“At Night We Walk in Circles,” the latest novel from Daniel Alacón, begins with the story of Nelson, a young man exploring the world outside his unnamed South American country’s capital city for the first time: (“He’d always been taught it was two different countries: the city, and everything else”). However the novel quickly evolves into a complex tale showcasing the lives of those dearest to Nelson and those on the periphery of his life who, thanks to a suspenseful and surprising turn of events, will come to matter most to him.
At its most fundamental, “At Night We Walk in Circles” is the story of Diciembre, a disbanded revolutionary theater troupe (based on the Peruvian troupe Setiembre) reviving for one final tour. The players include Henry, a playwright haunted by his time in prison, and Patalarga, his old friend and fellow actor. Nelson is cast as the third and final actor and the trio forms an unlikely band of brothers as they perform in fields, living rooms and town squares across the country.
It’s an unusual story, narrated by a journalist who sees Nelson’s life story as the perfect piece to put his new magazine on the map. This point of view allows for inventive narrative shifts and provides a multidimensional view of Nelson and his country while also challenging readers to consider the validity — and morality — of the narrator.
Like a haunting chorus, Alacón returns again and again to his theme: the fear of “being condemned to a life [you don’t] want.” This refrain provides a dark undertone to Nelson’s relatively cheerful explorations with Diciembre and crescendos to the forefront when his life takes a surprising turn at the end of the tour, building to a remarkable — and frightening — final page.