Contemporary Latin American Fiction

Asynchronous Blog Post on City of Clowns (Pages 1-64)

Asynchronous Blog Post

Instructions:

1. Read pages 1-64* of Daniel Alarcón and Sheila Alvarado’s graphic story City of Clowns.

*Pages 1-11 in the original text-only version.*

3. Pick ONE of the following options and respond in the comment section down below. The deadline is 11/29 before the class. 200-word minimum.

OPTION ONE

One of the narrative goals of this first part of the novel is to put together a portrait of Lima. Based on Oscar (Chino)’s account how would you describe  Perú’s capital? To what extent Chino’s emotional state and his family’s history affect his perception of different urban environments?

OPTION TWO

The clowns in the story are not represented as humorous silly figures, what do you think the clowns are emphasizing so far? Beyond the reportage Chino is writing, what do you think is going to be their role in the story?

OPTION THREE

What does the choice of illustrating in a high contrast black and white do? Pick two different sections of this first half and discuss how Sheila Alvarado’s illustrations synthesize, add layers of meaning and/or complement Daniel Alarcón’s narration.  How do you interpret the isolated illustrations without text?

OPTION FOUR

Respectfully interact with ONE of your classmates’ responses. Do you agree with their arguments and interpretations? Do you disagree? What other observations about the first half of City of Clowns do you want to bring into the discussion?

22 thoughts on “Asynchronous Blog Post on City of Clowns (Pages 1-64)”

  1. In “City of Clowns” the narrator, Oscar, spends a lot of time describing what Lima is like. As he travels from point a to point b he makes it clear that there is political unrest in Peru. In addition to the protests that are going on in multiple places, Oscar describes the things he hears people around him saying about the President. Both the protests and the chatter add to the tension/stress Oscar must be feeling. Similar to how Oscar is reflecting on the morals of his father, the people of Lima must be reflecting on their government. Both Lima and Oscar are dealing with a lot of turmoil at the same time.
    Another major part of Oscars descriptions of Lima are communities. The children that stood poised with buckets of water balloons are one community and the people on the bus that felt threatened by them are another. The neighbors that Oscar passes to visit his mother are another community. And the clowns that Oscar constantly sees, kind of make up a community as well. Despite the fact that these “communities” are minor, and not really established they are all made up of people with similar priorities, goals and conditions. The unity that they share are a stark contrast to the environment that Oscar’s parents raised him in.

    1. “City of Clowns” uses symbolism perfectly when it tries to explain the political unrest that was present in Peru at the time. Through Oscar, we are able to relate to the feelings of morality he has towards his father. The way Oscar is concerned about his father is the same way in which Peruvians are concerned about their country.

  2. Lima in “City of Clowns” is described as a place bustling with movement and activity “(…)a protest had spilled off the sidewalk, and traffic was stalled for five city blocks (..)insistent noise of the streets, in the cackling voice of a d.j. on the radio “(p2-4). Just like any spraling city, there is a lot going on never seems to be a dull moment a strong contrast with of Oscar’s native town of Pasco. Lima is home to many different types of people ” A heavy woman sold wigs from a wooden cart.A tired clown rested on the curb(…)” but also home to “bad people” as Oscar’s old man would put it. This can be seen through violent headlines published by the local newspaper” driver gets melon burst or narco shootout,bystander eats lead.” However due to his current situation Oscar’s perception of Lima is affected to the point where at times Lima seems unwelcoming “in the glare of the summer sun, it was as if Lima were mocking me, ignoring me, thrusting its indifference at me”. Oscar also sees Lima as a place that does not give anything for free but with a price that needs to be paid” the essential truth of Lima : if there is money to be made, it must be bled from these concrete city blocks”. Lima based on Oscar description doesn’t seem all that worth while however even back home in Pasco, it wasn’t any better. The narrator seems to be frustrated and uses the description of Lima to sometimes describe how he feels inside”Lima, beautiful, disgraced Lima, unhappy and impervious to change”.

    1. Oscar has mixed feelings between his hometown Pasco and his current city of residence, Lima. Somehow, he does not feel comfortable living in either because while Pasco is his hometown, the situation there is not any good. In Lima, too, a city that is impervious to change is filled with violence and is a city where everything comes at a cost.

  3. The City of Lima in Peru is described as cold and dark. The city is tense with corruption and violence. When he speaks of this place, it is as though he thinks Lima mocks him. He feels the city is indifferent to him, ignoring him. His views are negative, the city is in turmoil, that much is obvious. When he was younger his father had taken him to the city, pointed out the important buildings, shown him the movement of the streets, most of this is told in his flashbacks of his memories of his father. A place his father loved and could be himself. His mother on the other hand was seems more skeptical of the city, and mostly kept to her home or her employers. The clowns in the city seem to provide some sense of routine to him, they are everywhere, and he observes them with keen interest. He views the city as a place of hardship and imbalance, while the smaller communities are more of unanimity and familiarity. This I believe stems from the background of his upbringing and the kind of relationship he shared with both his father and mother.

  4. Based on everyone’s comments so far on how Oscar describes the city, there’s that constant theme of the way they all interpret how he describes Lima. For example, with a lot of things happening all throughout such as the protest, and the variety of people as Matthew mentioned. To continue, it is interesting to read this description of this city, to better understand the social issues and the day to day life’s of people during this period of time.

  5. Alarcon’s depiction of Lima is a city that is corrupt, chaotic and teeming with violence–Oscar’s own father was a petty thief–and the clowns are all impoverished and perform on the streets in order to survive. There is a sense of desperation in their performances. Oscar, and others, see the clowns as “shabby” and “absurd” as they attempt to make a living in the city’s open-air markets, dreaming of a better life. I think that already the clowns represent the impoverished citizens of Lima and the underbelly of a tumultuous city wracked with political and social unrest.

    But I also suspect that the clowns may also be revealed to be connected to Chico’s father. The graphic novel is filled with flashbacks and anecdotes from Chico’s past, so it feels like Chico’s journalistic assignment and his father’s death will somehow be related. The illustrations which accompany Alarcon’s writing highlight the disorienting, disorderly atmosphere of Alarcon’s Lima, as the illustrator draws the clowns as oversized, hulking figures which stomp over the cityscape. The illustrations of the clown are haunting and fantastical and in keeping with the overall vibe of the graphic novel.

  6. Based on Oscar’s account, he describes Peru as dark and chaotic. He mentions the many protests that are breaking out across Lima and even describes it as a “battleground.” There are societal and political issues arising in this society and Oscar doesn’t fail to mention it plenty of times throughout the reading. He says that Lima mocks him, ignores him,etc. but what I think is he is reflecting how he feels towards his father. He has such resentment for Lima but doesn’t want to go back to Pasco either, so I don’t think he has a significant dislike for Lima but more or so he is grieving the loss of his father. He says that the only good thing his father has ever done for him was move him and his mother to Lima. It’s interesting to see how Oscar describes Lima considering I’m from Lima ethnically, I don’t view Lima like that at all but it’s different because Oscar was raised there and this resentment stems from his upbringing.

    1. Hi Emily, you bring up very good points that were described throughout the story that I’ve also taken notice of. I think your experience of being from Lima ethnically is very interesting and I really appreciate reading your input based on your own experience being different from Oscar’s. I wanted to add on to the point where you said “he is reflecting on how he feels towards his father.” Part of my perception from the story is how Oscar was being compared to his father too. “Your father is different. And you Chino, you’re just like him.” (P. 45) I believe this comparison is bittersweet because even though Oscar is grieving his father, there are some actions that his father has done in the past that from my perspective, isn’t fair to compare him to. Such as his father having 2 wives but not living with the decisions he made in terms of settling with only one wife. On the other hand, I think about what strengths rather than weaknesses his father has gone through growing up in Lima with the political and societal issues that were rising too. As a child, Oscar said he admired the hard work his father has put in to create a stable living— which was working as a contractor for others and as well as improving the state of their own home as well.

  7. The black and white illustration works well for the novel. It fits a tonal and genre specific trope set to embody drama, history, and pain. From film noir to other graphic novels like Persepolis and Maus, the stark high contrast effect of black and white reminds readers of the retroactive and reflective emotions Chino is experiencing in living through his family drama and Peru’s own pains. Sheila Alvarado’s illustrations can easily stand on their own, especially with page 25 and 28-29. Page 25’s narrative focus on building a timeline for how his father made money is greatly expressed with Alvarado’s drawings. The brick layered on brick is a straightforward display of the construction job his father had, but it also shows a building sense of tension or pressure. As the book later reveals, his father had many mistakes built on top of each other, from cheating to stealing, and this drawing is a hint towards the precise network of actions his father made that Chino was housed in for his whole life. His father is at the top of the page, overseeing what happens during his life and now hauntingly watching over him now that he’s dead. The depictions on page 28-29 also do a great job at expanding Alarcón’s narration. The description of Pasco is detailed and visceral but Alvarado’s adds a sense of distance and confusion with the blobs of people and surreal bubble-like forms floating around the page. Alarcón describes the mountains as being gutted and the world being unreal and unsettling. Alvarado captures this dread and grounds it in reality with a simple landscape that has just enough uncanny elements to express how a town can be mundane yet eerie.

  8. Lima is described as a polarizing city. The people clash with the government and the government and its laws clash with the people. And yet the people themselves are not on the same page either as the city is sectioned into separate parts and the people who live there turn on each other. The clowns performing are neither genuine nor funny, but they are desperate. They are performing to entertain, the root of their actions is a desperate act to secure some money and possibly a better life. And that goes for the entire city of Lima. The author does not want us to think that Lima is in conflict because it is inherently a violent place. No, this current situation is only the result of desperation for a better future. No one, not even the government in charge truly wants the city to go up in flames. The whole city is one of the clowns desperately performing in the hopes of something changing. I think in the future of the story the tensions will only increase until things boil over. As the whole city enters a desperate and shoddy performance for its future. I think the story’s title fits this story perfectly.

  9. In City of Clowns, clowns are not represented as a source of fun and entertainment as they are traditionally represented. Instead, we see three instances of clowns: one smoking a cigarette while resting on the curb, another being pelted by water balloons while trying to sell mints, and a third leading a group of protestors. Alarcon’s representation of these clowns is meant to inform the reader that people in Lima do what they must in order to survive. For example, the clown that gets water balloons thrown at him was a travelling salesman but his product — “European” mints — might not have been spectacular enough in itself for people to want to buy them. Instead, this poor salesman must choose to dress up as a clown in order to get people’s attention. Once he’s drawn them in with his costume, he can then try and sell his mints to them and make a meager living. Given the scenario described by Alarcon in which a clown on stilts was leading a group of unlikely protestors — poor shoeshine boys — and the brewing political turmoil caused by government corruption that Alarcon continues to allude to, one can assume that citizens dressed as clowns will be at the forefront of massive protests against the government.

  10. In the graphic novel “City of Clowns” Chino describes Lima to be better than Pasco but also describes it as a place of unrest. Lima has its own set of rules, movements, and the way people behave is far different than the mining city of Pasco. Lima is almost like New York with its commerce and the hustle and bustle, but it is also the epicenter of social change with riots and civil unrest. Chino’s career in journalism is revolved around his connection to Lima but he resents the city for its effect on his father. His father is the classic example of the patriarch leaving their birthplace to move to the place of commerce to make a career for themself and send money back home. But in that narrative, the patriarch finds a mistress and lives a dual life. Chino resents his father for having a second wife and three other children and he carries that with him with everything he sees in the City. His grief is portrayed by his perception of the city. Even in the drawing style, we can see the polarizing of black and white to see the staunch difference in what the city is capable of showing. On page 22 he says, “I’d walked only a few blocks when I felt inexplicably assaulted by loss.” The city has an air to it that will oppress the downtrodden, and keep the grieving in their state of grief.

  11. Option 1

    In the first half of the novel Chino sees the city, Lima, in two different fashions. One is from the viewpoint he had of it when he was younger. To him moving to the city was a sign of hope, and escape from the poverty stricken small town his family is from which relied primarily on mining as a source of income which Chino knew his dad was not built for “My old man wasn’t suited for those rituals. There was no future is Pasco, so he came to Lima to find it.” Now as an adult he sees it differently, perhaps his perception altered due to his job as a journalist in which he covers everything from corrupt politicians to bombings as shopping malls. We are given hints of the political unrest happening in the background and how poverty stricken the city is. I would describe Lima as a city on the edge of a change whether that be politically or economically. Citizens are fed up with the lack of jobs and when Chino was growing up Lima was going through inflation which led to the waves of crime and the phenomenon known as “the pirañas”. In many ways it’s a city that represents hope and change for those on the outside looking in and for the insider it’s a city that is full of schemers and corruption with the citizens caught in between.

  12. The clowns represent the harsh reality of living on the streets of Lima at the time. They are meant to fake a smile in order to get any business or what they want, but deep down they resemble the clown on the curb, sulking and asking for a light for their cigarette. The clowns are another example of the tough life of the working class, who have to have a completely different image to get anything in this town. Oscar describes the clowns as having “absurd and artless smiles,” as to say that their profession is inappropriate, however the reality is they aren’t just comedic relief. They are the epitome of putting a fake smile on to the world and hiding your pain and suffering, because showing your weakness will leave you in the same struggling place you’re in now.

    The clowns will likely be in the background throughout the story without a prominent role. However, they will still serve a purpose of showing the reality of Lima around them. The story is likely called “city of clowns” because the entire city is filled with clowns, not literal, but people putting on this fake smile and fake identity to get away from the harsh realities of the world around them.

  13. The clowns representation off the bat is alarming to one who is not scared of clowns. Clowns are supposed to be figures to make one laugh, create jokes and do tricks to entertain. Here the clowns are described to be found on the corner of the streets or all over the streets of Lima. There is an incident where a clown is seen selling “European mints” the clown claims with the new technology and innovation they created these mints. The overall role of clowns is depicting the hard labor in Lima. It shows that the population in Lima would take on any “job” to make ends meet. Given the situation in countries that aren’t up to the latest technologies, have the best economic resources, people have to come up with ways to make an income. Their main goal is to sell the items they have to offer whether that be mints, gum, candy, home appliance, etc. This is also seen worldwide in Latin American countries. I recall my first visit to Mexico I also questioned the people at the red stops cleaning my family’s windshield. I perceived this as normal and to them it is their job, they show up fulfill a position they had no intent being a full time in order to make money.

  14. Option 3 – What does the choice of illustrating in a high contrast black and white do? Pick two different sections of this first half and discuss how Sheila Alvarado’s illustrations synthesize, add layers of meaning and/or complement Daniel Alarcón’s narration. How do you interpret the isolated illustrations without text?

    The choice to illustrate this story in black and white helps to emphasize some of the complex dynamics and emotions of Chino as he narrates his reflections on his life. The dark backgrounds are often paired with darker emotions – Chino confronting the death of his father, the hospital bills he left behind, and his father’s second family – white lines creating silhouettes and dramatic exits of characters into the darkened Abyss. The black backgrounds serve as a way to set the stage for Chino’s dark reflections on his life and that of his father. When he connects to his father there are often darker images – memories of his father’s misdeeds – connecting to his use of prostitutes, the allure of Lima as a city of criminals and darkness and temptation. The white backgrounds often are used to emphasize a particular incident or character – serving also as chapter divisions – a blank slate of nothingness showcasing a hardworking newsstand or key maker, or Chino walking down the street.
    In one particular instance Chino speaks of the protest of shoeshine children walking the streets accompanied by a clown on stilts. These children come into the picture on a white background – coming into the narrators foreground and bringing with them certain emotions of fear, concern, and disregard to the environment around them for shopowners and customers. The description of these feelings is contrasted by the white background and angle of depiction for the children who look up at the reader with eyes filled with hunger on a blank white background of innocence. These uncomfortable feelings that Chino describes upon their arrival on the street lingers even as they are shown walking away from the narrator into the dark abyss of society a few pages later with the children “whispering their demands” and looking back as they move along. The confusion of the shopowners is felt to be out of place based on the perceived innocence of the children and clown.
    Without the illustrations it would be left to the reader to imagine what the narrator is seeing – which can be difficult if one has never experienced something similar – the black and white illustrations allow the descriptive language of Daniel Alarcon’s writing to shine through while highlighting the emotional complexity and dark themes of this story.

  15. The City of Lima to Oscar was seen as a dark place with a lot of violence. According to his mom he was just like his dad and never wanted to stay there due to all the violence going on. His mom didn’t want to leave because she was going to miss her parents who didn’t want to go to the city because it was too big to adjust to. Oscar thinks Lima is corrupt in power where there would be fights with the government every day and now earning money there requires something in return. Oscar kept getting worried about his mom knowing how she was a maid for a family and overheard his father telling people how they attack maids. He was worried about his own mom being attacked by people in the neighborhood. His father told him there are good people and there are bad people but it seemed like the bad people would keep making the mess lines doing violent stuff causing the place to seem not pleasant. He was a journalist who was told to go and interview clowns and realizes that they are trying to attack the government in disguise because they want better jobs. There was a government empowerment that Oscar kept talking about and the protests will probably continue to keep going onwards everyday.

  16. From Yecienia Jara:

    The “City of Clowns” has many descriptions and points of view regarding the city of Lima Peru. Growing up he’s shown many things that make up Lima though despite that his perspective changes throughout time. Throughout his childhood, his father shows him important places in the city and how things roll within the streets, and things he went through as a child himself. The only difference was that his father adored everything about the city of Lima meanwhile his mother didn’t have the same affection for the city. I believe that because of this it was that he felt that Lima was “mocking him.” In addition to this, the clowns around the city make up the sense of him believing that Lima was mocking him. If you see clowns make people laugh by making fun of things. All of this shows the building up of his relationship with both his father and mother and their different points of view.

  17. In “The City of Clowns”, the author Daniel Alarcon, paints the picture of Lima (the capital of the Peru. In this graphic novel the main character, Chino, lives and grew up in Lima. Lima is portrayed as a city with some violence, robbery and political unrest with many protests. Another thing about Lima is that it has many street clowns. At first we may think these clowns can be seen as a fun aspect of the city in contrast to violence and robbery. However, in the story clowns represent the working class. These clowns are really vendors and have no choice but to put on a forced smile and try to make money. Beyond just being clowns, I think they are a part of the story to show us another part of Lima, that part being the labor. In the story one person who works as a clown even says “It’s work, brother. Better than some, worse than others,” he said. “I’m not good at much else. It’s either this or stealing”. This goes to show that people in Lima can either chose to be a thief or go out and do a job that isn’t something they want to do either but they don’t have many choices and the clowns in the story emphasize this.

  18. Based on Oscar’s daily accounts and endeavours throughout Lima, Peru’s capital. It is clear that the author wanted to paint a vivid picture of what the city is like. At the beginning of the story as Oscar discusses the different news articles that he has written in the past we can see the city of Lima Is not all rainbows and sunshines. He states “ I’ve covered drug busts, double homicide, fires at discos and markets, traffic accidents, bombs in shopping centers…in Lima dying is the local sport. Pg 20. Although these events can take place in any given part of the world, the last part of his statement shows that Lima is not a very safe environment and is facing many socio-economic issues. Because of these factors Oscar’s precipitation of the city of Lima is harsh and uninviting. The author writes “in the glare of the summer sun, it was as if Lima were mocking me, ignoring me, thrusting its indifference at me” showing that Oscar has this uneasy feeling of being there. In a sense he feels like an outsider not knowing really where to fit in. Everyone has their specific groups that they assimilate to but he is having trouble finding his.

  19. City of Clowns is a novel first printed in Peru in 2010 and is now being printed in the United States. It tells the life of a young journalist in Lima who should cope with the passing of his absent father while embarking on his most difficult urban life. Chico Uribe, a reporter, decides to write a distanced, abstract obituary for his late father Don Hugo, a womanizer and violent criminal who left home when Chico was a teenager; this coincides with Chico’s most recent task, in which he must do an outfit as one of the groups of downtown clowns who attempt to eke out a relatively modest living in the poverty-stricken, free streets of Lima (Alarcón, pg 4-13). Chico Uribe is It does not appear that the two tasks are connected from the beginning — that is, not until Chico’s moments with his father begin to unravel, revealing an instance that shows Don Hugo’s viciousness, as well as Chico’s incapability to flee his father’s presence in his life. It unveils the magical nature of real life in the streets of Limeno that are necessary for ensuring that Chico adapts to the hardships in day-to-day urban life which made him to see the life from the different angle.

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