Laila Lalami in the New York Times:
In 1978, a year before the Iranian revolution overthrew the shah and an Islamic republic was declared, the artist Ardeshir Mohassess drew a cartoon showing a king in a turban and sash hanging from the gallows, as a crowd beneath him presents itself to the viewer’s eye. “The king is always above the people,” the caption read. Even in death, the artist seemed to say, the rulers are different from you and me — we may survive them, but all of us remain an indistinguishable mass while their authority guarantees they will be remembered, and later recorded in our history books.
This cartoon so resonated with Daniel Alarcón that he used its caption as a title for a short story, which also gives its name to his new collection, “The King Is Always Above the People.” Nearly all the stories in this slim, affecting book are set in “the capital” or the “old city” of an unnamed country, at a time when power has shifted from dictatorship to fragile democracy. The protagonists are young men, suddenly forced to face a separation or a divorce, an abusive father or the unpleasant task of settling an estate left behind by a distant uncle. But whatever happens to them, it will involve a displacement. Only through the experience of displacement, whether voluntary or involuntary, do they come to truly know their intimate selves.