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From the two-time NBCC Finalist, an emotionally resonant, fiercely imaginative new novel about a family whose road trip across America collides with an immigration crisis at the southwestern border--an indelible journey told with breathtaking imagery, spare lyricism, and profound humanity. A mother and father set out with their two children, a boy and a girl, driving from N From the two-time NBCC Finalist, an emotionally resonant, fiercely imaginative new novel about a family whose road trip across America collides with an immigration crisis at the southwestern border--an indelible journey told with breathtaking imagery, spare lyricism, and profound humanity. A mother and father set out with their two children, a boy and a girl, driving from New York to Arizona in the heat of summer. Their destination: Apacheria, the place the Apaches once called home. Why Apaches? asks the ten-year-old son. Because they were the last of something, answers his father. In their car, they play games and sing along to music. But on the radio, there is news about an "immigration crisis": thousands of kids trying to cross the southwestern border into the United States, but getting detained--or lost in the desert along the way. As the family drives--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 almost feel beneath their feet. They are led, inexorably, to a grand, harrowing adventure--both in the desert landscape and within the chambers of their own imaginations. Told through several compelling voices, blending texts, sounds, and images, Lost Children Archive is an astonishing feat of literary virtuosity. It is a richly engaging story of how we document our experiences, and how we remember the things that matter to us the most. With urgency and empathy, it takes us deep into the lives of one remarkable family as it probes the nature of justice and equality today.


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From the two-time NBCC Finalist, an emotionally resonant, fiercely imaginative new novel about a family whose road trip across America collides with an immigration crisis at the southwestern border--an indelible journey told with breathtaking imagery, spare lyricism, and profound humanity. A mother and father set out with their two children, a boy and a girl, driving from N From the two-time NBCC Finalist, an emotionally resonant, fiercely imaginative new novel about a family whose road trip across America collides with an immigration crisis at the southwestern border--an indelible journey told with breathtaking imagery, spare lyricism, and profound humanity. A mother and father set out with their two children, a boy and a girl, driving from New York to Arizona in the heat of summer. Their destination: Apacheria, the place the Apaches once called home. Why Apaches? asks the ten-year-old son. Because they were the last of something, answers his father. In their car, they play games and sing along to music. But on the radio, there is news about an "immigration crisis": thousands of kids trying to cross the southwestern border into the United States, but getting detained--or lost in the desert along the way. As the family drives--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 almost feel beneath their feet. They are led, inexorably, to a grand, harrowing adventure--both in the desert landscape and within the chambers of their own imaginations. Told through several compelling voices, blending texts, sounds, and images, Lost Children Archive is an astonishing feat of literary virtuosity. It is a richly engaging story of how we document our experiences, and how we remember the things that matter to us the most. With urgency and empathy, it takes us deep into the lives of one remarkable family as it probes the nature of justice and equality today.

30 review for Lost Children Archive

  1. 5 out of 5

    Meike

    Now Nominated for the Booker Prize 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, bu Now Nominated for the Booker Prize 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.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Marchpane

    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 (u 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.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Hugh

    Longlisted for the Booker Prize 2019 Longlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction 2019 Update 29/4/19 - Probably the most glaring omission from the Women's Prize shortlist This 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 h Longlisted for the Booker Prize 2019 Longlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction 2019 Update 29/4/19 - Probably the most glaring omission from the Women's Prize shortlist This 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.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Fionnuala

    The image of an empty frame occurred to me while reading this book, and the more I registered how framing was being used as a metaphor, the more clearly I began to see into Valeria Luiselli's project which had seemed quite blurred in the early pages. By the end of the book, all the stories and histories she managed to insert into that frame had developed themselves into a vivid and powerful image. Images and metaphors are part of Valeria Luiselli's writing technique though she begins her narrativ The image of an empty frame occurred to me while reading this book, and the more I registered how framing was being used as a metaphor, the more clearly I began to see into Valeria Luiselli's project which had seemed quite blurred in the early pages. By the end of the book, all the stories and histories she managed to insert into that frame had developed themselves into a vivid and powerful image. Images and metaphors are part of Valeria Luiselli's writing technique though she begins her narrative focusing on the capturing of sound as a way to document our world rather than on written narrative. Somewhere along the way however, there is a shift from the focus on sound to a focus on words, and Luiselli makes the shift with the insertion of short snippets from a fictional book called Elegies for Lost Children which eventually merges with and passes right through the primary story, uniting all the disparate themes in the process. The setting for the merging is itself a frame: an open sided freight train wagon abandoned in the New Mexico desert. Inside that wagon, three themes come together, fuse and then separate. The first is a nesting eagle, symbol of the disappeared Apache tribe which forms one strand of the main narrative. The eagle's eggs are cooked and eaten by some children who take shelter in her nesting space, driving her away. These invaders are made up of two groups: four children who are the main characters of the Elegies for Lost Children narratives, and who are walking from the south carrying nothing but the hope of eventually finding their relatives in the north; and two step-siblings from the main story, who are walking south carrying the hope of finding the lost children of the Elegies and of somehow reviving their own dying family unit. Luiselli mentions the origin of the word 'metaphor' at one point, explaining that in Greek it meant being taken somewhere. It also means 'to carry across', and in this book there are examples of both meanings. The children travelling north are taken by train, or rather on the roofs of freight train carriages, all the way across the mountains and deserts of Mexico before having to carry themselves and their slender hopes the rest of the way across the New Mexico desert. The children travelling south are taken in the back of their parents' car towards Apacheria until they decide to strike out alone, carrying their own slender hopes to the echoing canyons of the Chiricahua mountains. But metaphor has a third meaning, or rather consequence: it serves to deepen our understanding of a text. When one of the children in this story attempts to take Polaroid photos only to find that the subject he tries to frame disappears when exposed to light, we understand that this is exactly what the entire book is about: it is about trying to ensure that the subjects it frames do not get deleted when exposed to view. The last of the Apache tribe, buried as 'prisoners of war' in a military compound inside their own territory by the invaders of that same territory, are like a blanked out Polaroid. They have disappeared. They cannot be brought back. Valeria Luiselli seems determined that the plight of the children who are being carried on the roofs of trains from misery and danger in Honduras and Mexico towards misery and danger in the US, will not also be deleted from history. This documentary novel, full of words, images, sounds and echoes is something new in literary terms, and it works powerfully on our perception, as any good metaphor should. It forces our attention onto a blurred question we might prefer to ignore: who are any of us, wherever we are in the world, to call another human 'alien'?

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    This might be the best book I've read all year. It's about refugees, lost children, memory, family, and what can truly be captured about a place or moment in time. Personal connections abound - sound capture, archival boxes, Steven Feld, marriage, so much that goes deep and I'll be thinking about for some time. Here I will place some random quotations, for now. "Our mothers teach us to speak, and the world teaches us to shut up." "The thing about living with someone is that even though you see the This might be the best book I've read all year. It's about refugees, lost children, memory, family, and what can truly be captured about a place or moment in time. Personal connections abound - sound capture, archival boxes, Steven Feld, marriage, so much that goes deep and I'll be thinking about for some time. Here I will place some random quotations, for now. "Our mothers teach us to speak, and the world teaches us to shut up." "The thing about living with someone is that even though you see them every day and can predict all their gestures in a conversation, even when you can read intentions behind their actions and calculate their responses to circumstances fairly accurately, even when you are sure there's not a single crease in them left unexplored, even then, one day, the other can suddenly become a stranger." "Conversations, in a family, become linguistic archaeology." "I want to, but I know better. With men like this one, I know I'd play the role of lonely hunter; and they, the role of inaccessible prey. And I'm both too old and too young to pursue things that walk away from me." "Perhaps it is in those stretched-out moments in which they meet the world in silence that our children begin to grow apart from us." "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." I finished this five days ago and still can't even wrap my head around expressing how much meaning it holds for me.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    I find the easiest way of evaluating the merit of a novel is simply to ask myself if I could have written it. If the answer is yes I'm left with the conviction it can't have been very good. Well, there's no way I could have written this. It's miles too good! A husband and wife, drifting apart, take their two children on a working roadtrip from New York to the Mexico border. The husband is researching the last days of the Apache tribe before they were moved onto a reservation and the mother is co I find the easiest way of evaluating the merit of a novel is simply to ask myself if I could have written it. If the answer is yes I'm left with the conviction it can't have been very good. Well, there's no way I could have written this. It's miles too good! A husband and wife, drifting apart, take their two children on a working roadtrip from New York to the Mexico border. The husband is researching the last days of the Apache tribe before they were moved onto a reservation and the mother is concerned with missing migrant children crossing into the US from central America. Long hours inside a car are a test of every family's integrity as a unit. The unavoidable intimacy can provide a rudimentary map of what lays beneath the surface of family etiquette. The author did a great job of showing how the enthusiasms and concerns of adults are transmitted to children. (How charged with growing significance certain songs on the radio can become, too). I loved how the children eventually enter the story their mother is reading to them and how they take with them the more alluring shreds of knowledge they have picked up from their parents. They begin to live in the world their parents have created for them. However, I wanted to know more about how this imaginative synergy was reciprocated in the adults. How changed the world they had created for themselves by what their children did. After narrating most of the novel the wife vanishes towards the end as is replaced by her husband's son. The artistry was a bit off here for me. It is also guilty at times of posturing. Especially true in the penultimate chapter when a sentence runs on for about twelve pages without a full stop. Reminded me of someone jumping up from a dinner table to perform a trick - fine - and then carrying on to perform another ten tricks - not fine.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    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.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Julie Ehlers

    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.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Hannah Greendale

    Idea overshadows execution. Still, there are moments when this book soars.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Gumble's Yard

    Now longlisted for the 2019 Booker, interestingly alongside one of the other Women’s prize books that I reference in my original review. As i had already read 10 of the longlist (with two unavailable) at the time it was announced I decided to re read them all in turn. I really enjoyed the experience of a re-read of what I think is an excellent longlist, but in almost all cases felt that I was simply repeating my earlier reading experience. In this case though a second read revealed new aspects o Now longlisted for the 2019 Booker, interestingly alongside one of the other Women’s prize books that I reference in my original review. As i had already read 10 of the longlist (with two unavailable) at the time it was announced I decided to re read them all in turn. I really enjoyed the experience of a re-read of what I think is an excellent longlist, but in almost all cases felt that I was simply repeating my earlier reading experience. In this case though a second read revealed new aspects of the book, or perhaps more accurately opened the possibility to read the book in different ways concentrating on different aspects. I feel that a third read would allow new aspects to be considered. The re-read also highlighted (see my conclusion below) more of the triumphs of the book and diminished some of the flaws (albeit they still remain). I sincerely hope that the judges have a similar experience when considering their choice of shortlist. I also enjoyed reading the many interviews that the author has given about the book I felt that by reading and reproducing samples of them I was documenting my own archive around the book. REVIEW 2 - INTERVIEW QUOTES One thing I found interesting was that my experience of reading the book, breaking off to read her non-fiction book and then returning to the fiction, seemed to exactly mirror the writing experience. I started writing Lost Children before I wrote Tell Me, which was an appendix that grew out of writing Lost Children. I stopped writing Lost Children for about six months when I realized I was using the novel as a vehicle for my political frustration and rage, which is not what fiction does best. So I stopped and wrote this essay instead. Once I had been able to do that, I could go back and continue writing something as porous and ambivalent as a novel. I enjoyed on a second read understanding the importance of documentation and storytelling: the various archives, the family sharing their own story as a family unit, the mother desperate to represent the story of the Laos Children, the Father sharing the story of the Apaches, the Mother keen to emphasise the historical and present day interaction of America and Mexico, the stories the family listen to in the car, the pictures the boy takes and the recording he makes to preserve the story for his sister knowing that their family unit is to break up, the stories the lost children share in the elegy chapters, the different approaches used by the Father (recording all sounds using a boom microphone and gradually allowing a story to emerge, including looking for echoes of the past) and the Mother (using a handheld microphone to record specific sounds in line with a pre-imposed narrative). I decided on this method because the novel is essentially about ways of documenting, ways of telling, and ways of creating an archive—whether truthful or fictitious—to hand a story down from parents to kids, from kids to kids, and from kids to parents. Everyone in this novel is creating an archive to tell a story they want to tell in their own way I see Lost Children Archive as a book primarily about storytelling, the way we compose narratives, and how those narratives may or may not become the way we make sense of the world. We use narrative to make the world less horrifying, for example, or more beautiful. Within that, I wanted to explore the way parents hand stories down to their children, and how children unexpectedly hand those stories back to their parents. To me, the most important part of the novel’s architecture is the fact that the boy tells his story into his mother’s tape recorder, wanting to pass it down to his sister, because she’s too young to remember. But the mother will hear the story first, since it’s her recorder. The novel is her telling the story of their trip, and then receiving it back It has to do with the form the narration takes… like an ethics or aesthetics of storytelling. It was important for me that the woman had this conflict that arose from observing her husband engage in documentation, that she both criticizes and admires the kind of freedom he has in his way of composing stories. He has a more atmospheric approach. He walks into a room and holds up a mic and allows things to come. Maybe he is more confident as a storyteller in that sense, as an audio or a sound artist, to record everything and allow that to slowly form a story. She is playing with a much more controlled approach. And I reflected more on the voice of the children and especially the boy. For all the criticism of this voice, including in my original review, it is clearly one that the author has taken care over. It’s also clear to me that she has drawn heavily on real experience. In particular I enjoyed the link and contrast with “Tell Me How it Ends” where her first and main engagement with the issues underlying both books was by taking children’s stories and translating them into adult terms to be fit for court. Here she is trying to use a child’s perspective to translate and make sense of adult stories. The boy was just at the right age in terms of allowing me an entry into a voice and an imagination. He's a very smart boy, and well-read and sophisticated, but he sometimes uses words completely out of context and in many ways is still small. And because the brother is also addressing his younger sister, his voice is directed. It's almost epistolary in its nature. It's got that closeness and that warmth because he's telling his sister a story I don’t remember when I knew, only that at some point it became very clear. I had known for a while that I wanted a different voice, not only the mother’s. I thought about the husband, but then I decided they had talked enough. Also, it’s important for the novel that you never get his perspective. His silence is a source of the kind of speculation that I’m interested in as a reader. Next I thought about the girl, but it seemed to me that giving voice to a five-year-old was really dangerous. The novel could too easily become cutesy, or chaotic. It’s hard to sustain the voice of a five-year-old for too long .. A ten-year-old boy, on the other hand, still looks at the world with the curiosity and innocence that are very specific to childhood, but is already pretending to be an adult part of the time. Not pretending. Ensayando ser adulto. Ten is an age where I could sustain the narrative while handing the book’s thematic material over to the boy’s gaze and voice. Also, to be very honest, I had a lot of help from children when writing this particular novel. I would literally interview the children in my family about the way they would react to certain circumstances, like: What would you do if you were lost? What would you be most scared of? What would make you feel some comfort? If you ran away, what's the first thing you would do? I conducted very serious interviews in my family, with nieces, nephews, my children. Sometimes I would read out loud to kids in my family the parts about the kids only or narrated by the boy. And I would get a lot of backlash sometimes. [Laughter] Like, "No, Mama. That wouldn't happen at all." Or my nephew would give me important instructions on how one might eat a prickly pear in the desert. Not only that, but then I had also been talking to children in court for a very long time. I had been translating their immigration stories, interviewing them in order to find lawyers that would defend them from deportation. Now, after that, I've been teaching a creative writing workshop in a children's immigration detention space. So I've been surrounded by children's imaginations and stories for a very long time in a very deep way, but these particular kinds of stories, as well ORIGINAL REVIEW 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 originally 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

  11. 4 out of 5

    Eric Anderson

    “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

  12. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    This is a fascinating novel - not what I expected but how could I expect something so unlike anything else I've read? I listened with absorbed attention to the voices of this family traveling cross country - the parents, one a documentarian and the other a documentarist, and their 2 kids, by separate marriages (unrelated by blood). It is tangentially about refugees and lost children crossing the border but mostly it is about a family, their love for each other and their inability to stay togethe This is a fascinating novel - not what I expected but how could I expect something so unlike anything else I've read? I listened with absorbed attention to the voices of this family traveling cross country - the parents, one a documentarian and the other a documentarist, and their 2 kids, by separate marriages (unrelated by blood). It is tangentially about refugees and lost children crossing the border but mostly it is about a family, their love for each other and their inability to stay together. I also have the print book which has some great documents and photos.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Trudie

    * 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.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Collin

    LONGLISTED FOR THE 2019 WOMEN'S PRIZE FOR FICTION This 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 FICTION This 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.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Perry

    Marvelous, if not plagued by familiar MFA-grad malady Excellently 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 malady Excellently 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.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Barry Pierce

    a really stunning road trip novel that has its finger on the pulse of modern american life. multimedia novels often feel meta for meta's sake but the documents, the archives, and the polaroids in this novel actually aid the narrative immensely, it's so rare that this style of novel works this well. the 'elegies' presented throughout, for me, harked back to the border writings of Tomás Rivera and Gloria Anzaldúa, two comparisons I do not make lightly! easily one of the best and most essential nov a really stunning road trip novel that has its finger on the pulse of modern american life. multimedia novels often feel meta for meta's sake but the documents, the archives, and the polaroids in this novel actually aid the narrative immensely, it's so rare that this style of novel works this well. the 'elegies' presented throughout, for me, harked back to the border writings of Tomás Rivera and Gloria Anzaldúa, two comparisons I do not make lightly! easily one of the best and most essential novels published in 2019.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Peter Boyle

    I can see why Lost Children Archive has been nominated for awards. It addresses one of the most pressing issues of modern times. It's inventive, it takes risks with form. Not all of them succeed, in my eyes, but you have to give the author respect for trying something different. The story centres on an American road trip. A woman and her husband, both documentarians, are travelling from New York to Arizona with their children from past relationships - a ten-year-old boy (his) and a five-year-old I can see why Lost Children Archive has been nominated for awards. It addresses one of the most pressing issues of modern times. It's inventive, it takes risks with form. Not all of them succeed, in my eyes, but you have to give the author respect for trying something different. The story centres on an American road trip. A woman and her husband, both documentarians, are travelling from New York to Arizona with their children from past relationships - a ten-year-old boy (his) and a five-year-old girl (hers). Once they get there, the husband is planning to start a new project on the Apache culture. The wife has been helping a Mexican woman whose daughters have been detained after crossing the border, and is hoping to find out more about their situation. On the journey, the four of them listen to news reports about the immigration crisis along with audiobooks like Lord of the Flies. The father teaches the children all he knows about Native American history. We also get the sense that the marriage is in trouble. And then about two-thirds of the way through, the family have a new crisis thrust upon them. This late plot twist gives much needed impetus to a story that had been meandering, and it left me wishing that had happened sooner. For all its topicality and sincerity, I was beginning to find the earlier sections a bit aimless and repetitive. But it flickers into life whenever the wife talks about the gradual disintegration of her marriage, or when she explains the immigration problem as best she can to her inquisitive children: "A refugee is someone who has already arrived somewhere, in a foreign land, but must wait for an indefinite time before actually, fully having arrived. Refugees wait in detention centers, shelters, or camps; in federal custody and under the gaze of armed officials. They wait in long lines for lunch, for a bed to sleep in, wait with their hands raised to ask if they can use the bathroom. They wait to be let out, wait for a telephone call, for someone to claim or pick them up. And then there are refugees who are lucky enough to be finally reunited with their families, living in a new home. But even those still wait. They wait for the court’s notice to appear, for a court ruling, for either deportation or asylum, wait to know where they will end up living and under what conditions. They wait for a school to admit them, for a job opening, for a doctor to see them. They wait for visas, documents, permission. They wait for a cue, for instructions, and then wait some more. They wait for their dignity to be restored." Though the kids often sounded too advanced for their age, if you ask me. The narrative also includes part of a book that the mother has been reading about lost children, which alludes to works by Conrad, Eliot & Pound, among others. I'm not sure this device was really necessary - it all felt a bit pretentious to me. And at the end of the main text, Luiselli includes a "Works Cited" section, to tell you all of the classics she has made reference to in these "Elegies", just in case you missed them. There's a lot going on in Lost Children Archive. I do think there is the kernel of a great novel in there somewhere but it is buried beneath some showy literary affectations that don't always work. When the story directly addresses the refugee crisis, and when this emergency begins to have an immediate impact on the family in question, that's when this book comes alive.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Maddie

    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.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kasa Cotugno

    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.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Doug

    While I more or less (grudgingly) enjoyed reading this, there are several 'issues' with it (explicated much more fully in most of my GR friends' 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 ambi While I more or less (grudgingly) enjoyed reading this, there are several 'issues' with it (explicated much more fully in most of my GR friends' 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. Update: Since this has now made the Booker longlist, I'll be interested to see if it goes any further - I suspect it MIGHT on the grounds that its focus on the immigrant crisis is terribly 'au courant' ... but I suspect those faults I outlined above may very well knock it out of contention.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Ellie

    Here is a (blended) family on the verge of collapse going on a road trip to the southwest to look for--and record--echoes of Geronimo and other tribes that have been "removed" (murdered/contained in reservations on worthless land) and children who have fled their homes in other countries, sent off by families desperate for their safety and are looking for their families in the United States, often dying in the desert as they seek asylum. There are few names in this novel: the children are referr Here is a (blended) family on the verge of collapse going on a road trip to the southwest to look for--and record--echoes of Geronimo and other tribes that have been "removed" (murdered/contained in reservations on worthless land) and children who have fled their homes in other countries, sent off by families desperate for their safety and are looking for their families in the United States, often dying in the desert as they seek asylum. There are few names in this novel: the children are referred to as the girl and the boy until they are given new names recalling lost people. The parents who record sounds (to be used differently) are moving in different directions which means the children, each a child of a different parent will soon be separated. This is a beautiful, often sad, story of a family juxtaposed against an even sadder story of "lost children"--children finding their way alone or in small groups in a new and hostile country. It is told from different points of view but the narrative line always remains clear. A brilliantly written saga for the times we live in as people search for connections with each other and the past and try to make sense of the world around them. I am going to read whatever else I can of this author. Soon.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    LONGLIST FOR WOMEN'S PRIZE FOR FICTION BOOK 9 OF 16 OF LONGLISTED TITLES I 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 FICTION BOOK 9 OF 16 OF LONGLISTED TITLES I 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.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie Jane (Literary Flits)

    See more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits After almost completely immersing myself in Lost Children Archive over three days and loving every single minute of Luiselli's atmospheric novel, I went online to update my Goodreads and was curious to see how many other reviewers weren't breathlessly fangirling. Did I not read the same book as everyone else? I was so completely drawn in to this story that I often felt as though I was right there in the car, in the midst of this fractured fam See more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits After almost completely immersing myself in Lost Children Archive over three days and loving every single minute of Luiselli's atmospheric novel, I went online to update my Goodreads and was curious to see how many other reviewers weren't breathlessly fangirling. Did I not read the same book as everyone else? I was so completely drawn in to this story that I often felt as though I was right there in the car, in the midst of this fractured family. Luiselli doesn't name any of the central four characters so, while we come to know them as distinct individuals, there is also a sense that they could represent any and every family. What they have is each other which is more than can be said for the Lost Children of the title - two South American sisters making their torturous way north alongside thousands of other desperate children. In Luiselli's novel, these children are allowed to shout their names while our road-tripping family do not, reversing the real-life situation where the Americans would be named and the Latina travellers anonymous. I know I missed most of Luiselli's myriad literary references as I don't have her encyclopedic knowledge, but I don't think this was actually a problem. To the contrary, in fact. I might have been led to appreciate more layers within this onion of a novel, but by perpetually book-spotting, I would have missed out on the carefully constructed atmosphere which amazed me. Parallel narrative threads explore historical migrations through Pa's interest in now-lost free Apache culture, while Ma concentrates her focus on present day child migrants. Unusually for a novel, much of the description relates to soundscapes and noise, or the lack of it. Both parents obsessively document their journey by way of sound recordings so we get to 'hear' the vast, empty land they pass through. I am more used to written descriptions exploring visual scenery so this aural approach appealed to me. Aspects of Lost Children Archive that I especially loved were diversions into stream of consciousness narration, stories within stories that mirrored and developed each other, circular themes and revisiting scenes from different points of view, and a constant unsettling sense of foreboding which isn't openly discussed by the characters, but came from outside the novel by way of my awareness of what is actually happening to these children's real life counterparts in America right now. I became strongly emotionally invested in this book resulting in quite an emptiness when I came to the final page. I can understand why other readers might not be as enthusiastic about Lost Children Archive, but it was a perfect read for me.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Chaikin

    One of the best audiobooks I've listened too. Luiselli writes beautifully and she reads it herself with a elegant type of Mexican accent that is perfect for her text. The book, and the audiobook, take an abrupt turn when the fictional son narrates, but it rounds out and works, especially in audio where the voices alternate over the final pages. When I finished I had a kind of wow feeling, that kind of all over emotional feeling when you just completed something that has you thinking and maybe f One of the best audiobooks I've listened too. Luiselli writes beautifully and she reads it herself with a elegant type of Mexican accent that is perfect for her text. The book, and the audiobook, take an abrupt turn when the fictional son narrates, but it rounds out and works, especially in audio where the voices alternate over the final pages. When I finished I had a kind of wow feeling, that kind of all over emotional feeling when you just completed something that has you thinking and maybe feeling or whatever it is. I couldn't capture it, I just kind of thought, "wow", and wondered if it would last. A few days later I posted this on Litsy: Perhaps Luiselli was trying to reach the children caught and forgotten within the inhumane US immigration policy, to feel them as real, to personalize their suffering and fragility by using her own fictional loss of a marriage and child. Whatever it was, it felt very personal and I was mesmerized listening and I miss it now. Special novel. Now it's been a couple weeks and I still think about it and I still miss it. The narrator (is she named?) and her husband capture sounds of New York City for a academically funded project. He records the ambient noise while she does interviews, especially recording the different languages (about 800). But then her husband wants to live briefly in Appacheria, in Arizona, in the Chiricahua Mountains where the last independent Apaches resided, and capture the sounds, or the ghost sounds of the lost Apaches, but she has no interest in this. They take a family road trip, the family falling apart, the husband distant and our narrator wondering about the border-crossing children, those lost forever in the desert or found and deported without a family. And, as I note above, the book takes a twist somewhere down the line, which will throw the reader/listener a bit until it comes together. What I liked, or think what I liked, was how she lets the reader ponder the whole variety of the experience even as she talks and talks. It's a pace slowed for reflection and I never wanted it to speed up. I really didn't want this one to end. Obviously I adored it. Highly recommended to those interested. Chiricahua Mountains ----------------------------------------------- 57. Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli readers: Valeria Luiselli, Kivlighan De Montebello, William DeMeritt, Maia Enrigue Luiselli published: 2019 format: 11:16 audiobook (385 pages in hardcover) acquired: November listened: Nov 6-19 rating: 5

  25. 5 out of 5

    Britta Böhler

    I thought the first half was brilliant. In the second half the pov switched to one of the children (the ten-year old boy) and his narration and the development of the story didnt really work for me. So first half: 5*, second half: 2* = 3.5*

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen

    Booker Award Longlist 2019. Luiselli has written a multiple-genre novel begun in 2014 when hundreds of children crossed the American border to enter the United States illegally. It is part essay incorporating passages from actual literary works, photographs, maps and official records to provide depth to her story. It is also part travelogue as the husband, wife, and two children (both from previous relationships) cross the country from New York City to Arizona. The husband is an acoustemologist Booker Award Longlist 2019. Luiselli has written a multiple-genre novel begun in 2014 when hundreds of children crossed the American border to enter the United States illegally. It is part essay incorporating passages from actual literary works, photographs, maps and official records to provide depth to her story. It is also part travelogue as the husband, wife, and two children (both from previous relationships) cross the country from New York City to Arizona. The husband is an acoustemologist that has recently recorded the sounds and languages of the City highlighting its cultural diversity. He is now obsessed with the story of Geronimo and the Apache nation. The wife is a political journalist who has recently befriended an undocumented immigrant; whose daughters (aged 8 and 10) have crossed the border and are being held at a US detention center. Sadly, the husband and wife are drifting apart emotionally and the children sense that the relationship is in a death spiral. Luiselli excels at telling this story of exile; whether it is the historical exile of the Apaches from their native lands, or the immigrant children that are not wanted in the U.S. today. The ‘lucky’ ones are picked up by border patrol and deported; but there are more that travel across the sparse land to fall prey to hunger, thirst and exposure. To fully communicate the perils faced by these children, Luiselli has the couple’s own two children (ages 5 and 10) decide to travel to Echo Canyon by themselves, and become the narrators for about a quarter of the book. It reminds us that these are mere children trying reunite with their families and should not be pawns in a political fight. Highly recommend.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Quann

    A blended family of four, all unnamed, set off on a road trip from New York to Arizona while the parents' relationship begins to crack and crumble. The parents record audio for soundscape projects and the trip is ostensibly a way for both of them to collect their materials, but from early on the reader is made aware that by trip's end the marriage will have dissolved. Complicating matters are the boy and girl travelling with them, each from a previous relationship, who have grown together but se A blended family of four, all unnamed, set off on a road trip from New York to Arizona while the parents' relationship begins to crack and crumble. The parents record audio for soundscape projects and the trip is ostensibly a way for both of them to collect their materials, but from early on the reader is made aware that by trip's end the marriage will have dissolved. Complicating matters are the boy and girl travelling with them, each from a previous relationship, who have grown together but sense the impending familial split. This is all set against a backdrop of the parents' research interests: the atrocities being committed against children at the US-Mexico border and the Apache-US conflict of the mid-1800s. Pulling all these disparate parts together is part of the ambitious work of Valeria Luiselli in her much-lauded Lost Children Archive. I picked up the book based on its inclusion on the NYT's Book Review 10 best books of 2019, my interest in learning more about the migration crisis, and the new paperback edition being exactly the price of a Christmas gift card. I'm definitely not disappointed by my decision to read this one, but my interest in it dipped off as the book wore on. From an academic perspective, the book is complex and does a really virtuosic job of putting all of its moving parts together into a whole that reflects its form. By that I mean that the different aspects of the book (migrant children, Geronimo's history, family ties, documentation of events) work in the context of the archive Luiselli is attempting to create. The family travels with seven boxes across the country and sections of the book are interrupted to unveil the contents of each box. The boxes each reflect the individual's interest, but when cobbled together represent something greater than their individual parts. Like the family at the book's centre, the themes, motifs, symbols, and tone work in disjointed concert with one another: not obviously fitting together, but to the right eye composing a whole. Despite that impressive literary weightlifting, my favourite aspect of the book was the dissolving family's relationship. Instead of portraying a family in constant, irreparable turmoil we get scenes where the children are happy, normal, and share moments of real beauty with each other and their parents. The first half of the book--narrated by the mother--is quite poignant as she reflects on her family's foundation, meeting her husband, and the imminent collapse of the whole enterprise of family. I thought Luiselli really captured the feeling of a relationship on the edge, but I was a little miffed to hear very little from the husband aside from monosyllabic responses and history lessons. Though the structure of the book is interesting, it wasn't always a compelling read. It speaks to Luiselli's writing that I usually enjoyed the prose and her insights even when I felt like the story itself was dragging. Unfortunately, for me, the book feels like WAY more draggy once the narrative becomes split between the mother and son characters. The son's decision to abandon the family culminates in a twenty-page long sentence that was a gruelling experience. I suppose your enjoyment of that scene will depend entirely on how much you dig that type of writing. I, alas, was lost in the sauce. Ultimately, I had a bit of trouble coming to a conclusion about how I felt about Lost Children Archive. It definitely fits into the category of academic book that I appreciate intellectually, but failed to grab me on a consistent basis. Nonetheless, the sections of the book filled with heart and brought to life through Luiselli's sharp prose don't make it an entirely lifeless experience. It's also a bit of a tough book to recommend, but its one that makes me very excited to lift my personal embargo on reading reviews to see what the rest of you make of it. [3.5 Stars]

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sam

    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.

  29. 4 out of 5

    But_i_thought_

    Longlisted for the Booker Prize 2019, and one of my favourites on the list. 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 c Longlisted for the Booker Prize 2019, and one of my favourites on the list. 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, melancholic Rating: 9.5/10 Also on Instagram.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    3.5!.... mixed feelings .... Admire the authors purpose - Parts were very engaging - other parts very slow

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