Cover Image: Lost Children Archive

Lost Children Archive

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Member Reviews

In 2016, author Valeria Luiselli wrote the non-fiction work Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions. This book was written during her time as a translator for children who had crossed into the United States seeking asylum. The stories she heard from these children haunted her. She hears unspeakable horrors and experiences.. It isn't some dark prophecy, but something going on right now. She only hears one aspect of the story. She doesn't get to find out what happens next or how it ends (except for only a few). It seems that Lost Children Archive was what grew out of this book. 

A young newly married couple, each with their own child, travel from New York to Arizona to record sounds for a documentary. The husband wants to study the Apache for a project. The main narrator, unnamed, wants to go to help a family she heard about on the radio. Children caught crossing the border and she hopes she can find them for someone she knows. The long journey places a strain on the family as the loose bonds that connected them unravel. Along the way are deep introspective thoughts on being lost, children on their own, and an invented book by Luiselli, Elegies for Lost Children. The narrative is thick with metaphors and allusions. It isn't until into the book does the story connect with itself and the fear of losing children sets in. Both the parents who have lost their children and how frightening it is for the children knowing they are about to die. 

I love what she does with this story. She can pull the reader in close and closer until her worry about the children become your worry. When the narration slips to her son, things could go in any direction which creates another level of crisis. At times, however, the metaphor seems strange. Is she trying to raise awareness or exploit the situation? Perhaps that is another reason the narration changes to her son. Her own perspective becomes judged by her son. The story ends there. 

My favorite part is when the five-year-old girl repeats a commonly used swear word of her father, Jesus Fucking Christ. When they stop at the Elvis Hotel, Elvis's picture is on the wall like a shrine. She looks up and asks if that is Jesus Fucking Christ. 

It's a story of lost innocence not just for children, but for all of us.
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A powerful story for these times. Highly recommend reading Luiselli's nonfiction book TELL ME HOW IT ENDS: AN ESSAY IN 40 QUESTIONS for context before diving into this fact-based novel.
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Valeria Luiselli is a gifted writer, and I was surprised at how much I liked the early part of the novel--characters with no names, musing a lot, headed somewhere that is not where their map goes--these don't usually grab me, but I was taken along on this road trip with this uncomfortable couple. When Luiselli switched the narrator, that's when I veered off. the track. Might I go back and pick up where I left off? Maybe. Maybe not.

3.5 stars.
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I quite love this brilliant, literary exploration of loss and discovery which showcases many dimensions of story and memory. For readers who love flow-of-consciousness literary style and themes of migration, displacement, cultural endurance. Luiselli embeds many strands of fable and history into a blended family's road trip across contemporary America. We discover echoes of other such journeys both past and present. Luiselli's incredibly poetic love of language shimmers on each page. Other themes include marriage & family, sibling bonds, border crossing, finding/losing the self, childhood journeys.
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This book is stunningly beautiful. Luiselli wields words like a surgeon -- her sentences are equally elegant and true-to-life. I loved every bit.
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