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385 pages, Hardcover
First published February 12, 2019
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 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.
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
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.
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
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 guess we—or perhaps just I—had made the very common mistake of thinking that marriage was a mode of absolute commonality and a breaking down of all boundaries, instead of understanding it simply as a pact between two people willing to be the guardians of each other’s solitude.
Collecting is a form of fruitful procrastination, of inactivity pregnant with possibility.
The sound of everything and everyone that once surrounded us, the noise we contributed, and the silence we leave behind.
A match struck alight in a dark hallway, the lit tip of a cigarette smoked in bed at midnight, embers in a dying chimney: none of these things has enough light of its own to reveal anything. Neither do anyone’s words. But sometimes a little light can make you aware of the dark, unknown space that surrounds it, of the enormous ignorance that envelops everything we think we know. And that recognition and coming to terms with darkness is more valuable than all the factual knowledge we may ever accumulate.
"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."