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Lost Children Archive: A novel by Valeria…

Lost Children Archive: A novel

by Valeria Luiselli

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1236144,403 (3.9)24



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Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
What a very unique and intelligent story! This one isn't going to work for everyone, but it did finally capture my attention and hold it. It begins as a bit of an obtuse read with a sometimes flat plot and main characters.
The author slowly develops the characters of the mother and children, but never really reveals much about the father. This creates a bit of odd tension that I wasn't entirely fond of early on, but Ms. Luiselli continued to draw me in by moving the voice of the narrator to the young boy. This was where I felt the story really matured. The children were ultimately the main characters in this story and where the hidden beauty of the story comes to life.
This wasn't exactly an entertaining story, almost seeming to be scientific early on with the descriptions of the recording vocations and purposes, yet I began to see some logic in the storytelling, and inevitably became mesmerized by the modeling that the children copied and used to such industrious effect. ( )
  c.archer | Mar 17, 2019 |
Quite a unique novel. It is the journalized story of a free spirited family traveling cross country to document the story of lost children taken from their parents at the Mexican border. The parents and their two children spend their time documenting their journey as well as the unraveling of their marriage and the losing and finding of their own children. Fascinating format and story. ( )
  hemlokgang | Mar 12, 2019 |
Lost Children Archive, Valeria Luiselli, author; Valeria Luiselli, Kivlighan de Montebello, William DeMeritt & Maia Enrigue Luiselli, narrators
I have reached the particular age of reason that gives me the right to decide not to finish a book if it contains foul language, explicit sex, or a political agenda. This book satisfied two of the three reasons to give it up. After listening to a bit more than one third of the book, I felt I had heard enough to know what the author’s message would ultimately be. I did enjoy the writing, as I felt there were moments of brilliance in the presentation, with metaphors that painted unusual scenes in my mind, but also there was the unnecessary use of crude language. The use of the “f” word to indicate lovemaking and messing things up, was unnecessary and the novel would have been better served had it been elevated with a better choice of language. The writing style intrigued me, however, with short chapters, titled imaginatively to make this reader wonder about the intended meanings.
The narrators do an excellent job of reading the novel, not interfering with it, but rather enhancing it with a matter of fact tone in the presentation that contains just the right amount of emotion and just the right amount of distance. However, the story becomes embroiled with too much detail and too much political innuendo as the family progresses in their trip across the country.
The novel’s message feels like part travelogue, part parenting instruction booklet, part marriage counseling, and part left wing agenda. It definitely appeals to the emotional, virtue signaling side of the reader, contrasting it with those readers who can’t sympathize with the plight of the innocent who are hurt in the process. They are made to feel pretty hard hearted. The plight of the undocumented children and their undocumented parents is front and center. Apparently, once someone enters the country illegally and manages to hide successfully for a lengthy period of time, it is acceptable, to some, for them to then bring in their children illegally and to object if they are caught in the process. Then the abusive and cruel treatment of the Native American Indian is also illustrated in the novel. The wife and mother is handling one side of the problems and the husband and father of the two children in this family, handling the other. Their identity, ethnicity and true background was not revealed to me.
Although the couple met at work, both having one child of their own, they soon formed a blended family that they thought worked quite well until they became embroiled in their own personal research projects which threatened to divide them for either a lengthy period of time or possibly, even, forever. Although they both met working on a project concerning the study of sound and both were interested in different sides of the sound spectrum, their studies now were leading them to more amorphous sound studies with the mama, studying the sound of the lost children’s voices and the papa studying the echoes of the phantom sounds of the Native Americans, specifically the Apaches.
The book had the potential to be great, if it had kept to the subject and not gotten caught up in so much detail used to denigrate the American countryside and the American treatment of people they didn’t consider to be “white eyes”. The message imparted by the book could have remained non partisan had it stuck to the plight of the children and the history of the Native American, but in the drive across country, the lessons they taught to their children tended to be very partisan and often “fake news” in nature. Their own failures in their relationship, and the secrets they kept from each other, colored their interpretation of events.
I would recommend this book to someone with a bit more time and patience than I have for the topic in the way it was being developed. The two sides of the coin being studied would have been far more interesting to me without so much extraneous information. It contained a great deal of truth about public opinion concerning the immigration problem and ICE. I was more interested in learning about that, rather than the tangential issues covered within the novel.
The author, an immigrant herself, worked in the field of undocumented immigration and so the information she brings to the table should be irrefutable, as it comes from a place of actual experience. Imbuing the story with fantasy and foul terms diminished the overall quality and message imparted.
No character had a name, except for Manuela, an illegal whose children were being held in a detainment camp. No character endeared themselves to me, not even the children who seemed one-dimensional and as smug as the parents who were alternately too wise or too ignorant. On the one hand they seemed imbued with knowledge and on the other with immaturity, naïveté and inexperience. This was presented in contrast to the lives they had already lived.
From what I read, the book was a study in opposites. They were smart or not, they told the truth or not, they kept secrets or not, they were happy or not, they were making a life together or not, they were going forward or not, they were in love or not, etc. The ground kept shifting.
The book felt well researched as names of famous authors, composers and song writers were dropped into the narrative with bits and pieces of really interesting information that I did sometimes question in terms of its veracity. I wondered, from what I read, is it really worthwhile to provide money for grants to study the sounds of conversation, languages, etc., over the study of scientific causes and cures for disease? Should not money be allocated for more realistic research?
The book also made me wonder about the way we tell a story about history. Are we rewriting it in the telling of it with our own interpretation? So if sounds are different to everyone, is information also imparted differently to each learner?
Overall, I felt the book was exploiting my emotional reactions to the facts, rather than presenting the facts for me to ponder. The children cross into the country from Mexico facing danger and then hope to be captured and provided with sanctuary. Am I expected to agree with this behavior? Are children being brainwashed to sympathize with this illegal immigration policy simply because of the danger they face. Are we?
The book swings from an intellectual presentation to a crass one, from factual to fantasy, from high brow to low, intentionally. Is the message that the problems we face are fluid, fungible, depending on the time and place and circumstances?
Are we being instructed to listen, even to the sounds of silence, as we read, to the sounds of the world around us, the noise, the quiet, the echoes, the murmurs, the whispers, the shouts?
Mama, is relating her experiences and she interprets all of the reactions and relates to all of the conversations. She is in charge. She knows the answer to that question. Perhaps, when I am more inclined, I will try and read it again. It has potential. It isn’t that I didn’t like it, it is rather that it wasn’t written in a way my mind would appreciate, at the moment. ( )
  thewanderingjew | Mar 5, 2019 |
A family — a man and a woman, both documentarians working with sound (“We accumulated hours of tape of people speaking, telling stories, pausing, telling lies, praying, hesitating, confessing, breathing.”), and a boy, ten, and a girl, five — leave their New York apartment on a cross-country road trip. The man is heading for a new project about the last Apaches; the woman, who has been translating for a friend whose two children have crossed the Southern border on foot and have been detained by the Border Patrol, planning to make a documentary about the deportation of children. As the family makes their way across the country, stress fractures in the marriage begin to fissure, the car radio delivers worsening news about lost children, and the life of this family becomes as transitory, as impermanent, as that of any migrant.

Lost Children Archive: A Novel is the newest work and third novel from Valeria Luiselli, who is perhaps most well known for her second novel, The Story of My Teeth, which was named a best book of 2015 by almost everyone and was nominated for the Book Critics Circle Award in Fiction. She is the winner of two Los Angeles Times Book Prizes and an American Book Award; has twice been nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Kirkus Prize; and named a National Book Foundation “5 Under 35” honoree. As befits this pedigree, Lost Children Archive is original, startling, and frequently lyrical; it is also confounding, meandering, and frequently oppressive.

The book begins with the woman’s first-person narrative. She, as well as the other family members, remain nameless throughout. She met her husband when neither of them was doing work of their first choosing; how does that impact who they are together when they return to first choices? The woman suspects this trip is going to end their time together as a family and her anxiety is palpable. Her insecurity about her future sets her emotionally adrift and we flounder with her. This is where the oppression comes in — we are trapped in her mind with her.

The woman and the children are deftly drawn; locked in her deteriorating mindset, we get to know her well, and the children’s dialogue and thought processes are spot-on. Every parent of a small child will register the truth of these scenes. The man remains a blank slate, unknowable to the woman and so to us.

Luiselli is brilliant, a rare talent, but I think she may’ve taken a step too far since she felt it necessary to include notes on sources and works cited in order to explain the unusual structure of the book and how those works (elegies that allude to Ezra Pound which is an “allusion” to the Odyssey) function as “intralinear markers” to other voices from the past. The reader should be able to grasp what an author has done without explanation. This left me frequently impressed but unengaged. During the road trip, the woman walks in on a book club meeting at a bookstore. She thinks that it sounds like a graduate seminar, not a book club, and she doesn’t understand what they’re saying. Well, yes.

Halfway through the book, as my attention began to wander, there’s a change in narrator as the boy relates the trip from his perspective and then takes over the story. This is just what was needed and yet is wholly unexpected. I was riveted for a time by the fresh voice. The boy’s narrative is an act of love and generosity.

Lost Children Archive is a beautiful physical specimen, its jacket rendered in desert colors, the pages decorated with the eerie Polaroid photographs taken by the boy during the road trip as he begins his own attempt at archiving. Luiselli revels in language and so do we. The children, crawling into bed, “puppying around” as they arrange themselves to sleep. She describes the boy’s first successful photograph as not being of the gas pump that is in the photo, but as a record of the time the boy figured out how to use the camera. You see?

Luiselli deals with important questions as the woman begins to doubt her work and the documentary form itself. What use a documentary if it produces no tangible effect? Is the act of witnessing, the fact of a witness, necessary if that witness is powerless? Do the lives of these children become media fodder, a form of entertainment? There but for the grace of God and all that.

I do not read beforehand about books I’m going to review; it’s been difficult ducking Lost Children Archive since it appeared on shelves in February. I did see the headline of Francisco Goldman’s piece on this novel for Lithub, calling Lost Children Archive “a novel for our time.” That may be so, for it leaves me restless and profoundly unsettled.

Originally published in Lone Star Literary Life. ( )
  TexasBookLover | Mar 3, 2019 |
"You were not even level A because you confused the letters b and d, and also the letters g and p, and when I showed you a book and asked you what do you see here on this page? you said, I don’t know, and when I said what do you at least imagine? you said that you pictured all the little letters jumping and splashing like all the kids in our neighborhood when they finally opened the swimming pool and let us swim there."

I read this online, in a Netgalley review copy for the phone and I think that might affect my review. The book circles ideas of archiving and recording, as a "blended" family makes a trip South to record for a documentary (her) and for one of those academic projects that is on the slightly bonkers end of the spectrum (him). Travelling with two small children, the first half is her narrating the journey alongside her increasing awareness that the relationship is over, and at their destination she will take her child and he will take his (always referred to as "The girl" and "The boy"). The journey is long, in parts dull, and sometimes scary (police asking for papers). Along the way Luiselli builds up a picture of the family, mum map reading, dad trying to interest the kids in stories of Native American histories as part of his work, and the (older) boy taking pictures with his new instant camera, whilst the five year old amusingly misunderstands much of what is going on.
The mother's research project is linked to the missing children travelling the rail lines from Mexico. The boy absorbs the story and makes a dramatic decision.

The book includes images, lists and many quotes: I suspect a beautiful print edition might have swayed me more towards a positive response. There are some lovely passages, sections that made me think, but I can't forgive it for a very long central section that made me want to give up! ( )
  charl08 | Jan 30, 2019 |
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