War by Candlelight
Author: Daniel Alarcon
Something is happening. Wars, both national and internal, are being waged in jungles, across borders, in
the streets of Lima, in the intimacy of New York apartments. War by Candlelight is an exquisite
collection of stories that carry the reader from Third World urban centers to the fault lines that divide
nations and people -- a devastating portrait of a world in flux -- and Daniel Alarcón is an extraordinary new
voice in literary fiction, one you will not soon forget.
I was fourteen when the lagoon spilled again. It was up in the mountains, at the far edges of our district.
Like everything beautiful around here, no one had ever seen it. There was no rain, only thick clouds to
announce the coming flood. Then the water came running down the avenue, pavement glistening, taking
trash and rock and mud with it through the city and toward the sea. It was the first flood since Lucas had
been sent to the University, a year into a five-year bid for assault. The neighborhood went dark and we ran
to the avenue to see it: a kind of miracle, a ribbon of gleaming water where the street should have been. A
few old cars were lined up, their headlights shining. Street mutts raced around us, barking frantically at
the water and the people and the circus of it. Everyone was out, even the gangsters, everyone barefoot
and shirtless, moving earth with their hands, forming a dike of mud and rock to keep the water out.
Across the avenue those kids from Siglo XX stared at us like they wanted something. They worked on
their street and we worked on ours."Watch them," Renán said. He was my best friend, Lucas's younger
brother. Over in Siglo XX they still had light. I could taste how much I hated them, like blood in my mouth.
I would've liked to burn their whole neighborhood down. They had no respect for us without Lucas. They'd
beat you with sticks and pipes. They'd shove sand in your mouth and make you sing the national
anthem. The week before, Siglo XX had caught Renán waiting for a bus on the wrong side of the street.
They'd taken his ball cap and his kicks, left his eye purple and swollen enough to squint through.Buses
grunted up the hill against the tide, honking violently. The men moved wooden boards and armloads of
bricks and sandbags, but the water kept coming. Our power came on, a procession of lights dotting the
long, sinking slope toward the city. Everyone stopped for a moment and listened to the humming water.
The oily skin of the avenue shone orange, and someone raised a cheer.In the half-light, Renán said he
saw one of the kids that got him. He had just the one good eye to see through. "Are you sure?" I
asked.They were just silhouettes. The flood lapped at our ankles, and the work was fierce. Renán was
gritting his teeth. He had a rock in his hand. "Hold it," he said.I felt its weight and passed it to Chochó.
We all agreed it was a good rock.Renán threw it high over the avenue. We watched it disappear, Renán
whistling the sinking sound of a bomb falling from the sky. We laughed and didn't see it land.Then Siglo
XX tore across the avenue, a half dozen of them. They were badass kids. They went straight for our dike
and wrecked it. It was a suicide mission. Our old men were beating them, then the gangsters too. Arms
flailed in the dim lights, Siglo XX struggling to break free. Then their whole neighborhood came and then
ours and we fell into the thick fight of it, that inexplicable rush, that drug. We spilled onto the avenue and
fought like men, side by side with our fathers and our brothers against their fathers and their brothers. It
was a carnival. My hands moved in closed fists and I was in awe of them. I pounded a kid while Chochó
held him down. Renán swung his arms like helicopter blades, grinning the whole time, manic. We took
some hits and gave some and swore inside we lived for this. If Lucas could have seen us! The water
spilled over our broken dike but we didn't care. We couldn't care. We were blind with happiness.We
called it the University because it's where you went when you finished high school. There were two kinds
Daniel Alarcón was born in Lima, Peru, and raised in Birmingham, Alabama. His work has been
published in The New Yorker, Harper’s, and elsewhere. He is a former Fulbright Scholar to Peru and the
recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award for 2004, and he lives in Oakland, California.www.danielalarcon.com