Saturday, 23 February 2019

Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli


Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli
Published in the UK by Fourth Estate on the 12th February 2019.

2019 New Release Challenge read, featured in 5Books1Theme: Road Trip, and one of my WorldReads from Mexico


How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Suppose you and Pa were gone, and we were lost. What would happen then?

A family in New York packs the car and sets out on a road trip. A mother, a father, a boy and a girl, they head south west, to the Apacheria, the regions of the US which used to be Mexico. They drive for hours through desert and mountains. They stop at diners when they’re hungry and sleep in motels when it gets dark. The little girl tells surreal knock knock jokes and makes them all laugh. The little boy educates them all and corrects them when they’re wrong. The mother and the father are barely speaking to each other.

Meanwhile, thousands of children are journeying north, travelling to the US border from Central America and Mexico. A grandmother or aunt has packed a backpack for them, putting in a bible, one toy, some clean underwear. They have been met by a coyote: a man who speaks to them roughly and frightens them. They cross a river on rubber tubing and walk for days, saving whatever food and water they can. Then they climb to the top of a train and travel precariously in the open container on top. Not all of them will make it to the border.

In a breath-taking feat of literary virtuosity, Lost Children Archive intertwines these two journeys to create a masterful novel full of echoes and reflections – a moving, powerful, urgent story about what it is to be human in an inhuman world.

After almost completely immersing myself in Lost Children Archive over three days and loving every single minute of Luiselli's atmospheric novel, I went online to update my Goodreads and was curious to see how many other reviewers weren't breathlessly fangirling. Did I not read the same book as everyone else? I was so completely drawn in to this story that I often felt as though I was right there in the car, in the midst of this fractured family. Luiselli doesn't name any of the central four characters so, while we come to know them as distinct individuals, there is also a sense that they could represent any and every family. What they have is each other which is more than can be said for the Lost Children of the title - two South American sisters making their torturous way north alongside thousands of other desperate children. In Luiselli's novel, these children are allowed to shout their names while our road-tripping family do not, reversing the real-life situation where the Americans would be named and the Latina travellers anonymous.

I know I missed most of Luiselli's myriad literary references as I don't have her encyclopedic knowledge, but I don't think this was actually a problem. To the contrary, in fact. I might have been led to appreciate more layers within this onion of a novel, but by perpetually book-spotting, I would have missed out on the carefully constructed atmosphere which amazed me. Parallel narrative threads explore historical migrations through Pa's interest in now-lost free Apache culture, while Ma concentrates her focus on present day child migrants. Unusually for a novel, much of the description relates to soundscapes and noise, or the lack of it. Both parents obsessively document their journey by way of sound recordings so we get to 'hear' the vast, empty land they pass through. I am more used to written descriptions exploring visual scenery so this aural approach appealed to me.

Aspects of Lost Children Archive that I especially loved were diversions into stream of consciousness narration, stories within stories that mirrored and developed each other, circular themes and revisiting scenes from different points of view, and a constant unsettling sense of foreboding which isn't openly discussed by the characters, but came from outside the novel by way of my awareness of what is actually happening to these children's real life counterparts in America right now. I became strongly emotionally invested in this book resulting in quite an emptiness when I came to the final page. I can understand why other readers might not be as enthusiastic about Lost Children Archive, but it was a perfect read for me.


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12 comments:

  1. This will be one I get to some day. So relevant to what is happening in the US right now - people fleeing for their very lives, parents having no other option but to send their children off on a dangerous journey because the other choice is certain death. I can't imagine having to make that kind of decision. It is all so heartbreaking.

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    1. I hope Lost Children Archive does gain a wide readership. It's such an emotionally powerful novel that will hopefully challenge ingrained attitudes and perceptions

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  2. The characters in this sounds really interesting.

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    1. A lot of expectations are turned on their heads so it's a fascinating read

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  3. I love how this pulled you in. I admit you have me wanting to read this one. So relevant.

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    1. It's a scarily real-feeling story that quickly had me hooked

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  4. Oh no, what a disappointment to love a book only to find others don't feel the same! This does sound really different and interesting with the way its written. That's also intriguing that none of the main characters are named. I've read book with the one POV main character unnamed, but never more than that!

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    1. In the naming, Lost Children Archive reminded me of Blindness by Jose Saramago. It uses descriptive naming to gain a similar anyone-everyone effect

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  5. It's amazing how sometimes you can hop on over to Goodreads and see that everyone had such a different opinion on the book than you did DD: It's quite shocking. But if you loved it, that's all that matters in the end x

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    1. I clicked though to Goodreads in that just-finished-a-fab-book daze, and then couldn't believe other readers had DNFd it! I know my reading tastes are 'alternative', but ... what??

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  6. Sounds interesting!

    Is there any mention of modern Apache culture in comparison to the apparently lost parts? I know that some books fail to remember that Native American tribes are still with us, and so I was wondering how that's managed here! :)

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    1. Present day Apache culture is recognised, but the father's interest is specifically on the last moments of their free culture so the time around Geronimo's capture is the main focus.

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