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Absence in War by Candlelight by Daniel Alarcon

In his story, Daniel Alarcon, raises an important topic and conveys the secret of all immigrants from disadvantaged countries. The author says: “leaving is no problem. It’s exciting actually; in fact, it’s a drug. It’s the staying gone that will kill you. This is the handed-down wisdom of the immigrant.” (Alarcon 197). This is also because the author of the story is an immigrant from Peru. Through the character Wari, the author conveys the feelings of immigrants from Peru and different countries after moving to a large and unfamiliar USA with an unusual angle of life.

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The story depicts rootless, almost fabulous existence of an immigrant, especially an immigrant artist. Wari has no idea who he was or where he was going in Peru. In the end, the exhibition is not a reason to visit USA, but rather a means to get there. The reason was moving to the new country, because Wari seems to be “trying on” American life throughout history, even to the point of fantasizing about being the young man who brought him here and having his girlfriend who was actually his friend’s girlfriend.

The central claim is migration to a new, more stable country to find oneself and work in a new place. For many migrants, America seems like the best country in the world. Ignorance and admiration by the country are reinforced by a detailed survey of New York City. Thus, Wari watches people’s lives and “meandered in and out of sidewalk traffic, marveled at the hulking mass of the buildings and confirmed, in his mind, that the city was the capital of the world” (Alarcon 194). However, migration for a better life is notable for some of the difficulties and experiences that Wari constantly thinks about.

The other claim is connected with the challenges of living in a new country associated with a different language. Wari constantly reflects on the difficulty of speaking in English and “cringing at his pronunciation” (Alarcon 197). This is a heavy burden for any immigrant to relocate to a new country. Moreover, such problems still relate to the hard life of an immigrant in a new country.

However, in the story, the author pays attention not only to the problem of the migrant’s life, but also to common human issues. The leitmotif of the story is the feeling of a person in his complete loneliness after divorce. Wari constantly thinks about his home and family, especially about his ex-wife. Memories and constant comparisons of his wife and the girlfriend of his acquaintance suggest that the reason for leaving was not only the unhappiness of his native country but also oppressive loneliness because of “his ex-wife, whom he loved and whom he hated” (Alarcon 201).

In the story Wari is not just saying to the other person that Leah is his girlfriend. He not only shows an imaginary settledness in a new place but also tries to prove to himself that he can have someone other than his ex-wife. This claim can be drawn from the constant comparisons of Leah and Elie, his ex-wife as Wari “closed his eyes and pictured her naked body. Then Elie’s” (Alarcon 205). All this shows the despair in which Wari lives after divorce.

The story leaves many unresolved questions, including what is the motivation of the writer. The writer’s motivation is to show the life of an immigrant away from home. The story is written to show this life not from the point of view of external signs, but internal experiences that make a person leave their home country almost without regret. That is why in the story, the author constantly compares Peruvian Lima and New York. The author shows the differences and similarities between cities, allowing the reader to see the Lima he wants to portray clearly. Most readers are familiar with New York from the movies, but Lima is relatively unknown.

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Alarcon uses his knowledge of each location to depict each location as accurately as possible. The author’s motivation is to show that an immigrant somehow mentally returns to his country if he sees something similar to it in a new place, “on Canal, only a few blocks was enough to remind Wari of Lima: that density, that noise, that circus” (Alarcon 204). Moreover, the character Eric plays a significant role in what the author says. The author expresses the cultural code of Americans who are always willing and ready to help those in need. Alarcon tells the reader that Americans feel bad and uncomfortable if they fail to help someone “Americans always feel bad. They wander the globe carrying this opulent burden” (Alarcon 207).

The only thing that remains unclear is that the author does not let the reader understand whether Wari will leave or assimilate. The return ticket indirectly hints at this, which Wari considers radioactive and does not want to touch. There is no clear understanding of how to interpret the end of the story. Perhaps Leah’s words can be connected to the Twin Towers tragedy. Perhaps Ellen’s words can be linked to the Twin Towers tragedy, which had happened before Wari came to New York. Thus, the title of the story becomes clear. The absence of Wari in his country and the absence of a place in the new one, the absence of the twin towers. Lack of something important in people’s lives.

Work Cited

Alarcon, Daniel. War by Candlelight. HarperCollins, 2006.

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