Lost Children Archive

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 31 Aug 2019

Member Reviews

My thanks to HarperCollins U.K./4th Estate for an eARC via NetGalley of Valeria Luiselli’s ‘Lost Children Archive’ in exchange for an honest review. 

It was published in hardback/ebook/audiobook in February 2019 and long-listed for both the 2019 Women’s Prize and the Booker Prize. It will be published in paperback in February 2020. My apologies for the late review.

In the ‘Lost Children Archive’ Valeria Luiselli focuses upon the humanitarian crisis on the USA’s Southern border with Mexico and the enforced separation and detention of children.

This is her first novel in English and previous to this in 2017 she wrote ‘Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions’, which drew on her experiences as an interpreter for Central American child migrants. It is clear that the ‘Lost Children Archive’ is directly informed by this work. 

It has two narrative streams. The first involves a woman and her husband, who live in New York and are respectively a documentarian and documentarist. They each have a child from a previous relationship: boy, who is ten, and girl, who is five. They are to undertake a journey across country to Arizona while working on their current projects. There is an understanding that after this the husband and his son will remain in Arizona and the wife and her daughter will return to New York. 

Halfway through the narrator changes from the mother to her stepson. He is mainly addressing his sister, who during a storytelling session about the Apache has taken the war name of Memphis while he took the name Swift Feather. He is planning for them to run away from their parents.

The second records the journey of seven children from Central America across Mexico by train as they seek to cross the Mexico-US border. We only know them by their titles: girl one, boy three etc.

As Anna Burns did in ‘Milkman’ having the characters known by their titles makes them both anonymous and Everyman/woman/boy/girl.

 ‘Lost Children Archive’ is a powerful literary work that is both accessible and challenging. Interwoven into the narrative are fragments of stories, clippings, lists, transcripts, and photographs. 

It isn’t easy to review as the narrative structure is unusual and piecemeal but I found that the underlying plight of the migrant children and the author’s outrage and passion carried the novel.

3.5 stars rounded up to 4.
Was this review helpful?
This is not a straight forward story to read, the description says this is the story of a family crossing the USA on a road trip towards Mexico and migrant child heading from Mexico to the USA - it is much more than that. 

The story is told in the beginning by the mother of the family, and details how two families become one and then is sadly moving to becoming two again by the end of the road trip, the last part is told by the son of the father and his thoughts & views on the family and its inevitable break up. These stories are inter woven with that of 7 migrant children trying to cross the border into the USA. The last part of the story where the son is trying to put together memories so his sister will remember him when their family is no longer together is very touching and as a reader your heart does reach out to him.

This story and style of writing may not be to everyone's taste but it is an interesting read.
Was this review helpful?
I received an ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to NetGalley, Harper Collins, and the author Valeria Luiselli. 
I am little conflicted about this book. It was devastatingly sad and heartbreaking at times, and portrayed a really endearing relationship between a young brother and sister. 
However, it moved very slowly and I struggled to get through a considerable amount of it. 
An unusual read, which will divide opinion. 3 stars.
Was this review helpful?
‘Lost Children Archive’ first came to my attention when it was long-listed for the Women’s Prize for Fiction earlier this year.  Its title is more true than you might expect – far more an archive than a traditional novel, it is made up of photos, quotations, disjointed texts and lots and lots of lists.  In place of chapters it is arranged in ‘boxes,’ literally the boxes taken by a documentarist and a documentarian (you’ll have to read the book to learn the difference) on an American road trip with a difference.  Rather than focusing on the boundless glory of the USA, Luiselli is concerned with migrant children from across the boarder.  ‘Lost Children Archive’ is an exploration of their fate and a commentary on the impossibility of fully narrating it.  Personally, I found the fact-based engagements with the children’s plight more engaging than the post-Modern playfulness of the structure, but the book as a whole is a valuable example of English-language fiction focusing on this topic.
Was this review helpful?
This was a deceptively complex novel weaving together many strands of story and styles of writing. I confess to admiring this more than liking it but it was compelling and I always wanted to know what happened next.
Was this review helpful?
Lost Children Archive is an extraordinary novel of frustration, anger and sadness.  It comes after Luiselli’s  2017 non-fiction book on immigration, “Tell me How It Ends” which is based on her work as a volunteer interpreter and talks about this immigration crisis.  The Lost Children Archive is labelled as a novel but it is a book that takes many forms. It is a road trip across America of a family that is slowly disintegrates. At the same time it is the story of the journey of seven children from Central America aboard a train travelling to the U.S.–Mexico border and into hell. The children are the heroes of the story but they are also the victims of a brutal, inhuman system.  

The Lost Children Archive is also an archive, a record of our times. Luiselli documents the political violence in the U.S. but she does not try to convince us about any particular political viewpoints, she rather explores the questions behind certain viewpoints and the ethics around documenting political crises and people’s suffering. In Lost Children Archive the shape of the story is the story.
Was this review helpful?
I find it so hard to review books that I very much admired but didn’t really love. This is a very ambitious book that mixes media and relies heavily on intertextuality to create a story that is (and isn’t) focused on displacement, migration and voicelessness. I know that ‘timely’ is a bit of a book marketing buzz word but it’s a very accurate summary of a book framed by the current migration crisis in the USA.

A mother, father and their two children undergo a journey from New York to Arizona, understanding that their end destination will also mark the end of their cobbled together family unit. Overlaying this main narrative are the tales of ‘lost’ Apache tribes (one of the main critiques of the book appears to be the treatment of Native American voices as ‘lost’) and of children crossing the border from Central and Southern America seeking reunion with family or simply a better life.

There is a lot to admire here and it’s certainly very intelligently written but, for me personally, the abstract nature of the story got a little in the way of the overall impact. There were moments when I felt the full force of her brilliance but also moments that just fell a little bit flat and overall, it felt like a little bit of a chore to muddle through (I suppose a little like the monotony of a very long, motel littered road trip). Regardless, still very glad I read it and think that it’s inclusion on the Man Booker long-list is well deserved.
Was this review helpful?
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.
Was this review helpful?
I really love this book and I'm glad it's Booker listed now after it's been listed for Women's Prize as well. It has an unusual narrative style first part being told from a woman's perspective going on a road trip with her husband and toddler. The second part is from a child's perspective. 
The book covers many subjects from her marriage, relationship to the immigration problem and brutality of the Mexican flow to the US. 
I think it's an important and very good book. I would certainly recommend and will definitely follow Luiselli for her future works,
Thanks a lot to publisher and NetGalley for this copy in exchange for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
I’d never heard of Valeria Luiselli and had requested to read her book as it had been longlisted for this year’s Booker Prize. It was a little slow to begin and I was expecting the content to be political since the central focus appeared to be ‘Ma’ and her involvement in documenting the deportation and disappearance of ‘illegal’ minors and her personal involvement with a case of a friend’s daughters. Having decided to take the family on a working road trip from New York to Arizona, the children, introduced to us as ‘the boy’ and ‘the girl’, and ten and five years old respectively, become enthralled with their father’s histrionics of Native American war legends. The family give each other names akin to those given to the war legends, the boy, ‘Swift Feather’, his 5-year old sister, Memphis’. Unbeknownst to their parents, Swift Feather runs away with Memphis to prove his prowess in finding the ’lost children’ his mother so desperately wants to find and very soon find themselves lost in the desert. Cleverly, the title of the novel refers to the journey and disappearance of both the children who’re illegally entering the country and the children who’ve set out in search of them. As the title suggests, the book is presented as an archive of journeys complete with maps and photos at once making the characters and events recognisable. Reading this book was a roller coaster of emotions - the abuse and humiliation endured by the children seeking refuge in a foreign environment and their parents’ desperation for their children’s survival and set against these enforced hardships is the harmonic beauty of nature and it’s sacred unfolding of knowledge through listening and observing. Absolutely wonderful read! It’s no wonder it’s on the long list! I’m itching to read more of her works.
Was this review helpful?
This is an important book and one I think everyone should read through the use of fiction it really brings home the realities of life for child refugees. The real genius in the book lies in the way the author puts 2 American children into a similar situation - lost in the desert with no adults, no food and no water - everyone involved in the search for these children is pulling out all the stops to make sure they are found alive, whereas the reality for refugee children is no-one is looking and their deaths actually make life easier in terms of processing, housing and deportation.

Any parent who reads this must have a heart of stone if they don't feel compassion, fear and a desperate need to rescue the refugee children from their terrible journeys. Simply looking at these children as statistics and saying they should be sent back to where they came from is not good enough - each number is a person, each person a family and each family worthy of a better life.

I loved the narrative style the blending of language, of other fictional works, of the oral story telling tradition, the use of photos and documents to capture time and place and the distinct voices of the characters especially the Girl.

There are so many great quotes in this book that I have to share just a few:

"It's never clear what turns a space into a home, and a life-project into a life."

"Our mothers teach us to speak, and the world teaches us to shut up."

"I look for possible answers to give her. I suppose that someone who is fleeing is still not a refugee. 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."

"Adults pose for eternity; children for the instant."

"But after a little while, they'd be more worried than mad. Ma would start thinking of us the way she thought of them, the lost children. All the time and with all her heart. And Pa would focus on finding our echoes, instead of all the other echoes he was chasing."
Was this review helpful?
The Lost Children Archive is not quite what the blurb would lead you to expect. 

I had imagined a road novel featuring twin road trips - a middle class family heading south to the Mexican border and refugee children heading north away from the border. I imagined a compare and contrast with the two narratives intersecting. 

But this was not what I got. Instead there was a single narrative of the middle class family, narrating mostly through philosophy and editorial. This might have worked in an essay but it doesn't make a novel., The plot is an afterthought - there are built in quirks like boxes full of books (which turns out to be a bibliography of texts used to inform the Lost Children Archive), various polaroid photographs, and excerpts from a text on migrants. The father is chasing the ghosts of Geronimo and the Apaches, the mother is trying to sound record the plight of unseen illegal migrants. The children - boy and girl - mostly provide a useful audience for the parents' narration. 

There are occasional glimpses of life along the way - rednecks running grocery stores and filling stations, motels and railway lines - but mostly it is page after page of political observation. 

Oh, and the parents are going to separate and the kids run away. Not sure why - you'd think the huge volume of words might have found space for this kind of explanation.
Was this review helpful?
The first part of the book, narrated by an unnamed woman, on a road trip from New York to Arizona with her husband and two children, was absolutely brilliant. Intelligent ruminations on marraige, art, city life and immigration, sprinkled with dry humor. The second half of the book, mainly narrated by one of the children (a ten year old boy) didnt work quite as well for me.
Was this review helpful?
Extraordinary and moving volume .. voices tell is tbe story of a family b over tune,  but a child's decision to pick up where he thinks his parents trail can lead him.  His mother's involvement with a mother whose children were lost in their migration from south to Arizona,  gives her own children ideas.  In an historical voice,  more moving for being  individually and unique  her children join the 'lost children' , daughters of the mother their mother tried to help.  Each voice picks up bff the story,  and CD records memories and artifacts and places.  The inevitable losing the way occurs,  and despite the love of the the children, the parents cannot stay together.  Very moving,  smart! Compelling.
Was this review helpful?
I’m probably in the minority when I say this but sadly I didn’t really enjoy this book, I just couldn’t really get into it. I’d leave it and try again and still I struggled. For me the story didn’t have enough depth. 
Thank you to both NetGalley and the publishers for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for honest unbiased review
Was this review helpful?
I won't be finishing this book. I have tried to read it for months now. And even though I am really trying to read the complete Women's Prize Longlist this year, I cannot force myself to keep reading. It is not a bad book but it does not work for me in my current reading mood.
Was this review helpful?
The story of the lost children, all the lost children, those emigrating and pursuing a new life across the desert-lands of central America and the Chiricahua mountains.

Told in two distinct styles – the Elegies of the Lost Children, a narrative which joins seven children on their arduous trek; and consecutively through the documenting activities of a family travelling along the same route – boy, girl, father and mother.

I found this book rather hard (not least because of the lack of identity given to the family – but I suppose this echoes the generic characters of the lost children), although it was poetic, beautiful, sad and eerie in equal measure.
Was this review helpful?
A typical patchwork family: mother with daughter and father with son form a new unit after the parents got to know each other through work. For a new professional project of the father, they leave New York and their cosy home for the southern states close to the Mexican border. A very unique road trip of a family which is educating for their young children, but also brings them closer to the hot political topic: thousands of children are on their way to the border to come to the USA. As the family gets closer, the radio news become more and more a part of their life, too.

Valeria Luiselli’s novel was nominated on the long list for the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction and you can quickly understand why it definitely earned a place there: the author masterly combines fact and fiction, mixes different types of materials to for something new and she has an outstanding capacity of using language. 

There is so much one could say about the novel which makes it difficult to make a selection for a short review. The largest part is narrated from the mother’s point of view, a character who is highly poetic in describing especially her family relationships and who thoroughly analyses not only how the dynamics within the family shift but also how they interact with the outside world. I also liked this idea of having boxes in which each of the characters collects things with a certain meaning for them. Then, you have the American history – the past with the stories of the Native Americans which is contrasted with the present and its train of children moving towards the country. 

The characters are not given any names, they are just mother and father, son and daughter. They could be anybody. They are you and me confronted with the real world and forced to understand that we live in a kind of multi-layered reality in which you repeatedly have to adjust yourself and your opinion depending on your current point of view and knowledge and experiences. The novel does not provide definitive answers, but it provides you with masses of questions to ponder about.
Was this review helpful?
Lyrical and beautiful on the whole, an almost nothing story at times but very satisfying as a work, I enjoyed this writing style a lot.
Was this review helpful?
I have seen SO MANY glowing 4 and 5 star reviews for this book... well either those people are much more patient (willing to be bored) than I am, into literary writing that is writing in a way specifically designed to be  prize worthy (over complicated, detached and lacking in the  basic concepts of a story) or they are just as confused as I am and willing to lie about it because they were confused by this book and don't want to admit it because of the hype and the prize nominations.

A prize nomination is not the be all and end all of a book being good. I am more disillusioned with them with every year that passes (mainly the ManBooker) as they often value literary, and what I would consider exclusive, literature over an hones to goodness story that makes you FEEL something. This could have been that, but the heart of this book is stripped away by the way it is written, the strange determination never to name characters as though it's The Road even though that makes no sense in this narrative, the ridiculous way that one sentence takes an entire chapter and the fact that half way through the narrative shifts and you get the exact same plot points told in the exact same ridiculous (completely over stylised) way which made me realise the author made no effort to give the characters different voices at all.

This book wasn't readable in any enjoyable way. I'm sure it would be interesting as a text to study, but for me, for the first time, I feel strongly let down by the Women's Prize longlist.
Was this review helpful?