>The New Yorker: "The Idiot President" by Daniel Alarcón

>Anyone who has read Daniel Alarcón’s Lost City Radio will, I imagine, recognize the style and cadence of this story. Like that novel, “The Idiot President” is set a vaguely rendered South America against a backdrop of a conflict that has receded into the past. Here, a young actor wins a part with a small troupe that tours the countryside with a satirical play about the president. The other actors are old activists, it seems, sympathetic to the plight of the workers and village peasants. But times are better now and the young protagonist is soft, not up to the rigors of the road. They do have one memorable performance lit by the halogen lamps of miners’ helmets. Even though their show hits a rough patch, the audience by the end is enthralled. After the tour, the young actor leaves the company. He had plans to emigrate to the U.S., but those fall through and he now is optimistic that his acting career—he has an audition for a soap opera—will take off. And so it may. Like the memorable performance, like his whole country, there has been a rough patch but now things are better.

Is that the point of the story? And if so, what was that about Tania, to whom one of the other actors had been married and the other related. Why is it relevant that the play is performed at high elevation, and that the protagonist has a cold and then altitude sickness? I suppose I could construct an explanation, but the story doesn’t resonate enough in the end to justify the expectation of symbolism. Or does it?

I’d love to hear other views.

October 6, 2008: “The Idiot President” by Daniel Alarcón

About the author


  1. >Hi Clifford,
    I couldn’t agree with you more. This story just rambles on with no direction or meaning.
    But I get the feeling that the author needed to write this story so that he could move on to better stories.

  2. >I found it a pleasant experience reading this one. It seemed like a reflection of a "light and dark" experience from a person's life. It really reminded me much of magic realism and perhaps South America holds a significance there as well. I really could see that the story lingered between a line of delirious freshness and simply telling. In a similar way, it reminded me also of Waiting For Godot. It was as though Alarcon amalgamated some very basic but elemental techniques into the story so that, at the end, not quite everything seems to match up – but it still looks attractive enough to be considered an enjoyable success.

  3. >I think that a reader has to know the ethnic background of the author and a bit of recent history of Peru to truly understand the perspective of the story.

    Or, just accept it as it reads: a reminiscence of a person some what disappointed in his life so far

  4. I just read this story last night and it kind of snuck up on me and then knocked me out. I read the first half sort of half-engaged, as it felt like nothing but travelogue and misery, and then, like actual travel can, it turned into an adventure in the retelling. The events grew in significance as they became something reflected on. From the perspective of the narrator after a few years it became apparent that this trip wasn’t a minor episode from the author’s past, before his life properly began. It may in fact be the greatest thing he ever did, his peak moment as an actor. It’s both compelling and sad at the same time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.