Lost Children Archive
From the two-time NBCC Finalist, a fiercely imaginative novel about a family's summer road trip across America--a journey that, with breathtaking imagery, spare lyricism, and profound humanity, probes the nature of justice and equality in America today.A mother and father set out with their kids from New York to Arizona. In their used Volvo--and with their ten-year-old son trying out his new Polaroid camera--the family is heading for the Apacheria: the region the Apaches once called home, and where the ghosts of Geronimo and Cochise might still linger. The father, a sound documentarist, hopes to gather an "inventory of echoes" from this historic, mythic place. The mother, a radio journalist, becomes consumed by the news she hears on the car radio, about the thousands of children trying to reach America but getting stranded at the southern border, held in detention centers, or being sent back to their homelands, to an unknown fate. But as the family drives farther west--through Virginia to Tennessee, across Oklahoma and Texas--we sense they are on the brink of a crisis of their own. A fissure is growing between the parents, one the children can feel beneath their feet. They are led, inexorably, to a grand, unforgettable adventure--both in the harsh desert landscape and within the chambers of their own imaginations. Told through the voices of the mother and her son, as well as through a stunning tapestry of collected texts and images--including prior stories of migration and displacement--Lost Children Archive is a story of how we document our experiences, and how we remember the things that matter to us the most. Blending the personal and the political with astonishing empathy, it is a powerful, wholly original work of fiction: exquisite, provocative, and deeply moving.

Lost Children Archive Details

TitleLost Children Archive
Author
ReleaseFeb 12th, 2019
PublisherKnopf Publishing Group
ISBN-139780525520610
Rating
GenreFiction, Contemporary, Literary Fiction

Lost Children Archive Review

  • Meike
    January 1, 1970
    Nominated for the Women's Prize for Fiction 2019 Unfortunately, this novel illustrates the difference between well-intentioned and well executed: Luiselli writes about the plight of migrants trying to cross the border between Mexico and the US, especially children making this dangerous passage through the desert in hopes of being re-united with family members who work in the States. So this author has a message, and an important one, and there is nothing wrong with selling a message to readers p Nominated for the Women's Prize for Fiction 2019 Unfortunately, this novel illustrates the difference between well-intentioned and well executed: Luiselli writes about the plight of migrants trying to cross the border between Mexico and the US, especially children making this dangerous passage through the desert in hopes of being re-united with family members who work in the States. So this author has a message, and an important one, and there is nothing wrong with selling a message to readers per se, but Luiselli is trying way too hard, thus over-constructing her text by throwing in all kinds of ideas as well as narrative strands and sometimes forcing connections that simply make no sense. The main storyline is about a patchwork family in the process of falling apart: Each parent brought one child into the marriage - a boy and a girl - and the grown-ups used to work together on a soundscape project, trying to record the languages spoken in NYC. Now the husband (they remain unnamed) wants to do a project about the removal of the Apaches, so the family makes a road trip to former Apacheria. The wife wants to do a project about the children who get lost in the desert and is also trying to help a woman to find her two kids who disappeared while trying to cross the border. Oh yes, and the boy and the girl are afraid they will lose each other when their parents separate. This is symbolism overload, and the composition is based on comparing apples to oranges. In their respective projects, the husband and the wife aim to record the "echoes" of the lost children and of the Apaches. I do not know how many books Joshua Whitehead, Terese Marie Mailhot et al. have to write until people stop pushing the destructive narrative of the "vanishing Indian" - Native Americans are still a vital part of North America, but they only appear as a vanished people in this story, firmly stuck in the past, a narrative device without a voice, defined by an alleged absence. The fact that one of the children has a Mexican Indian great-grandmother (this info is buried deep in the text) just feels like another idea that adds to the over-construction of the story.The children who cross the border also don't get to speak in this text, they are represented through stories: In the news, in books, in the imagination. Once they are looked at, but to what end? The point here is to document and record their absence - that's the idea the author had, and it remains an idea in the text as well ((view spoiler)[at one point, the boy and the girl run through the desert and sense the lost children's presence - this part is very well written, but it also shows how silly their mother's project is (hide spoiler)]). And does it make sense to compare the Native American genocide to migrant children trying to cross the border to siblings being torn apart by divorce, because people get "lost"? I think it's a mess, to say the least (genocide and migration and divorce? Really? Really??). What makes it even harder to read is that the characters are difficult to accept: The children sometimes don't sound ike children, and it remains abstract why the parents want to separate. Often, they read like caricatures of leftist intellectuals (this novel has literary cross-references abound), which makes the reader feel sorry for the children. Oh yeah, and the book is too long.I wish I could have loved this, because migration is such an important topic, and the racism of the current US administration needs to be fought, but this book does not have the heart and the power it would have needed to succeed.
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  • Marchpane
    January 1, 1970
    Lost Children Archive is a 'love it or hate it' kind of book: some readers will admire its allusiveness; others will be turned off by its aloofness. Some will probably just think that it is overstuffed and trying to do too much.For those expecting a novel tackling the child migrant crisis, be warned: that’s the backdrop, not the main event. In fact it’s about a middle-class marriage dissolving in slow motion on a family road trip, and the effect this has on the couple’s children.The wife (unna Lost Children Archive is a 'love it or hate it' kind of book: some readers will admire its allusiveness; others will be turned off by its aloofness. Some will probably just think that it is overstuffed and trying to do too much.For those expecting a novel tackling the child migrant crisis, be warned: that’s the backdrop, not the main event. In fact it’s about a middle-class marriage dissolving in slow motion on a family road trip, and the effect this has on the couple’s children.The wife (unnamed) narrates the first half, and as they cross the country she muses on literature, photography, classical and popular music, ballet, relationships, and parenting. Now and then these elucidations are quite brilliant:“Children force parents to go out looking for a specific pulse, a gaze, a rhythm, the right way of telling the story, knowing that stories don’t fix anything or save anyone but maybe make the world both more complex and more tolerable. And sometimes, just sometimes, more beautiful. Stories are a way of subtracting the future from the past, the only way of finding clarity in hindsight.”But just as often the result is a faux-insightful mis-hit: “They always need help with all the little bathroom routines. At least as far as it concerns bathroom habits, parenthood seems at times like teaching an extinct, complicated religion. There are more rituals than rationales behind them, more faith than reasons: unscrew the lid off the toothpaste tube like this, squeeze it like that; unroll only this amount of toilet paper, then either fold it this way or scrunch it up like this to wipe; squirt the shampoo into your hand first, not directly on your head; pull the plug to let the water drain only once you’re outside the bathtub.”Hmm. All those ‘ritual’, unthinking actions stem from entirely practical, sensible reasons: hygiene (how to wipe), safety (how to drain the tub), not wasting stuff (how to dispense shampoo/toothpaste). Ascribing them to ‘faith’ seems a stretch. Rather than perceptive, moments like this (and there were many) were jarring and a little silly. Observing the areas through which they travel, the narrator comes across as disdainful, even snooty: “the melancholy adults waiting in line, like children, to refill their large plastic cups with bright-colored sodas in gas station shops”. She’s surprised to find an oasis of urbanity in Asheville, North Carolina: “We thought, ignorantly and a little condescendingly, that we were going to a godforsaken little town”. It doesn’t help that the denizens of middle America are depicted almost uniformly as one-dimensional, racist hicks. I’ve no doubt these characters are based on actual encounters, but they are not drawn with any nuance, or acknowledgment of the narrator’s relative wealth and education (as a side note, it’s incredibly difficult to separate the unnamed narrator from Luiselli herself, given how much of this story is based on real events). The second half is narrated by the woman’s ten-year-old son, and is better, because in adopting the voice of a young boy Luiselli must subdue her own. The boy and his sister go on a journey by themselves which has a mythic, fable-like quality, as if the boy is telling his sister a starry-eyed, storybook version of events. Interspersed with this are sections in third person, a novel-within-the-novel called Elegies for Lost Children, with allusions to literary works from Ezra Pound, TS Eliot, Juan Rulfo and others. This I liked best of all and it’s here that the migrant children’s plight takes form. At a certain point this strand merges with the son’s narrative. These passages are gorgeously written, and again they have a dreamlike quality.Luiselli rightly denounces euphemism in immigration discourse, particularly the ways migrant children are dehumanised – as in when referred to as ‘aliens’, ‘illegals’ etc. However, her approach does not really humanise them either. The migrant children are instead elevated to a quasi-mystical status, for instance when a three-year-old boy delivers a long, preternaturally mature soliloquy into a broken mobile phone. The passage is moving, but it doesn’t encourage the reader to see this child as a real, living, suffering, human, three-year-old boy. At another point a group of children being deported are euphemised as ‘removed’ and ‘erased’ as if they simply cease to exist once their plane leaves U.S. airspace, and indeed, those children vanish from the story, subsumed by the narrator’s rage. In the end, I thought Luiselli’s treatment of the issue was more effective poetically than politically.The first half of Lost Children Archive was, for my taste, too self-referential, too obviously constructed. I kept thinking it would work better as essays, which probably means I should just go read Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions. Others will appreciate its innovation and delight in its intertextuality, but it just didn’t work for me. The second half I enjoyed more, but not enough to redeem the overall experience. Where Lost Children Archive undoubtedly succeeded is in getting me thinking. I’ve already written a lot here and there’s so much more I could say. I’m looking forward to further dissecting and discussing it, which alone makes having read the book worthwhile.
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  • Paul Fulcher
    January 1, 1970
    Longlisted for the 2019 Women's Prize and a strong contender to winWhenever the boy and girl talk about child refugees, I realize now, they call them “the lost children.”I suppose the word “refugee”is more difficult to remember. And even if the term “lost”is not precise, in our intimate family lexicon, the refugees become known to us as “the lost children.”And in a way, I guess, they are lost children. They are children who have lost the right to a childhood.If they hadn’t gotten caught, they pr Longlisted for the 2019 Women's Prize and a strong contender to winWhenever the boy and girl talk about child refugees, I realize now, they call them “the lost children.”I suppose the word “refugee”is more difficult to remember. And even if the term “lost”is not precise, in our intimate family lexicon, the refugees become known to us as “the lost children.”And in a way, I guess, they are lost children. They are children who have lost the right to a childhood.If they hadn’t gotten caught, they probably would have gone to live with family , gone to school , playgrounds, parks. But instead, they’ll be removed, relocated, erased, because there’s no place for them in this vast empty country.In 2014, Valeria Luiselli, started writing a novel about the children seeking asylum in the US, and their treatment, including inhumane detention and deportation, by the immigration system, based on both her own experience as a volunteer translator working in the court system, and a road trip taken to the border area, and in particular Apachería, with her then husband, novelist Álvaro Enrigue and their children / respective step-children. Enrigue himself was researching the history of Native American in the late 19th century at the end of the American Indian wars, which he later used as a basis for his novel Ahora me rindo y eso es todo.Luiselli's first attempt to novelise her experience was overly literal, polemical and didactic: “using it as a vehicle for my own rage, stuffing it with everything from children’s testimonies to the history of American interventionism in central America ... it just wasn’t working. There’s a different way of assuming a political sense in fiction, I think.”So she instead documented her experiences and views in the non-fictional Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions, and then worked her experiences, including the gradual disintegration of her marriage which dated to the road-trip, into this beautiful novel: still political, but highly poetic as well. Because Lost Children Archive not only shines a literary light on its core topic matter, but is a lovely meditation on family relationships and communication within families, and a novel firmly embedded in literature, particularly that of Latin America (Pedro Páramo is a key text) but worldwide. This, like the non-fictional novel, is written in English, after her previous novels were written in Spanish.Given the timeliness of the topic matter, it is easy to see the novel as anti-Trump, and certainly Luiselli has said she is no fan. But it is sobering that the events documented all actually took place in the Obama errorera, and, while travelling through Arkansas, the narrator muses on Bill Clinton, and how he actually first started to 'build the wall'. As characteristic of the novel, Luiselli's narrator gives this fact a wonderfully literary spin:Then there’s the slightly more comic than tragic death of the Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal, who did not die in Arkansas, but who was for some reason beloved by ex-president Bill Clinton, who lived in Little Rock when he served as Arkansas’s governor— so there is that connection. I once saw a photograph of a beer-red, chubby-grinned Bill hanging on the wall of a bar in central Prague. He did not look out of place there, as dignitaries always do in restaurant pictures. He could have been the brother of the owner of the bar, or one of the regulars. Hard to think that the man in that picture, full of bonhomie, was the same man who laid the first brick in the wall dividing Mexico and the United States, and then pretended it never happened. In the photograph, he is shaking hands across the table with Hrabal, whose Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age Clinton might have read and liked. I had read the book during that trip to Prague. I read it in a state of quiet awe, and underlined and memorized strange and simple lines that I still remember: “the minute I saw you I could tell you were supersensitive”“he was a whoreson”“a composer … once tore a chandelier out of the ceiling in his grief”“a giant of a girl, but beautiful”“the world was as deserted as a star” More than his books, more than his harsh humor and Decameronian tableaux of human tragicomedy, more than anything, it is the story of Hrabal’s own death that has haunted me, always. He died like this: recovering from bronchitis in a hospital room, while trying to feed the pigeons, he fell out of the window. But Hrabal does not live in Arkansas, so I don’t tell the family about him either.The novel has a husband and wife making a road-trip from New York, across the US, to Apachería with their children:The girl is my daughter and the boy is my husband’s son. I’m a biological mother to one, a stepmother to the other, and a de facto mother in general to both of them. My husband is a father and a stepfather, to each one respectively, but also just a father. The girl and boy are therefore: step-sister, son, stepdaughter, daughter, step-brother, sister, stepson, brother. And because hyphenations and petty nuances complicate the sentences of everyday grammar—the us, the them, the our, the your—as soon as we started living together, when the boy was almost six and the girl still a toddler, we adopted the much simpler possessive adjective our to refer to them two. They became: our children. And sometimes: the boy, the girl. Quickly, the two of them learned the rules of our private grammar, and adopted the generic nouns Mama and Papa, or sometimes simply Ma and Pa. And until now at least, our family lexicon defined the scope and limits of our shared world.My husband and I met four years ago, recording a soundscape of New York City. We were part of a large team of people working for the Center for Oral History at Columbia University. For here the (auto-)fictional husband and wife are not authors but sound archivists. But now with the New York project complete, they are working on their own different projects - the husband to document sounds relating to the lost Native American tribes (or rather sounds today from the spaces they occupied) and the wife those relating to the 'lost children' in the US immigration system. The separate projects cause them to drift apart - highlighting their professional differences (she more a journalist, him more an artist):I suppose my husband and I simply hadn’t prepared for the second part of our togetherness, the part where we just lived the life we’d been making . Without a future professional project together, we began to drift apart in other ways. I guess we— or perhaps just I— had made the very common mistake of thinking that marriage was a mode of absolute commonality and a breaking down of all boundaries, instead of understanding it simply as a pact between two people willing to be the guardians of each other’s solitude, as Rilke or some other equanimous, philosophical soul had long ago prescribed. But can anyone really prepare? Can anyone tackle effects before detecting causes?...When we were in better spirits, we were able to joke about our differences. We’d say that I was a documentarist and he was a documentarian, which meant that I was more like a chemist and he was more like a librarian.But they embark on one (last?) road trip together, with their two children, which forms the narrative thread of the novel.Although the story is not told in a simple linear fashion and all the better for it. Luiselli's narrator uses a classroom lesson given to her young daughter to make a point about writing:She asks me to make four squares for her— two at the top, two at the bottom —and instructs me to label them in this order: “Character,”“Setting,”“Problem,”“Solution.” When I finish labeling the four squares and ask what they’re for, she explains that at school, they taught her to tell stories this way. Bad literary education begins too early and continues for way too long.and in a line that could have come from BS Johnson's Albert Angelo (and given Luiselli's borrowing from across literature quite possibly did):If we are forced to produce a story in retrospect, our narrative wraps itself selectively around the elements that seem relevant, bypassing all the others.Because as with all of Luiselli's novel this one is very carefully constructed, drawing on multiple sources, and here she makes them explicit, having her characters carry archive boxes of source material. She looks through one of her husband's boxes: It comes to me that maybe, by shuffling around in my husband’s boxes like this, once in a while, when he’s not looking, and by trying to listen to all the sounds trapped in his archive, I might find a way into the exact story I need to document, the exact form it needs. I suppose an archive gives you a kind of valley in which your thoughts can bounce back to you, transformed. You whisper intuitions and thoughts into the emptiness, hoping to hear something back. And sometimes, just sometimes, an echo does indeed return, a real reverberation of something, bouncing back with clarity when you’ve finally hit the right pitch and found the right surface. I search inside my husband’s Box III, which at first glance seems like an all-male compendium of “going a journey,” conquering and colonizing: Heart of Darkness, The Cantos, The Waste Land, Lord of the Flies, On the Road, 2666, the Bible. Among these I find a small white book— the galleys of a novel by Nathalie Léger called Untitled for Barbara Loden. It looks a little out of place there, squeezed and silent, so I take it out and head back to the room.That all-male compendium forms part of the chorus of voices that makes a novel, indeed the opening lines from another such book The Road, form a literal chorus to the trip as the in-car audio player seems to default to this audiobook whenever switched on:When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him.but I was particularly pleased by the reference to the English translation, by Natasha Lehrer and Cécile Menon of Suite for Barbara Loden, a book that also triggered the formation of the wonderful publisher Les Fugitives (Blue Self-Portrait, Now, Now, Louison etc).I turn on my bedside lamp and stay up late, reading the novel by Nathalie Léger, underlining parts of sentences: “violence, yes, but the acceptable face of violence, the kind of banal cruelty enacted within the family”“the hum of ordinary life”“the story of a woman who has lost something important but does not know exactly what”“a woman on the run or in hiding, concealing her pain and her refusal, putting on an act in order to break free”The novel also contains a wonderful passage on the effect of such passages in literature on the reader:I do remember, though, that when I read Sontag for the first time, just like the first time I read Hannah Arendt, Emily Dickinson, and Pascal, I kept having those sudden, subtle, and possibly microchemical raptures— little lights flickering deep inside the brain tissue— that some people experience when they finally find words for a very simple and yet till then utterly unspeakable feeling. When someone else’s words enter your consciousness like that, they become small conceptual light-marks.They’re not necessarily illuminating. A match struck alight in a dark hallway, the lit tip of a cigarette smoked in bed at midnight, embers in a dying chimney: none of these things has enough light of its own to reveal anything. Neither do anyone’s words. But sometimes a little light can make you aware of the dark, unknown space that surrounds it, of the enormous ignorance that envelops everything we think we know. And that recognition and coming to terms with darkness is more valuable than all the factual knowledge we may ever accumulate.And when she reveals to use her own archive box:At the very top of the box, I placed a few books I’d read and thought could help me think about the whole project from a certain narrative distance: The Gates of Paradise, by Jerzy Andrzejewski; The Children's Crusade..., by Marcel Schwob; Belladonna, by Daša Drndić ; Le goût de l'archive, by Arlette Farge; and a little red book I hadn’t yet read, called Elegies for Lost Children, by Ella Camposanto.The foreword explains that Elegies for Lost Children was originally written in Italian by Ella Camposanto, and translated into English by Aretha Cleare. It is the only work by Camposanto (1928– 2014), who probably wrote it over a span of several decades, and is loosely based on the historical Children’s Crusade, which involved tens of thousands of children who traveled alone across, and possibly beyond, Europe, and which took place in the year 1212 (though historians disagree about most of this crusade’s fundamental details).But this last book is actually a fictional construction of Luiselli's own which forms a lovely novel within a novel in the book, the author's name meaning cemetery in Italian, and perhaps also a nod to W G Sebald's Campo Santo. And as she explains in an extensive and illuminating afterword, the Elegies allude to various literary sources, including those from her husband's box:The Elegies are composed by means of a series of allusions to literary works that are about voyages, journeying, migrating, etc. The allusions need not be evident. I’m not interested in intertextuality as an outward, performative gesture but as a method or procedure of composition. The first elegies allude to Ezra Pound’s “Canto I,”which is itself an “allusion”to Homer’s Book XI of the Odyssey—his “Canto I”is a free translation from Latin, and not Greek, into English, following Anglo-Saxon accentual verse metrics, of Book XI of the Odyssey. Book XI of Homer’s Odyssey, as well as Pound’s “Canto I,”is about journeying/ descending into the underworld. So, in the opening Elegies about the lost children, I reappropriate certain rhythmic cadences as well as imagery and lexicon from Homer/ Pound, in order to establish an analogy between migrating and descending into the underworld. I repurpose and recombine words or word-pairings like “swart/ night,”“heavy/ weeping,”and “stretched/ wretched”—all of which derive from lines in “Canto I.”There are many such references, my favourite of all - as I've done exactly the same thing- when a child in the novel within a novel asks for a story, and receives perhaps the most famous piece of flash fiction in world literature: “El dinosaurio” by Augusto Monterroso; And two of my favourites literary references from the main novel:The narrator relays a fictional version of a real incident in Luiselli and Enrigue's trip. As they, Latin American in origin and hence appearance, get closer to the border they are increasingly themselves suspect, frequently asked for their passports by law authorities and called to account as to why they are in the area. On one occasion Enrigue / the narrator's husband claims they are they to research a spaghetti western, which draws a favourable response but further (albeit friendly) interrogation as to their inspiration:My husband rummages in the back of his mind for names of directors of and actors in spaghetti Westerns. He is visibly struggling to win at least one point in credibility with our host. But he’s not managing too well, so I interrupt him: My favorite Western is Bela Tarr’s Satantango!And when their children, towards the novel's end, goes missing, she muses on how far one should allow children to stray:A friend of mine calls this “the rescue distance”— the constant equation operating in a parent’s mind, where time and distance are factored in to calculate whether it would be possible to save a child from danger.The 'friend' of course Samanta Schweblin and a reference to her wonderful Distancia de rescate (oddly published in English under the title Fever Dream).One wonderful thing with the novel is how the children are brought into the conversations:We both decided, even though we never really spoke about it, that we should treat our own children not as lesser recipients to whom we, adults, had to impart our higher knowledge of the world, always in small, sugarcoated doses, but as our intellectual equals. Even if we also needed to be the guardians of our children’s imaginations and protect their right to travel slowly from innocence toward more and more difficult acknowledgments, they were our life partners in conversation, fellow travelers in the storm with whom we strove constantly to find still waters....Children’s words, in some ways, are the escape route out of family dramas, taking us to their strangely luminous underworld, safe from our middle-class catastrophes. From that day on, I think, we started allowing our children’s voices to take over our silence. We allowed their imaginations to alchemize all our worry and sadness about the future into some sort of redeeming delirium: tooshiefreedom! Conversations, in a family, become linguistic archaeology. They build the world we share, layer it in a palimpsest, give meaning to our present and future. The question is, when, in the future, we dig into our intimate archive, replay our family tape, will it amount to a story? A soundscape? Or will it all be sound rubble, noise, and debris?Although it doesn't always work as planned:The boy and I fiddle with his new camera outside. What am I supposed to do? he asks. I tell him— trying to translate between a language I know well and a language I know little about— that he just needs to think of photographing as if he were recording the sound of an echo. But in truth, it’s difficult to draw parallels between sonography and photography. A camera can capture an entire portion of a landscape in a single impression; but a microphone, even a parabolic one, can sample only fragments and details. What I mean, Ma, is what button do I pressOne issue that seems inevitably raised nowadays is cultural appropriation, something of which Luiselli's narrator is very conscious:Constant concerns: Cultural appropriation, pissing all over someone else’s toilet seat, who am I to tell this story, micromanaging identity politics, heavy-handedness, am I too angry, am I mentally colonized by Western-Saxon-white categories, what’s the correct use of personal pronouns, go light on the adjectives, and oh, who gives a fuck how very whimsical phrasal verbs are?This is particularly relevant with the sections on Native Americans, rooted in historical tales rather than present reality. I was initially a little concerned with this, particularly given the salutary comments made in Tommy Orange's important There There.But the best answer to those concerns is a suitable way to conclude my review.“Impossibly smart, full of beauty, heart and insight, Lost Children Archive is a novel about archiving all that we don’t want to lose. It is an ode to sound. Valeria Luiselli looks into the American present as well as its history: into Native American history, and the many intersections between American and Mexican history that are and have always been there. This is a road trip novel that transcends the form, while also being the perfect American road trip novel for right now. Everyone should read this book” –Tommy Orange
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  • Hugh
    January 1, 1970
    Longlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction 2019Update 29/4/19 - Probably the most glaring omission from the shortlistThis is my new favourite book of the year so far - an original, daring and timely story inspired by the experiences of desperate children crossing the desert border between Mexico and New Mexico and Arizona, and the Apache warriors who made their last stand in the desert.The framing story describes a road trip the narrator, her husband, his 10 year old son and her 5 year old dau Longlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction 2019Update 29/4/19 - Probably the most glaring omission from the shortlistThis is my new favourite book of the year so far - an original, daring and timely story inspired by the experiences of desperate children crossing the desert border between Mexico and New Mexico and Arizona, and the Apache warriors who made their last stand in the desert.The framing story describes a road trip the narrator, her husband, his 10 year old son and her 5 year old daughter make from New York to the New Mexico desert. Early on she states that it was the last trip they made as a family. The couple were brought together by a documentary project on the voices and languages of New York, but their future projects diverge as the husband becomes obsessed with the Apache and the narrator who is drawn to the story of a Mexican friend whose children have been detained at the border while crossing into America illegally.They take 7 boxes with them - 4 for the man, one for the woman and one for each of the children. Inventories of the contents of these boxes are used to divide the sections, and these list the books Luiselli was inspired by, and as she explains in her afterword quotes from these pepper the main narratives. The final box contains the Polaroid photos of the journey taken from the boy's camera.The children are intelligent and perceptive, taking inspiration for their games from the parents' interests and from the music they listen to. (view spoiler)[About three quarters of the way through the boy takes over as the main narrator, describing how he led his sister away on a walk and train ride through the desert in search of the lost children and the Echo Canyon of the Apaches, thus unifying the two sides of the story and creating an adventure story of survival in the desert. Parts of this seem a little fanciful but the effect is very powerful. (hide spoiler)]I have only scratched the surface of this fascinating book here, but I see this book as a potential prize winner.
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  • Rachel
    January 1, 1970
    I think the books that fall into the 'admired it, didn't like it' camp are some of the hardest to review, and that's exactly how I felt about Lost Children Archive. I think this is objectively a very good book. Valeria Luiselli sets out to do something incredibly ambitious, mixing media forms and offering a wealth of commentary on migration and displacement. But all that said, it left me feeling rather uninspired.This book and its main narrator are unapologetically aloof, and I think that was th I think the books that fall into the 'admired it, didn't like it' camp are some of the hardest to review, and that's exactly how I felt about Lost Children Archive. I think this is objectively a very good book. Valeria Luiselli sets out to do something incredibly ambitious, mixing media forms and offering a wealth of commentary on migration and displacement. But all that said, it left me feeling rather uninspired.This book and its main narrator are unapologetically aloof, and I think that was the main problem for me. Luiselli leans heavily on intertextuality to spin this story, and I was reminded of two other books I've read recently: The Friend by Sigrid Nunez and Where Reasons End by Yiyun Li. Incidentally, the female narrators in all three of these novels are nameless, and all three of their narratives are mired in literary references. But I felt like Nunez's and Li's narrators were using these references to cultivate a sense of self - I felt like I was gaining an understanding of who they were through this technique. In contrast, I never got a sense of who the narrator of Lost Children Archive was supposed to be - the intertextuality here read as generic and often soulless intellectualism. And it's frustrating because at one point the narrator says "reading others' words, inhabiting their minds for a while, has always been an entry point to my own thoughts," which really resonated with me as a reader, but I ultimately found her own thoughts to pale next to those of the authors she quoted.But none of this is to say that Luiselli isn't a good writer. Her prose is incredibly well-crafted, and it's hard not to admire her technical skill. And thematically, this book is quite the feat: Luiselli examines the U.S.'s current border crisis through the eyes of a family taking a cross-country road trip, whose marriage is disintegrating due to the husband and wife engaging in two passion projects whose ideologies and practicalities conflict.About three-quarters of the way through the novel, the perspective shifts to the narrator's son, and while I preferred this section (as this is where the plot actually started advancing), I wasn't convinced by his mature narrative voice, and at this point the weird mythologizing of the 'lost children' started grating. This is largely a narrative about voicelessness, which doesn't attempt to give voice to the migrant children as much as highlight their absence in the narrative, and while I respected what Luiselli was trying to do, it fell a bit flat for me.So ultimately, a mixed bag. I'm glad I read this, I think it deserves to be longlisted for the Women's Prize and I won't be upset when it probably makes the shortlist, but while I admired it and found it punctuated by moments of utter brilliance, on the whole it was a bit of a chore to get through.
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  • Eric Anderson
    January 1, 1970
    “Lost Children Archive” must have one of the most unusual structures for a novel that I’ve read in a long time. It seems natural that Valeria Luiselli’s first novel written in English would chiefly concern the plight of immigrant children as her extended essay “Tell Me How It Ends” so powerfully laid out this harrowing dilemma. Since politicians often turn immigration into an abstract political debate, Luiselli has a tremendous ability for highlighting and reminding us how this is above all a hu “Lost Children Archive” must have one of the most unusual structures for a novel that I’ve read in a long time. It seems natural that Valeria Luiselli’s first novel written in English would chiefly concern the plight of immigrant children as her extended essay “Tell Me How It Ends” so powerfully laid out this harrowing dilemma. Since politicians often turn immigration into an abstract political debate, Luiselli has a tremendous ability for highlighting and reminding us how this is above all a human rights issue and makes us see the humans effect. The ramifications for children who are adrift and literally wandering blindly through this landscape with stringently guarded borders are incalculable because when they become lost in a political system “They are children who have lost the right to a childhood.” In this novel she expands this understanding and creates an artful story which traverses time and space to illuminate a new way of looking at what happens when our society loses its children. At its centre, this is a road trip novel about a husband and wife driving with their son and daughter across America. They’re engaged in a project to capture and record the sounds of the country to better understand its nature of being. The couple’s relationship is also disintegrating and the closer they come to their destination the closer this family comes to separating. What begins as a deeply-felt intellectual reflection about the ways we negotiate children’s place in our lives turns into a tense search for those who have gone missing with hallucinatory twists. It sounds confusing and I’m still puzzling over the experience of it, but this innovative novel shines with so much humanity I found it utterly compelling and engaging. Read my full review of Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli on LonesomeReader
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  • Trudie
    January 1, 1970
    * 4.5 *In all honesty I was not looking forward to picking up the Lost Children Archive , as I thought it was going to be "difficult" and obtuse. To begin with it does appear to be overly filled with references to other novels, riffs on contemporary dance and digressions into such things as space suit design and sound mixology. Typically, I would struggle with this writing style but gradually Luiselli won me over. I became fascinated with this westward journey, the family dynamics and the larger * 4.5 *In all honesty I was not looking forward to picking up the Lost Children Archive , as I thought it was going to be "difficult" and obtuse. To begin with it does appear to be overly filled with references to other novels, riffs on contemporary dance and digressions into such things as space suit design and sound mixology. Typically, I would struggle with this writing style but gradually Luiselli won me over. I became fascinated with this westward journey, the family dynamics and the larger story of the crisis at the border. The novels structure was intriguing; the first half narrated by an unnamed mother and the second half by her step son. A story of two journeys; one in relative safety, west, and the other perilous, northbound. The contrast and parallels between these two intersecting journeys was what I loved most about this novel. It is also a remarkable depiction of parenting, not necessarily an ideal one, but a realistic one, a portrait of the dissolution of a relationship set against a backdrop of child migration. That juxtaposition of the deeply personal with issues of global import was sometimes jarring but ultimately I came to appreciate it. This is the first novel I have read this year, that really spoke to me of "now" ( I am sure Ali Smith's Spring will be the next one ) and the first one that I hope will endure to be returned to later as a marker of this point in history. This worked for me in ways I had not expected it to. It’s a major achievement and I will be mulling it over for quite some time.
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  • Gumble's Yard
    January 1, 1970
    What ties me to where? There’s the story about the lost children on their crusade, and their march across jungles and barrenlands, which I read and reread, sometimes absentmindedly, other times in a kind of rapture, recording it; and now I am reading parts to the boy. And then there’s also the story of the real lost children, some of whom are about to board a plane. There are many other children, too, crossing the border or still on their way here, riding trains, hiding from dangers. There are What ties me to where? There’s the story about the lost children on their crusade, and their march across jungles and barrenlands, which I read and reread, sometimes absentmindedly, other times in a kind of rapture, recording it; and now I am reading parts to the boy. And then there’s also the story of the real lost children, some of whom are about to board a plane. There are many other children, too, crossing the border or still on their way here, riding trains, hiding from dangers. There are Manuela’s two girls, lost somewhere, waiting to be found. And of course, finally, there are my own children, one of whom I might soon lose, and both of whom are now always pretending to be lost children, having to run away, either fleeing from white-eyes, riding horses in bands of Apache children, or riding trains, hiding from the Border Patrol. I read this book due to its long listing for the 2019 Women’s Prize. The Women’s Prize longlist is always marked by its mixture of the entertaining (if lightweight) and the ambitious (if not always successful). Last year for example placed the up-lit Three Things About Elsie alongside Jessie Greengrass’s wonderful (if not universally appreciated) Sight. And on a 2019 longlist that includes explicit Mer-otica as well as a light hearted examination of how siblings bonds hold up when one sibling draws post coital inspiration from the Black Widow Spider; this book represents, alongside Milkman, the most formally and thematically ambitious entry. I approached the book with some trepidation: I was familiar with the ARC reviews of some very respected Goodreads friends who had pronounced it a strong disappointment despite its worthy subject matter; and I ranked my only previous experience with the author’s writing The Story of My Teeth as 1*.Starting this book though I was immediately taken with: the breadth of ambition exhibited; the literary and meta-fictional conceit involved - including the archives, the embedded literary and lyrical references; and the writing which was at once lyrical (with beautiful descriptions) and harshly self-examining (of the disintegration of the author's marriage). Albeit conscious of simultaneously feeling that the novel was simultaneously: teetering on the edge of being overly-worthy and politically correct in ambition; pretentious in its conceit; over written (particularly when describing or voicing the narrators children, who seemed to temporarily age five years each time they were actively involved in the narrative). I was also (and remain) uncomfortable at the constant repetition of blasphemy in the mouth of a five year old, for crude comedy effect. I broke off after 100 pages and decided to read the author’s brief non-fictional essay Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions and then went back to the start of the book. I would say that a reading of that essay is essential to any full appreciation of the novel. A fundamental part of the novel is the concept of textual embedding and referencing and the essay forms the ur-text for the novel - with background facts, characters, incidents, images and expressions from the essay being repurposed throughout the text of the novel. The essay I feel also explains one of the key messages behind the novel - the idea of the refugee crisis being the consequences of a shared hemispheric war in which the United States governments of all shades has participated over a half century or more. While the coda to the essay makes the author’s horrors at the election of Trump plain, the essay and novel are set in the Obama administration and that the author’s own decision to get personally involved in the crisis was precipitated by what she sees as a deliberate and callous legal act by that administration. One of the justifiably controversial aspects of the book, notwithstanding its endorsement by Tommy Orange, is its treatment of Native Americans as a historical people, vanquished by the iniquity of the “white-eyes” (rather than as a modern day community living with the long lasting consequences of that history).Partly I think this is simply factual - the author’s ex-husband (and by extension the narrators husband at the time of the novel, as their marriage disintegrates) is obsessed with the fate of the last Indians to be conquered and the road trip around which the novel is based is motivated partly (in the novel) but entirely (in fact) by his desire to research the places where the last of the Apaches were captured and taken. But I also felt that it enables the author (a Mexican seeking at the time of the essay a Green Card) to explore again the idea of shared responsibility for a tragic hemispheric war - the novel explores the equal role of the Mexican government in the war on the Native North American’s, and reminders that the area now North of the border in which the novel is set, was then part of Mexico. The ending of the book – as the story within a story (a story which to add a further layer of meta-ness draws its text from a series of other novels; and which also draws parallels from the child migrant journeys back over many centuries to the Children’s crusades) merges into the real story added a real power to the novel.Overall I still retain some of my ambiguities about the book - for much of the time as it read it I felt it could be a heroic failure, I think I ended concluding it was a flawed triumph. And it is to the author's credit, and a sign of her continual self-evaluation that she was aware of many of the potential pitfalls in this novel. Political concern: How can a radio documentary be useful in helping more undocumented children find asylum? Aesthetic problem: On the other hand, why should a sound piece, or any other form of storytelling, for that matter, be a means to a specific end? I should know, by now, that instrumentalism, applied to any art form, is a way of guaranteeing really [bad] results: light pedagogic material, moralistic young-adult novels, boring art in general. Professional hesitance: But then again, isn’t art for art’s sake so often an absolutely ridiculous display of intellectual arrogance? Ethical concern: And why would I even think that I can or should make art with someone else’s suffering? Pragmatic concern: Shouldn’t I simply document, like the serious journalist I was when I first started working in radio and sound production? Realistic concern: Maybe it is better to keep the children’s stories as far away from the media as possible, anyway, because the more attention a potentially controversial issue receives in the media, the more susceptible it is to becoming politicized, and in these times, a politicized issue is no longer a matter that urgently calls for committed debate in the public arena but rather a bargaining chip that parties use frivolously in order to move their own agendas forward. Constant concerns: Cultural appropriation ............ who am I to tell this story, micromanaging identity politics, heavy-handedness, am I too angry
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  • Julie Ehlers
    January 1, 1970
    Lost Children Archive is a difficult novel to review; I've been turning it over in my head for more than three weeks now, trying to figure out how to sum up the reading experience. For me, it's first and foremost a road-trip novel; when I think of it now, I think about the family on the road: the places they stayed, the people they interacted with, the sights they saw and the things that happened to them. The road trip is initially described by the unnamed female narrator, wife to the driver of Lost Children Archive is a difficult novel to review; I've been turning it over in my head for more than three weeks now, trying to figure out how to sum up the reading experience. For me, it's first and foremost a road-trip novel; when I think of it now, I think about the family on the road: the places they stayed, the people they interacted with, the sights they saw and the things that happened to them. The road trip is initially described by the unnamed female narrator, wife to the driver of the car and mother/stepmother to the two children in the backseat. Her account of their travels put me in mind of the "south" section of Joan Didion's South and West; it's evocative but, to my mind, nonjudgmental; I didn't feel like anyone, even if they seemed a little iffy, was treated unfairly. The husband and wife are experiencing some marital discord that to me is reflected in the research projects that are the reason for the trip. Both are audio documentarians—although there's some discussion about the differences in their style—but the husband is interested in documenting the past; he wants to go to historic sites and record the ambient sounds around them, the echoes of long ago. The wife is all about the contemporary; in this case, extremely contemporary. She wants to record people's stories, and the stories she's most interested in are the stories of immigrants, both in her NYC neighborhood and at the southern border. Her interest is made more urgent by subplots involving two missing girls and a border crisis that includes flying children out of the U.S. in a private plane. These differences in their interests may literally keep the husband and wife apart but also suggest a chasm between them that's more than just geographical.Lost Children Archive has a lot of themes and a lot of threads, some more straightforward than others. Throughout there's a strong sense of past mistakes being repeated, particularly as regards detainment, containment, border crossings, and role shifting. The book has some evident literary influences (e.g., the narrator reads and quotes from Susan Sontag's journals) and others that are more subtle (see the spoiler-free notes at the back if you want to know more about these before reading). Each member of the family has packed boxes that are stored in the trunk of their car, and the contents of the boxes also play a role in the story. In fact, I came to feel that the novel itself was in boxes, each with a different feel, purpose, and point of view, and that this was very deliberate on the part of the author, meant to constantly pull us out of the narrative and make us think about what was being attempted/accomplished. This structure might annoy some readers; for the most part I thought it was fascinating and actually more effective than a straightforward narrative.There's no doubt that Lost Children Archive is ambitious. Near the end of the book, there's a sentence that runs for many pages (30? 40?) and shifts viewpoints between the narrator's two children and two missing girls. A multipage sentence? I was skeptical when I realized what was happening here—in fact, it was the moment when I felt my planned 4-star rating might drop to a 3—but it wasn't long before I was completely absorbed, and by the end of the sentence I was fighting back tears on my commuter train and my rating had gone from a 4 to a 5. Three weeks later, I'm still thinking about the different parts of this novel and how they all work together. Lost Children Archive is not perfect, but in its depiction of a blended family shouldering the lessons of the past while confronting the issues of the present, it gives us an idea of what the next iteration of Great American Novel might look like.
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  • Maddie C.
    January 1, 1970
    I loved this so much and this is a very ‘me’ kind of book.Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive is a multitude of stories weaved masterfully into a coherent, all-encompassing story of a family falling apart while the same happens to millions of children and migrants trying to cross the border from latinx countries into the US. Based on real experiences from the author, Lost Children Archive is another addition to the ‘autobiographical fiction’ genre that has found many praise in books such as I loved this so much and this is a very ‘me’ kind of book.Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive is a multitude of stories weaved masterfully into a coherent, all-encompassing story of a family falling apart while the same happens to millions of children and migrants trying to cross the border from latinx countries into the US. Based on real experiences from the author, Lost Children Archive is another addition to the ‘autobiographical fiction’ genre that has found many praise in books such as Rachel Cusk’s Outline and Sigrid Nuñez’s The Friend: in my opinion, it is just as worthy of the praise as those two.I loved the intimate discussions of the first part, where an unnamed narrator is recounting to the reader how/why the family ended up in the heart of the US in a roadtrip through the south -- it borrows a lot from other media and literature, which is always a delight to me and gave me a lot more material to explore. Luiselli is such an intelligent and insightful person, I could hear her talk about books and the human condition for the entirety of the novel but her choice to add a new perspective from the children’s point of view added another layer of meaning and injected the narrative with renewed freshness.It doubtlessly discusses important and timely themes of migration and doesn’t shy away from recounting the most shocking and heartbreaking details of the children’s journey north, looking for a better life: it is infused with rage but is also able to maintain its objectivity and lucidity.Undoubtedly my best read of 2019 and one of those rare literary experiences I considered simply, perfect.
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  • Perry
    January 1, 1970
    Marvelous, if not plagued by familiar MFA-grad maladyExcellently written, thought-provoking [3.8*] tale about deported (and lost) children. The narrative goes between a 30-something woman and her 10-year-old stepson as they and her husband and her 5-year-old daughter (husband's stepdaughter) travel from NY to AZ. The novel is interspersed with stories about deported children and the Apache tribe of native Americans, and is, unsurprisingly, peppered with scathing commentary on past and current U. Marvelous, if not plagued by familiar MFA-grad maladyExcellently written, thought-provoking [3.8*] tale about deported (and lost) children. The narrative goes between a 30-something woman and her 10-year-old stepson as they and her husband and her 5-year-old daughter (husband's stepdaughter) travel from NY to AZ. The novel is interspersed with stories about deported children and the Apache tribe of native Americans, and is, unsurprisingly, peppered with scathing commentary on past and current U.S. immigration policies. Unfortunately, the book seems plagued by the familiar MFA-grad malady: the novel's pristine sentences travel well in the clever construction of a *good to admirable to really good* novel... that ails from a deficiency in real ambition--avoiding risk-taking ensures a novel proofed to ridicule by peers--and a seeming shortage of existential authenticity. By the end, I found this novel edifying but thought it lacked the primary colors and subtle shading that transform fiction into a transcendent work of art: those exposing the interstices of the human condition.
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  • Alex
    January 1, 1970
    LONGLIST FOR WOMEN'S PRIZE FOR FICTIONBOOK 9 OF 16 OF LONGLISTED TITLESI had thought Colson Whitehead's THE NICKEL BOYS had firmly ranked itself as the top book of 2019 and lo and behold Valeria Luiselli came swooping in the very next novel and challenged for the crown with her absolutely remarkable LOST CHILDREN ARCHIVES, a timely depiction of the migrant crisis through the eyes of a family taking a road trip from New York City to Arizona.In some ways this book is hard to describe or to summari LONGLIST FOR WOMEN'S PRIZE FOR FICTIONBOOK 9 OF 16 OF LONGLISTED TITLESI had thought Colson Whitehead's THE NICKEL BOYS had firmly ranked itself as the top book of 2019 and lo and behold Valeria Luiselli came swooping in the very next novel and challenged for the crown with her absolutely remarkable LOST CHILDREN ARCHIVES, a timely depiction of the migrant crisis through the eyes of a family taking a road trip from New York City to Arizona.In some ways this book is hard to describe or to summarize in a few sentences, because there is so much going on above and below the surface. Up front we are placed in car journeying south, a husband and wife in the front, in the back two children, each parent having brought a child to the marriage. Told through the voice of the wife, we quickly become attuned to the sad fate that waits the end of this road trip, a family whose time has come to an end, a relationship appearing to fail as each party discovered they want to explore different professional goals.But this basic structure is filled in with the most astounding details that shape the story as it moves forward. The husband and wife met several years before working on a sound project that New York University had commissioned to record all the languages spoken in the city. The documenting of sound is given life, we are given exact details of the mechanics of the process as well as the meaning the partnership gives to what they are doing. As the project winds down, the husband and wife become determined to further the documentation of sounds, the former wanting to record the echos of now gone Apache warriors that once dominated the southwestern territories of the United States and the latter keen of giving voice (or recording voices) of child migrants caught in the harsh and merciless immigration system.As the family travels south, both parents knowing their union may be at an end, the soundscape of the car ride is filled with the father's stories of Apache warriors, age inappropriate audiobooks the children must listen to and radio broadcasts of the migration crises, filled with stories of children who have attempted the border crossing on their own only to be detained and now face the prospect of deportation back to countries whose violence threatens their survival. The mother, whose New York friend has had her two daughters detained and have gone missing during a transfer from one institution to another, is now intent on not only documenting the lost children but finding these two girls.Midway through the book, Luiselli shifts perspective, giving voice to the ten year old son, whose adolescent mind has absorbed and reinterpreted the stories coming from the front of the car, producing bizarre understandings of the reality that in itself is horrific and bizarre, but has become the normal for the adults. The boy slowly begins to recognize the impending end of his family and decides he must try to act in some way to impress his step mother, making a decision to run away with his five year old sister in search of the two lost girls his mother is intent on finding. The final third of the book becomes a harrowing descent into an unknown territory as the two children themselves become lost and their voices facing the threat of becoming another echo, their story another tragedy to be archived.Luiselli is a skilled crafter of prose, her sentences filled with detail and specificity, yet beautiful in a precise but also meandering way. She captures intimate details of the characters lives and perspectives, all the while articulating the broad ideas and contemplations of the various narrators. But most striking here is her use of a plethora of literary texts, music, photography and other medium to inform the narrative, to provide background to the characters and also understand their actions as their world is about to change drastically. Each chapter begins with an opening of an archival box the family brings with them, containing works of literature, academic texts, musical scores, that not only tells their research project but become integrated into the plot of the book. She quotes passages, lyrics and even creates a fictional book within a book, Elegies of Lost Children, itself a literary allusion to other works that have sought to detail experiences of "voyages, journeying, migrating."Some have criticized this technique as pretentious (see Mercedes Bookish Musings quite harsh and I'd contend unfair review) and I will admit that in other cases I do get annoyed with writing that seeks to name drop works of literature for the sake of bragging, An Unnecessary Woman comes to mind. But in this case, Luiselli is not trying to merely show off her incredible grasp of literature, but instead alludes and quotes to further the goals of the text in a way that is organic. As she notes in the Works Cited section after the text of the novel:...references to sources--textual, musical, visual, or audio-visual--are not meant as side notes, or ornaments that decorate the story, but function as intralinear markers that point to the many voices in the conversation that the book sustains with the past.Far from showy decoration, these references become powerful components of the text, serving the narrative, acting as echoes from the past that the present must confront. Just one example that many have cited, is the first line from Cormac McCarthy's The Road, which is repeated often as the audiobook player manages to default to it whenever the mother turns on the radio:When he woke in the woods in the dark and cold of the night he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him.This chilling line is not there for show but serves as a foreshadow, as a constant worry of losing ones child, as a warning of potential dangers that await the young siblings. For me, this is not pretentious but an amazing sculpting of literary works to inform the narrative purposes of this novel. That Luiselli does this so well, uses these texts or other media to build an archive of this family that touches upon so much beyond their own compelling drama is one of the reasons this book is a thing of beauty.A more concerning critique is the question of cultural appropriation and how Luiselli uses the story of the Apache to further her own story telling goals. Some have noted that this falls into the trope of treating indigenous voices as unable to speak for themselves, reinforces a narrative of victimhood and denies agency to a population that continues to rightfully insist on self-determination. In LOST CHILDREN ARCHIVE, Luiselli gives the father, a Mexican American, full control over the story of the Apache, which leaves us to consider the problematics associated with this narrative decision. However, I don't believe that Luiselli is oblivious to the problems with this decision. In several interviews she discusses issues of appropriation and who has the right to tell other's stories and notes that the heart of the LOST CHILDREN ARCHIVE is asking the question of where do we stand when archiving the experiences of political violence. In this case, the pressing political violence Luiselli wants to document is that of Central American child migrants and she uses analogous histories of disappearance that Native Americans have experienced to emphasize the echoing of experiences across large swaths of time. That she chooses to have those comparative experiences channeled through the voyeuristic eyes of the father is a question worth debating but a debate that I would imagine Luiselli welcomes. That other indigenous authors, such as Tommy Orange, have effusively praised the book's treatment of transcending historical experiences, signals to me that it is not so easy to condemn Luiselli's choice as a sloppy or disrespectful act of cultural appropriation.If anything, I'd suggest the level of discussion and grappling with this text speaks to how powerful a statement it is. Beautifully written, densely packed with ideas, timely as ever, Luiselli has offered us an utterly important novel, one that asks how and where we stand as millions of migrants move around the world, looking for safe passage but met with cold rejection if not brutal violence. To have tackled such big issues through the lens of a modest road trip story speaks to how fantastic a writer Luiselli is. This will be one of the big books of 2019 and beyond and hope it gets its proper due critically and beyond.
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  • Sam
    January 1, 1970
    Luiselli changes her narrator halfway through this novel and that change made the difference in my appreciation of the novel. The author strains a little at times but overall this was a bold attempt.
  • Collin
    January 1, 1970
    LONGLISTED FOR THE 2019 WOMEN'S PRIZE FOR FICTIONThis novel is not one but two narratives. The first narrative is the story of a family travelling to the Apacheria, where the father hopes to record and document sounds from the location that Geronimo and the Apaches lived. The mother also works in acoustics and the two of them met working together documenting sounds and recording a soundscape of New York City. However, their relationship is dying, and this trip could be the final nail in the coff LONGLISTED FOR THE 2019 WOMEN'S PRIZE FOR FICTIONThis novel is not one but two narratives. The first narrative is the story of a family travelling to the Apacheria, where the father hopes to record and document sounds from the location that Geronimo and the Apaches lived. The mother also works in acoustics and the two of them met working together documenting sounds and recording a soundscape of New York City. However, their relationship is dying, and this trip could be the final nail in the coffin. Both father and mother have a child from another partner, but this part of the narrative is left intentionally vague and is not part of the story. Strangely we are never given the names of the family members either. Perhaps the family is meant to represent a typical average family, and Luiselli wants the reader to focus on the narrative not the characters, not sure. This narrative is firstly narrated by the mother and later the ten-year old son, and sees the mother and father slowly slipping further apart, and as the trip progresses, the gulf between the two begins to widen. While the father is absorbed in his project with the Apaches, the mother becomes more and more concerned about an immigrant friend’s missing children. She takes a strong interest in the plights of the immigrants who go missing, particularly the children, while trying to cross the border. This increasing interest leads into the second narrative which takes the form of a book that the mother reads to the children to help stave off boredom on the road. The book is called The Lost Children and is about seven young migrant children trying to cross the border into the States. When the son and daughter strike out on their own to try to find the mother’s friend’s missing children the narratives seem to converge together, and the son and daughter literally become the lost children. Documenting and recording is a major theme of the novel. Even the son, who is afraid he will lose contact with his sister if the parents separate, is documenting the trip to maintain a record for her. The boot of the car is filled with archive boxes and each family member has at least one of their own. I believe that Luiselli is using all of this documentation as a contrast to show us that the lost children are more than just data recorded in an archive, more than just a statistic recorded and then filed away. Each lost child is a tragedy, a life stolen away before it even got a chance. I have not read any of Luiselli’s other work but this subject seems to be one she is very passionate about, and you could feel it in her writing. One problem for me was at times Luiselli dances along the fine line of beautiful, exquisite prose, and overwriting. She may cross it a few times, but this is very much a personal criticism and down to the reader’s taste. Having said that, I think that there is some terrific writing, and the way Luiselli brings the narratives together is skilfully handled. The way she weaves the children from the first narrative briefly into the second is genius. I also like the way that the perspective is changed from the mother to the son in the main narrative, it works extremely well. With a little editing and cuts this could have been a five star read for me, I still enjoyed it immensely though. 4 Stars.
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  • Will
    January 1, 1970
    4.5, rounded up. Beautifully written, intelligent, thought-provoking, innovative and, ultimately, poignant. Reading through reviews here, I can understand others' critcisms, but I was duly impressed - it worked for me.
  • Kasa Cotugno
    January 1, 1970
    One of my favorite books of this or any other year. This epic is told against the backdrop of the current humanitarian nightmare of parent/child separations at the border, of the inexplicable and indefensible reality of children sometimes only a few months old being incarcerated in cells miles away from families. A New York couple sets out on the road trip to end all road trips, leaving their NYC home in a vintage Volvo with seven bankers' boxes and the recording equipment which provides their l One of my favorite books of this or any other year. This epic is told against the backdrop of the current humanitarian nightmare of parent/child separations at the border, of the inexplicable and indefensible reality of children sometimes only a few months old being incarcerated in cells miles away from families. A New York couple sets out on the road trip to end all road trips, leaving their NYC home in a vintage Volvo with seven bankers' boxes and the recording equipment which provides their livelihood. In the back seat are their 10-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter, each from a previous union, and individual characteristics are revealed piecemeal as the journey continues. What is apparent from the beginning is that this is a highly functioning, intellectual family with a great deal of curiosity and desire to experience the country as it unrolls. The early chapters, as told by Ma, provide a narrative of pressure cooker familial love experienced on the blue highway journey. At no time do they seem in a hurry, never seem to use throughways, decamping in Motel Six type accommodations and eating in diners where ketchup bottles haven't been washed in weeks. When not listening to audible books or evocative music such as Appalachian Spring, they hear of the border crisis on the news, a subject that Ma has developed a personal interest in. There is so much to digest in this book -- the almost metaconstruct of Ma's decoction of the Lord of the Flies, which seems an odd choice for audible reading for children of these ages. Ma's explanation to her son is that William Golding was writing about the behavior of adults during and after WWII, but using children to populate his metaphor. At times I felt as if I were in the back seat, attending a seminar in advanced literature. The final third of the book takes the reader into completely uncharted territory. Told by the boy in the form of a monologue to his young sister, there are sections that could be regarded as stylistically self serving, but given the previous pieces, work. Including a runon sentence that goes for pages and pages, almost like movies shot in one continuous take such as I Am Cuba and The Russian Ark. This is one of those books with so much relevance and material that it should find a place on awards lists.
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  • Jerrie (redwritinghood)
    January 1, 1970
    This book is a profound look at displacement and the documentation of our shared histories. The characters in the book mainly document their world via sound. With illusions to multiple literary and musical works, this book tells the story of a crumbling marriage and the forced displacement of people, particularly children, via the slave trades, Native American relocations, the orphan trains, and the current migrant situation. While not perfect, it’s still an important work.
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  • Stephanie Jane (Literary Flits)
    January 1, 1970
    See more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary FlitsAfter 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 fam See more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary FlitsAfter 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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  • Anita Pomerantz
    January 1, 1970
    First, let me say that if I were just reviewing the writing of this book alone, it would definitely be in five star territory. I loved the narrative voices, especially of the mother, and the use of language. I also found it interesting how the author used literary references and wove in language and metaphors of other authors. I wouldn't hesitate to pick up another book by this author.All that being said, thematically, I think this book tried way too hard. Ostensibly, the story is about a blende First, let me say that if I were just reviewing the writing of this book alone, it would definitely be in five star territory. I loved the narrative voices, especially of the mother, and the use of language. I also found it interesting how the author used literary references and wove in language and metaphors of other authors. I wouldn't hesitate to pick up another book by this author.All that being said, thematically, I think this book tried way too hard. Ostensibly, the story is about a blended family where a father with a son married a mother with a daughter. The father and mother met on a work project where they connected, but when that project ended, their divergent career goals started to tear them apart. And there in lies my first critique, their career goals really were not all that different, and it's pretty hard for me to imagine their marriage falling apart because of them, and yet, the reader wasn't really shown much else about the marriage, so there's no other conclusion that can be reached.The novel goes on to attempt to tie the history of the Apache Indians to our current immigration situation with the imminent loss of this family. The Apache references seemed completely superfluous to me. I didn't think they added to the theme nor really enhanced the story. Ostensibly, the father was obsessed with researching them, but beyond that, it just seemed extraneous and distracting. The parallels between some of the challenges with our immigration/refugee issues here in the U.S. and the loss of family due to divorce worked better for me. The son narrates the second half of the book, and I felt there were specific scenes that related to his step sister that were so well done. I felt his pain at both the thought of losing her and the real loss of her. The issues regarding immigration were mostly put forward in the form of chapters of a book that the son and mother were reading called the Elegies of Lost Children, and the sorrows and struggles evoked there were moving.All in all, I would have liked to see this book edited differently. I felt that the author's true strengths were muddied by trying to do too much. Sometimes less is more, and the prose was evocative and beautiful making the "cleverness" just feel like overreaching.
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  • Lee
    January 1, 1970
    (3.5) This dovetailed for me, but there was more than enough here (and way more high than low points) to get me through a slightly sloggish 500-page length. Completely admirable undertaking, sometimes hampered by what felt a little like a failure of nerve on Luiselli’s part: she’s so good that the overdone bits felt a bit spurious and diminishing, but I understand that this is probably my bugbear and that such emphasis might easily (and has judging by other responses) make this even more powerfu (3.5) This dovetailed for me, but there was more than enough here (and way more high than low points) to get me through a slightly sloggish 500-page length. Completely admirable undertaking, sometimes hampered by what felt a little like a failure of nerve on Luiselli’s part: she’s so good that the overdone bits felt a bit spurious and diminishing, but I understand that this is probably my bugbear and that such emphasis might easily (and has judging by other responses) make this even more powerful. I loved the quiet, reverberating moments most of all, which often seemed to say everything that needed to be said.
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  • David
    January 1, 1970
    I suppose that words, timely and arranged in the right order, produce an afterglow. When you read words like that in a book, a powerful but fleeting emotion ensues. This passage returned to me again and again as I made my way through “Lost Children Archive”. There were undoubtedly moments of afterglow – some quite powerful – and these are likely to linger. Certain scenes invite reflection and some of the character viewpoints warrant further thought. Luiselli has given me things to contemplate b I suppose that words, timely and arranged in the right order, produce an afterglow. When you read words like that in a book, a powerful but fleeting emotion ensues. This passage returned to me again and again as I made my way through “Lost Children Archive”. There were undoubtedly moments of afterglow – some quite powerful – and these are likely to linger. Certain scenes invite reflection and some of the character viewpoints warrant further thought. Luiselli has given me things to contemplate beyond the closed cover, for which I am grateful.My greatest meditation, though, has been focused on the question of why there wasn’t more afterglow; why so many moments that were clearly designed to create such an effect left me disappointed or uninspired. Like the Polaroid photos that form a centerpiece of the novel, there are important, meaningful story elements that Luiselli has included in order to draw me in and move me. I looked and considered and (I think) kept my expectations reasonable. For whatever reason, too often I could not see much past the streaks and hazy discolorations that mar the intended image.The objectification of so many characters (referred to simply as the husband, the older girl, boy five, the man in the blue cap, the soldier) is both a strength and a weakness. On the one hand, this generates a strong sense of the universality of human experience. The presence of nameless protagonists encourages the reader to envision herself (or someone she knows) in the very situations being described. It leads to considerations like, “What if my own daughter were enduring that?”, “What would I do under such harrowing circumstances?”, or “That reminds me of a couple I know, always misinterpreting one other’s intentions.” However, I found it simultaneously difficult to feel deeply, strongly about much of the novel. My mind got a great work-out, and I could generate empathy at a cerebral level, but I was seldom moved profoundly on an emotional level. It was obvious I was meant to. It just didn’t happen much.I also confess to not liking some of the stylistic choices. There is high language applied liberally to just about everything, and this put me off. I would rather a skilled pianist showed their talent to effect by playing Chopin or Rachmaninoff rather than taking the theme to Downton Abbey and giving it the Liberace treatment. Not every phrase can support flourishes, trills, and fussy embellishments. Beginnings get confused with endings. We look at them the way a goat or skunk might stare stupidly toward a horizon where there’s a sun, not knowing if the yellow star there is rising or setting. Okay…Other matters that bothered me include the purportedly youthful voices that are far too mature to take seriously, the author’s penchant for repetition of detail, and the abundance of miraculous coincidences in the story.Did David like anything, you ask? Of course he did!The “elegies” are powerful. And it is so spot-on that The Tenth Elegy (in which a menaced Boy Seven disappears) is withheld from the reader. The sense this creates of things mysterious, traumatic, and unspeakable is outstanding. There are several individual vignettes within the two first-person narrations that are captivating as well. The determination and creativity of children is well-represented. And it is good to have this novel’s many reminders that selfish people can still act generously, and crippling fear can yet give way to courage and determination. Yes, there is plenty to like. I just didn’t really,really like it and love didn’t make an appearance.3.5 stars
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  • Dan
    January 1, 1970
    I’m adding Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive to my personal shortlist of recent novels that speak especially well—but far from solely—to today’s U.S. Luiselli’s a humdinger of a story-teller, and in Lost Children Archive she’s brought us an absorbing tale of a dysfunctional and dissolving family meandering across America against a backdrop of genocidal history and current crimes against humanity. The first person voice of the unnamed woman—oddly removed except when talking about the lost I’m adding Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive to my personal shortlist of recent novels that speak especially well—but far from solely—to today’s U.S. Luiselli’s a humdinger of a story-teller, and in Lost Children Archive she’s brought us an absorbing tale of a dysfunctional and dissolving family meandering across America against a backdrop of genocidal history and current crimes against humanity. The first person voice of the unnamed woman—oddly removed except when talking about the lost children—and the more powerful voices of the boy and the girl—resonate and bring home to the reader the horrors of refugee children left parentless, homeless, and sometimes lifeless by their journeys and rejecting countries.What I don’t understand about Lost Children Archive is the woman and the man. Did Luiselli purposely write them as ciphers, in order to increase our attention on the lost children? Is there a reason why we learn so little about what makes them tick, other than the woman’s all-consuming interest in the lost children ”who have lost the right to a childhood” and the man’s in ”Chief Cochise, Geronimo, and the Chiricahuas, because theyd been the last Apache leaders—moral, political, military—of the last free peoples on the American continent, the last to surrender”? As the boy says, ”It made me so angry at her. I wanted to remind her that even though those children were lost, we were not lost, we were there, right there next to her. And it made me wonder, what if we got lost, would she then finally pay attention to us?” Or are those passions the sum total of the woman and the man? Luiselli writes the boy and the girl so well that it’s difficult for me to believe that she couldn’t have written their mother and father just as well. Is Luiselli trying to tell us something in her portrayals, or rather or lack of portrayals of the woman and the man, or am I just too dense to understand this?I’m a lazy reader. Fiction that requires tracking down literary allusions, Googling, and solving literary puzzles demand too much effort from me. Here’s Valeria Luiselli explaining herself in ”Works Cited (Notes on Sources): ”Like my previous work, Lost Children Archive is in part the result of a dialogue with many different texts, as well as with other nontextual sources. The archive that sustains this novel is both an inherent and a visible part of the central narrative. In other words, references to sources—textual, musical, visual, or audio-visual—are not meant as side notes, or ornaments that decorate the story, but function as intralinear markers that point to the many voices in the conversation that the book sustains with the past. . . I’m not interested in intertextuality as an outward, performative gesture but as a method or procedure of composition.” If this this passage appeared at the beginning instead of the end of Lost Children Archive, I would have stopped at page one and scurried back to my favorite novelists, all of whom deliver a lot to me while demanding less.But wait: Valeria Luiselli, despite her best attempts to repel a literary ignoramus like me, writes a really good and compelling story for our times.
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  • Neil
    January 1, 1970
    This is one of those books where the reader (at least, THIS reader), because of the subject matter, feels a certain pressure to like the book and post positive comments about it. We are reading about the US’s attitude to its indigenous people and to those, especially children, who try to cross the border from Mexico, often with the aim of meeting up with parents who work there with no documentation.But it is a strange story and one that, for my personal taste, tries a bit too hard. But more on t This is one of those books where the reader (at least, THIS reader), because of the subject matter, feels a certain pressure to like the book and post positive comments about it. We are reading about the US’s attitude to its indigenous people and to those, especially children, who try to cross the border from Mexico, often with the aim of meeting up with parents who work there with no documentation.But it is a strange story and one that, for my personal taste, tries a bit too hard. But more on that later.An unnamed woman narrates the first half of the book. She is mother to a daughter and she is now married to a man who has a son from a previous relationship. None of these additional three characters is ever named. Mother and father met working on a project to document languages in New York. Much is made of one being a documentarian and the other a documentarist. In the dictionary, these are synonymous, but here there is a distinction:“We’d say that I was a documentarist and he was a documentarian, which meant that I was like a chemist and he was more like a librarian”.(Note that this distinction is the opposite way round to that described in the book blurb on Goodreads which refers to HIM as a documentarist, so the reader is not the only one confused by it).So that’s all clear, then. As the son says later in the book, “But both of them did basically the same thing…”.The parents decide to make a road trip from New York to Arizona, using the long journey to continue the recording projects on which they are working. He is driven by his desire to learn about the Apaches (But why Apaches, Pa? Because. Because what? Because they were the last of something.). She is searching for the two lost daughters of a friend who were last heard of when they set out to cross into the US from Mexico riding on top of a train. As part of their luggage, they take seven boxes, four for him and one each for her and the two children. We learn the contents of these boxes as the book progresses.At about the halfway point, the narrator switches to become the boy. This confused me for many pages. Not because I didn’t realise the narrator had changed but because a 10-year-old narrator seems to be far more mature and sophisticated than his stepmother. I think there may be a clue in the fact that the narrative switches from present tense to past tense which I assume could mean that we are reading the view of an adult looking back to a time in his childhood, but I don’t know. Given that the six year old girl tells the most sophisticated knock-knock jokes I have ever heard, it was all rather disorientating. Also, the narrator switches a few more times as the story progresses which suggests there’s some kind of continuity in timeline.The other thing that confused me as I read, and which made me think I was perhaps reading something more akin to magical realism of some kind, is that the family read a book together about lost children and then, at one point in the story, those lost children appear in the actual narrative.But that is all I will say about the plot. It would be unfair to talk about what happens to the family as they head west - you need to read it for yourself. Just don’t expect it all to make completely logical sense - I don’t think that is the point.It is all very clever (the book the family reads plays a sort of meta-narrative role in the book which I won’t explain here as I don’t want to spoil things) but, for me, it is perhaps a bit too clever. Some of the prose feels over-written (anyone for “rhetorical usufruct” or “…his prosody well attuned to the necrological hypocrisy of the plaque”) and sometimes the construction of the book seems to take precedence over the story and it feels a bit artificial. I know many others will disagree with me, but I found all this a bit distracting from what, at its heart, is a story about important issues. Reading the afterword where the author explains some of the subtleties of what she has done in the book just increases this feeling.My rating reflects, I hope, a balance between an important subject that was, for me, hidden by the cleverness of the book’s structure and writing.My thanks to HarperCollins UK for an advance copy via NetGalley.
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  • Claire
    January 1, 1970
    Ali Smith describes Luiselli as a “novelist of rare vitality” on the cover of my edition of this book, and I think that’s as accurate a description of how this book made me feel, as anything I could write in a review. Nevertheless, I’ll try to explain what I thought about this novel, which I expected to like, but not love, and which significantly exceeded my expectations.In hindsight, Luiselli is absolutely the kind of writer that I love. This is a novel which is an intensely meaningful, beautif Ali Smith describes Luiselli as a “novelist of rare vitality” on the cover of my edition of this book, and I think that’s as accurate a description of how this book made me feel, as anything I could write in a review. Nevertheless, I’ll try to explain what I thought about this novel, which I expected to like, but not love, and which significantly exceeded my expectations.In hindsight, Luiselli is absolutely the kind of writer that I love. This is a novel which is an intensely meaningful, beautiful story at a sentence by sentence level. In an interview, Luiselli spoke about her interest and investment in the “architecture” of each sentence. I find this kind of writing deeply satisfying in a range of ways, most significantly that it is full of nuanced observations that transcend those which are just critical to the plot, and really speak to both the human condition and this particular moment in time.Lost Children Archive is a novel about storytelling. Luiselli explores the reasons we tell stories, the ways we tell them, the impact of stories at different times in our lives, and significance of the nature of narratives to this impact. As a historian, the analysis of archiving, the collection and exploration of artefacts and evidence, and the way these are constructed into narratives really spoke to the lens through which I view the world. Although for me, the concept of storytelling was personally the most engaging part of the novel, the more universal achievement is Luiselli’s exploration of the parent/child relationship, and of the family in crisis. The juxtaposition of this small world (which is familiar to each of us in some small way) against the wider human refugee crisis is devastatingly real, and uncompromising. It’s impossible for this narrative not to touch some kind of nerve, and Luiselli confronts her reader with our privilege even in the context of personal upheaval, or even tragedy. Essentially, I feel that this novel is a significant achievement, and although I can understand some of the criticisms which have been levelled at this text, they were not ultimately significant to my reading.
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  • Doug
    January 1, 1970
    While I more or less (grudgingly) enjoyed reading this, there are several 'issues' with it (explicated much more fully in most of my GR friend reviews, so I am not going to belabor them) - but they include the cipher-like parents at the center of the story; two precocious/bratty kids who both speak wayyyyyy beyond their age level (I was expecting the 10 year old boy at any moment to ask his mother: 'So, tell me Mama, do you subscribe more to the tenets of Derrida or Foucault?'); an overly ambiti While I more or less (grudgingly) enjoyed reading this, there are several 'issues' with it (explicated much more fully in most of my GR friend reviews, so I am not going to belabor them) - but they include the cipher-like parents at the center of the story; two precocious/bratty kids who both speak wayyyyyy beyond their age level (I was expecting the 10 year old boy at any moment to ask his mother: 'So, tell me Mama, do you subscribe more to the tenets of Derrida or Foucault?'); an overly ambitious cramming of too many different threads and storylines into one novel, including esoteric and somewhat pretentious literary intertextuality (the majority of which flew right over my head); the need for a harsh editor to remove a minimum of 100 pages; and the utterly annoying penultimate section of a 20 page single sentence (Hey, Luiselli - Joyce beat you to it by about 100 years - you aren't half as clever as you think you are!).Although it also isn't terribly original, I DID enjoy Luiselli's interrupting the narrative portions of the book to include the contents of the 7 'archive boxes', especially the Polaroids in the final chapter. And I must admit there were sections that contained some very lovely prose - although those with overly constructed and affected writing far outnumbered these. The cultural appropriation didn't bother me too much, as I understood it was necessary to her political purposes, which can't be faulted. So a very mild 3 stars from me; it didn't particularly make me eager to read any of her back catalog - or her future offerings either, for that matter.
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  • But_i_thought_
    January 1, 1970
    This is that rare kind of book that uses the novel format – not as a tool to impress upon the reader a specific point-of-view – but rather as a window, a means of looking, through which to observe the world.In luxurious and languid prose – best consumed at an infinitely gentle pace – Luiselli peels back the layers of her literary triptych. On a micro level, we follow a family on a road trip across the United States. The characters: a mother, a father, a son, a daughter. The destination: an uncer This is that rare kind of book that uses the novel format – not as a tool to impress upon the reader a specific point-of-view – but rather as a window, a means of looking, through which to observe the world.In luxurious and languid prose – best consumed at an infinitely gentle pace – Luiselli peels back the layers of her literary triptych. On a micro level, we follow a family on a road trip across the United States. The characters: a mother, a father, a son, a daughter. The destination: an uncertain future. Sound documentarists by profession, mother and father are obsessed with the world of sound – the sonic layers we contribute, the echoes we leave behind – while, ironically, a festering silence threatens their marriage.Zoom out a bit, and the novel draws attention to the plight of child migrants approaching the US-Mexican border – children missing, childhoods lost – told through the form of news reports, child-led re-enactment and fictional elegies.Zoom out even more and we find the book grappling with the processes of capturing, documenting and preserving our lived experience – whether through the lens of a camera, the written word or a sound recording device – and the ways in which these archives tend to create their own memories and supplant the past.Along the way, enticed by the signposts in the narrative, you will find yourself falling down a multimedia rabbit hole – watching the ballet of Aaron Copland, sampling the writings of Susan Sontag, appreciating the photography of Sally Mann, listening to the lyrics of David Bowie, pondering the poetry of Anne Carson, re-acquainting yourself with Lord of the Flies – each piece in dialog with the novel’s themes.How then to describe this multimodal, sensory reading experience? Perhaps as a family soundscape, an archive of musings, a work of centrifugal archaeology, a conversation with past and present. Better yet, a piece of enquiry. A work of art. A must read.Mood: Meditative, melancholicRating: 9.5/10Also on Instagram.
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  • Krista
    January 1, 1970
    Whenever the boy and girl talk about child refugees, I realize now, they call them “the lost children.” I suppose the word “refugee” is more difficult to remember. And even if the term “lost” is not precise, in our intimate family lexicon, the refugees become known to us as “the lost children.” And in a way, I guess, they are lost children. They are children who have lost the right to a childhood. Lost Children Archive started with a bang for me – I was immediately entranced by its inventive, c Whenever the boy and girl talk about child refugees, I realize now, they call them “the lost children.” I suppose the word “refugee” is more difficult to remember. And even if the term “lost” is not precise, in our intimate family lexicon, the refugees become known to us as “the lost children.” And in a way, I guess, they are lost children. They are children who have lost the right to a childhood. Lost Children Archive started with a bang for me – I was immediately entranced by its inventive, creative narrative and structure – but the more I got into it, the more frustrated I became with its lack of emotional pull; it ultimately felt heavy handed and without heart. And I don't know if it makes it better or worse to learn that the basic plotline – a blended family starts to break apart on a cross-country road trip on which the father/husband is researching “Apacheria” and Geronimo's last stand, and the mother/wife is researching the plight of refugee children held at America's southern border – is based on an actual trip taken by author Valeria Luiselli, her former husband Álvaro Enrigue (who used the material from that trip in his own novel Ahora me rindo y eso es todo), and their children: it makes the concept feel less inventive, and the anonymous/archetypal nature of the unnamed family members off-puttingly ironic. The plight of modern day refugee children in detention camps is too important to conflate them with the Clearing of the Plains – which as an overarching novelistic concept, ends up not doing justice to either issue (and really only makes sense once you realise that, like with Luiselli and Enrigue, the two issues are only linked by the time and opportunity afforded by the road trip, which isn't novelistically satisfying). In many ways, I really admired the writing in this book, but I don't think it was really a success. Conversations, in a family, become linguistic archaeology. They build the world we share, layer it in a palimpsest, give meaning to our present and future. The question is, when, in the future, we dig into our intimate archive, replay our family tape, will it amount to a story? A soundscape? Or will it all be sound rubble, noise, and debris? So, the man and woman – he, a documentarist (like “a chemist” of sound), and she, a documentarian (like “a librarian” of sounds, but more like a radio journalist) – met when they were paired for a four-year-long project to document every sound in New York City (from its eight hundred spoken languages, to the subway system, Broadway, Wall Street, etc.). They fell in love along the way, married, and made a family with his (now) ten-year-old son and her (now) five-year-old daughter. Now that the project has ended, they realise that they have different visions for their future careers and they decide to take a road trip to the land of the Apache – where he can record the echoes of the past (with the idea that capturing the ambient environmental sounds of the lands of the Apache will preserve something inherent to Geronimo and Chief Cochise, “the last people on the entire continent to surrender to the white-eyes”) and where she can record the stories of children smuggled over the southern border by coyotes, and in particular, search for the two daughters of a Mexican woman she had met in NYC – and most of the story takes place in their car with the two kids in the back seat. In the very back of the Volvo are seven bankers boxes – the man has four, filled with research material and notebooks; the woman has one, filled with research material; and the kids each have one, empty for now – and the novel itself feels archival as the contents of the boxes are listed, songs and audiobooks played in the car are dissected, and as the son learns to use his new Polaroid and attempts to make his own record of the trip. These are people who read broadly and play Lord of the Flies for their children's edutainment, and initially, I was totally enchanted by how smart the whole thing felt; just like the woman character in the book: When I read Sontag for the first time, just like the first time I read Hannah Arendt, Emily Dickinson, and Pascal, I kept having those sudden, subtle, and possibly microchemical raptures – little lights flickering deep inside the brain tissue – that some people experience when they finally find words for a very simple and yet till then utterly unspeakable feeling. When someone else’s words enter your consciousness like that, they become small conceptual light-marks. They’re not necessarily illuminating. A match struck alight in a dark hallway, the lit tip of a cigarette smoked in bed at midnight, embers in a dying chimney: none of these things has enough light of its own to reveal anything. Neither do anyone’s words. But sometimes a little light can make you aware of the dark, unknown space that surrounds it, of the enormous ignorance that envelops everything we think we know. And that recognition and coming to terms with darkness is more valuable than all the factual knowledge we may ever accumulate. But, as the story went along and the family encountered town after town of ugly Americans, the political became more overt and instructive: The daily federal quota for undocumented people, he said, was 34,000, and was steadily growing. That meant that at least 34,000 people had to be occupying a bed each day in any one of the detention centers, a center just like this one, across the country. People were taken away, he continued, locked up in detention buildings for an indefinite amount of time. Some were later deported back to their home countries. Many were pipelined to federal prisons, which profited from them, subjecting them to sixteen-hour workdays for which they earned less than three dollars. And many of them were simply – disappeared. I'm happy to be informed by anything I read, but there's a later scene in which the family witnesses some children being put on a small plane at a remote airport (and as there is an included Polaroid of such a plane taken through a chainlink fence, perhaps that experience was a part of Luiselli's own family's roadtrip), and that scene was much more affecting than someone spouting numbers. For the next twenty minutes or so, we're all silent inside the car, listening to the songs that shuffle and play, looking out our windows at a landscape scarred by decades or maybe centuries of systemic agricultural aggression: fields sectioned into quadrangular grids, gang-raped by heavy machinery, bloated with modified seeds and injected with pesticides, where meager fruit trees bear robust, insipid fruit for export; fields corseted into a circumscription of grassy crop layers, in patterns resembling Dantesque hells, watered by central-pivot irrigation systems; and fields turned into non-fields, bearing the weight of cement, solar panels, tanks, and enormous windmills. One of the books that was brought along in a bankers box is Elegies for Lost Children, and as the novel goes on, the woman reads this book (of a group of refugee children's dangerous crossing into America) into the record – sometimes to herself, sometimes to her son, and sometimes into her voice recorder. As Luiselli explains of this fictional work in an afterword, “The Elegies are composed by means of a series of allusions to literary works that are about voyages, journeying, migrating, etc. The allusions need not be evident. I’m not interested in intertextuality as an outward, performative gesture but as a method or procedure of composition.” And so, as she explains, she borrows words and concepts from famous voyage stories (The Waste Land or Heart of Darkness) to put into her own narrative, and it's this kind of high concept, elevated overthinking that felt apparent on the page – the story gets lost in the writing. In later passages, some sections are told from the son's point-of-view (and I never believed this POV: he both spoke too old for his age and acted too young), and in one of the last passages, the son's story gets intertwined with the lost children from The Elegies, and in a single chapter-length sentence, everything swirls and merges (swirling in unrelated characters who are doing their own things, too; including an office worker listening to an audiobook of Lynne Cheney's “rotundly moralistic lesbian romance novel”), and I got so bored and annoyed that I nearly stopped reading this book with only twenty or so pages of text left to go. And yet: this is smart and erudite and attempts to expose a really important social issue (meaning the refugee children; the plight of Geronimo and the Apache comes off more as an adolescent obsession on the husband's part). I liked the archival aspects, the idea of capturing of soundscapes – including family conversations – as the preservation of history, and the connections made to art and literature. But the plot didn't work, the characters didn't work, and the potential for pathos was dulled by overwriting. As a novel, this simply didn't work for me.
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  • Nicky
    January 1, 1970
    "All I see in hindsight is the chaos of history repeated, over and over, reenacted, reinterpreted, the world, its fucked-up heart palpitating underneath us, failing, messing up again and again as it winds its way around the sun. And in the middle of it all, tribes, families, people, all beautiful things falling apart, debris, dust, erasure". I was initially going to give this book 4 or 4.5* but after mulling on it for the last 24 hours, reading interviews and appreciating reviews of other reade "All I see in hindsight is the chaos of history repeated, over and over, reenacted, reinterpreted, the world, its fucked-up heart palpitating underneath us, failing, messing up again and again as it winds its way around the sun. And in the middle of it all, tribes, families, people, all beautiful things falling apart, debris, dust, erasure". I was initially going to give this book 4 or 4.5* but after mulling on it for the last 24 hours, reading interviews and appreciating reviews of other readers comments/interpretations, I can’t award anything less than 5*.This book is by no means perfect but it is extraordinary and important and I will be thinking of it for a long time.
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  • Jessica Jeffers
    January 1, 1970
    What even is this book?! Good, yes, but it literally had a twenty-page sentence that changed point of view multiple times. Part metafiction, part relatively traditional narrative, part existential musings, part archival finding aid. So, it takes some dedication, is what I'm saying.It's smart, but I can see a lot of readers having trouble with it. The coolest part, for me, is seeing a list of archival studies articles that one character has in a box, which was full of the articles that I am readi What even is this book?! Good, yes, but it literally had a twenty-page sentence that changed point of view multiple times. Part metafiction, part relatively traditional narrative, part existential musings, part archival finding aid. So, it takes some dedication, is what I'm saying.It's smart, but I can see a lot of readers having trouble with it. The coolest part, for me, is seeing a list of archival studies articles that one character has in a box, which was full of the articles that I am reading in the Introduction to Archives class I am currently enrolled in. What a wacky coincidence.Full review to come.
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  • peg
    January 1, 1970
    Longlisted for the 2019 Women’s Prize. Have just finished this book and am overwhelmed with thoughts! The first part was excelllent in a slow and descriptive way, to be followed by a dynamic second half that I literally could not put down until finished....WHEW!
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