as well as another book of short stories, “War by Candlelight”. 

Read also: "They are not going to separate families, they are going to lock them together," Latino Project 

Beyond his rather impressive trajectory as a writer, Alarcón is one of the writers who strive to give a voice to the hispanic and immigrant experience in the United States, which has always been relevant, but which probably has not been as necessary as right now, given the current political climate. Although the book is written in English, there is something inherently Latino about it, through which we can see Alarcón’s clear and loud voice. 

Read or pass?

This book is one part the National Book Award Longlist, which means that it was one of the runner ups for this award. In an interview by NationalBook.org, Alarcón said: “Stories come one at a time, but once you have a certain number you can go back and see, sometimes all too clearly, what your obsessions are, how they manifest in your work. In this case, the stories are about power, migration, and people on the outside looking in”.

If these are themes you are interested in exploring, it is a pretty solid book. However, before purchasing, I’d recommend two things: first, consider whether you enjoy sad or rather angry reads, because this is not a particularly happy book. Second, read the story that was published by The New Yorker, “Second Lives”, and figure out whether you would enjoy a full book of similar stories. Short stories are tricky because it is more about the language and less about the plot, which is something that as a reader you should always bare in mind.


LatinAmerican Post | Laura Rocha Rueda

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