Jared Diamond, the Pulitzer-winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel, first traveled to Papua New Guinea in 1964, returning frequently over the next 48 years. His new book teems with examples and anecdotes of traditional life from the Pacific Islands—not just because of his own familiarity, he insists, but “because New Guinea really does contribute to a disproportionate fraction of human cultural diversity” with approximately 1,000 of the world’s 7,000 spoken languages and a high proportion of traditional lifestyles uninfluenced by modern states. The World Until Yesterday poses questions about the differences between such traditional societies and our own, attempting to tease out the advantages and disadvantages inherent in each. Diamond has taken some heat for portraying traditional societies as warlike, but contends that he merely presents facts without any varnish of “noble savage” paternalism. Hear for yourself when Diamond comes to Albuquerque Academy’s Simms Auditorium (6400 Wyoming NE) this Monday, Nov. 4, at 7pm. His talk, one of only a handful of national appearances to promote the paperback release, is cosponsored by popular children’s bookstore Alamosa Books, which has lately begun dipping its toe into the grownup lit pond. The event is “booketed,” meaning a purchase of one book from Alamosa admits two. For more details, or to secure your spot, head to alamosabooks.com/Diamond.
Painful family ties and memories of war perambulate through this new novel about art and history by Daniel Alarcón, an emerging author whose Spanish-language “Radio Ambulante” podcast spotlights individuals’ stories in their own words (sort of like “This American Life”). Informed by uncanny insights into human nature—no doubt also gleaned from his journalism for Harper’s on the Peruvian prison system—Alarcón’s prose in At Night We Walk in Circles courses forward swiftly and crisply. For the reader, this style brings waves of mounting dread, disorientation and the urge to read more. Nelson is a young actor in an unnamed South American country trying to find its bearings after years of political upheaval, but his dreams of an American acting career get derailed with the death of his father. He joins, instead, a radical theater group called Diciembre whose lead actor and playwright was once jailed for the play The Idiot President—the very work they now seek to revive. The more deeply Nelson becomes involved with the troupe, and the further he journeys with them through his devastated national landscape, the more firmly his fate is sealed. Alarcón heads to Burque next week to discuss his breakout novel on Friday, Nov. 8, at Bookworks (4022 Rio Grande NW)—catch him for free starting at 5:30pm.