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Lost Children Archive

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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 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.

385 pages, Hardcover

First published February 12, 2019

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About the author

Valeria Luiselli

32 books2,075 followers
Valeria Luiselli was born in Mexico City in 1983 and grew up in South Africa. Her novels and essays have been translated into many languages and her work has appeared in publications including the New York Times, Granta, and McSweeney’s. Some of her recent projects include a ballet libretto for the choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, performed by the New York City Ballet in Lincoln Center in 2010; a pedestrian sound installation for the Serpentine Gallery in London; and a novella in installments for workers in a juice factory in Mexico. She lives in New York City.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,385 reviews
Profile Image for Meike.
1,512 reviews2,453 followers
May 20, 2021
Winner of the Dublin Literary Award 2021
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 (). 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.
Profile Image for Marchpane.
293 reviews2,128 followers
August 8, 2019
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.
Profile Image for julieta.
1,140 reviews19.4k followers
November 2, 2020
No sé por qué insisto en leer a Luiselli, aunque creo que cuando leí el ensayo Los niños perdidos, pensé que ahora sí iba a entender sus libros, porque en ese libro tiene una emotividad que en su ficción hasta ahora no he encontrado. Acá están también los niños perdidos, pero lo lleva a un lugar artístico, o algo así. Es exasperante. En definitiva no conecto con su manera de contar una historia, sigue poniendo distancia siempre, me parece más cerebral que emocional, y eso me acaba poniendo mal. Hubo partes que de plano me brinqué, en el momento en que hace ese cambio, que "el niño" (otra cosa que me desespera son los vuelcos que da para no usar nombres en los personajes, ahhh!) bueno, cuando el niño empieza a narrar, y toda la parte de los niños perdidos. Hacer algo artístico con algo tan duro, me pone mal. Igual me parece lindo que haya hecho una novela tan trabajada, es algo en su personalidad con lo que yo de plano no logro conectar.
En fin, si en el futuro vengo acá a decirles que voy a leer algo de Luiselli, por fa gente goodreads, no me dejen.
Profile Image for Hugh.
1,256 reviews49 followers
July 24, 2019
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.

I have only scratched the surface of this fascinating book here, but I see this book as a potential prize winner.
Profile Image for Fionnuala.
778 reviews
January 24, 2021
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 valleys of Mexico before having to carry themselves and their slender hopes across the deserts of New Mexico. 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'?
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,048 followers
June 19, 2019
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.
Profile Image for Rachel.
550 reviews877 followers
April 11, 2019
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.
Profile Image for Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer.
1,776 reviews1,255 followers
May 22, 2021
Finally rewarded for its brilliance as the winner of the 2021 International Dublin Literary Award having already won the 2020 Folio Prize but having been previously discarded at the shortlist stage for the Booker and Women's Prize.


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.


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


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
Profile Image for Katie.
268 reviews335 followers
October 10, 2019
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.
Profile Image for Julie Ehlers.
1,111 reviews1,397 followers
March 29, 2019
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.
Profile Image for Paul Fulcher.
Author 2 books1,206 followers
May 20, 2021
Winner of the 2021 Dublin International Literary Award

Whenever the boy and girl talk about child refugees, I realize now, they call them 'the lost children'. I suppose the word 'refugee' is more difficult to remember. And even if the term 'lost' is not precise, in our intimate family lexicon, the refugees become known to us as 'the lost children'. And in a way, I guess, they are lost children. They are children who have lost the right to childhood.
If they hadn’t gotten caught, they probably would have gone to live with family , gone to school , playgrounds, parks. But instead, they’ll be removed, relocated, erased, because there’s no place for them in this vast empty country.

In 2014, Valeria Luiselli, started writing a novel about the children seeking asylum in the US, and their treatment, and a road trip taken to the border arewith her then husband, novelist Alvaro Enrigue and their children / respective step-children. Enrigue himself was researching the history of Native American in the late 19th century at the end of the American Indian wars, which he later used as a basis for his novel Ahora me rindo y eso es todo.

Luiselli's first attempt to novelise her experience was, in her own account, overly polemical and didactic: ’using it as a vehicle for my own rage, stuffing it with everything from children’s testimonies to the history of American interventionism in central America ... it just wasn’t working’
So she instead documented her experiences and views in the non-fictional Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions, and then worked her experiences, including the gradual disintegration of her marriage which dated to the road-trip, into this beautiful novel: still political, but highly poetic as well. Because Lost Children Archive not only shines a literary light on its core topic matter, but is a lovely meditation on family relationships and communication within families, and a novel firmly embedded in literature, particularly that of Latin America – Pedro Paramo is a key text - but worldwide. This, like the non-fiction was written in English, after her previous novels were written in Spanish.

Given the timeliness of the topic matter, it is easy to see the novel as anti-Trump, and certainly Luiselli has said she is no fan. But it is sobering that the events documented all actually took place in the Obama era, and, while travelling through Arkansas, the narrator muses on Bill Clinton, and how he actually first started to 'build the wall'. As characteristic of the novel, Luiselli's narrator gives this fact a wonderfully literary spin:

Then there’s the slightly more comic than tragic death of the Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal, who did not die in Arkansas, but who was for some reason beloved by ex-president Bill Clinton, who lived in Little Rock when he served as Arkansas’s governor’ so there is that connection.
I once saw a photograph of a beer-red, chubby-grinned Bill hanging on the wall of a bar in central Prague. He did not look out of place there … He could have been the brother of the owner of the bar, or one of the regulars. Hard to think that the man in that picture, full of bonhomie, was the same man who laid the first brick in the wall dividing Mexico and the United States, and then pretended it never happened. In the photograph, he is shaking hands across the table with Hrabal, whose Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age Clinton might have read and liked.

I had read the book during that trip to Prague. I read it in a state of quiet awe, and underlined and memorized strange and simple lines that I still remember:
“the minute I saw you I could tell you were supersensitive”
“he was a whoreson”
“a composer…once tore a chandelier out of the ceiling in his grief”

More than his books, more than his harsh humor and Decameronian tableaux of human tragicomedy, more than anything, it is the story of Hrabal's own death that has haunted me, always. He died like this: recovering from bronchitis in a hospital room, while trying to feed the pigeons, he fell out of the window. But Hrabal does not live in Arkansas, so I don’t tell the family about him either.

The novel has a husband and wife making a road-trip from New York, across the US, to Apacheria with their children: The girl is my daughter and the boy is my husband’s son. I’m a biological mother to one, a stepmother to the other, and a de facto mother in general to both of them. My husband is a father and a stepfather, to each one respectively, but also just a father. The girl and boy are therefore: step-sister, son, stepdaughter, daughter, step-brother, sister, stepson, brother. And because hyphenations and petty nuances complicate the sentences of everyday grammar - the us, the them, the our, the your- as soon as we started living together, when the boy was almost six and the girl still a toddler, we adopted the much simpler ster possessive adjective our to refer to them two. They became: our children. And sometimes: the boy, the girl. Quickly, the two of them learned the rules of our private grammar, and adopted the generic nouns Mama and Papa, or sometimes simply Ma and Pa. And until now at least, our family lexicon defined the scope and limits of our shared world.

My husband and I met four years ago, recording a soundscape of New York City. We were part of a large team of people working for the Center for Oral History at Columbia University.

For here the (auto-)fictional husband and wife are not authors but sound archivists. But now with the New York project complete, they are working on their own different projects - the husband to document sounds relating to the lost Native American tribes (or rather sounds today from the spaces they occupied) and the wife those relating to the 'lost children' in the US immigration system. The separate projects cause them to drift apart - highlighting their professional differences (she more a journalist, him more an artist):

I suppose my husband and I simply hadn’t prepared for the second part of our togetherness, the part where we just lived the life we’d been making . Without a future professional project together, we began to drift apart in other ways. 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, as Rilke or some other equanimous, philosophical soul had long ago prescribed. But can anyone really prepare? Can anyone tackle effects before detecting causes?

When we were in better spirits, we were able to joke about our differences. We’d say that I was a documentarist and he was a documentarian, which meant that I was more like a chemist and he was more like a librarian.

They one (last?) road trip together, with their two children, which forms the narrative thread of the novel. Although the story is not told in a simple linear fashion and all the better for it. Luiselli's narrator uses a classroom lesson given to her young daughter to make a point about writing:

She asks me to make four squares for her’ two at the top, two at the bottom’ and instructs me to label them in this order:’ Character,’’Setting,’’Problem,’’Solution.’ When I finish labeling the four squares and ask what they’re for, she explains that at school, they taught her to tell stories this way. Bad literary education begins too early and continues for way too long.<

and in a line that could have come from BS Johnson's Alberto Angelo

Beginnings, middles, and ends are only a matter of hindsight. If we are forced to produce a story in retrospect, our narrative wraps itself selectively around the elements that seem relevant, bypassing all the others.

As with all of Luiselli's novel this one is very carefully constructed, drawing on multiple sources, and here she makes them explicit, having her characters carry archive boxes of source material. She looks through one of her husband's boxes:

I search inside my husband’s Box III, which at first glance seems like an all-male compendium of’ going a journey,’ conquering and colonizing: Heart of Darkness, The Cantos, The Waste Land, Lord of the Flies, On the Road, 2666, the Bible. Among these I find a small white book’ the galleys of a novel by Nathalie Leger called Untitled for Barbara Loden. It looks a little out of place there, squeezed and silent, so I take it out and head back to the room.

That compendium forms part of the chorus of voices that makes a novel, indeed the opening lines from another such book The Road form a literal chorus to the trip as the in-car audio player seems to default to this audiobook whenever switched on but I was particularly pleased by the reference to the English translation, by Natasha Lehrer and Cecile Menon of Leger’s novel. a book that also triggered the formation of the wonderful publisher Les Fugitives

I turn on my bedside lamp and stay up late, reading the novel by Nathalie Leger, underlining parts of sentences:
“violence, yes, but the acceptable face of violence, the kind of banal cruelty enacted within the family”
“the story of a woman who has lost something important but does not know exactly what”
“a woman on the run or in hiding, concealing her pain and her refusal, putting on an act in order to break free”

The novel also contains a wonderful passage on the effect of such passages in literature on the reader:

I do remember, though, that when I read Sontag for the first time, just like the first time I read Hannah Arendt, Emily Dickinson, and Pascal, I kept having those sudden, subtle, and possibly microchemical raptures’ little lights flickering deep inside the brain tissue’ that some people experience when they finally find words for a very simple and yet till then utterly unspeakable feeling. When someone else’s words enter your consciousness like that, they become small conceptual light-marks.

They’re not necessarily illuminatarette 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

And when she reveals to us her own archive box:

At the very top of the box, I placed a few books I’d read and thought could help me think about the whole project from a certain narrative distance: The Gates of Paradise, by Jerzy Andrzejewski; The Children’s Crusade, by Marcel Schwob; Belladonna, by Daša Drndić; Le goût de l’archive, by Arlette Farge; and a little red book I hadn’t yet read, called Elegies for Lost Children, by Ella Camposanto.

The foreword explains that Elegies for Lost Children was originally written in Italian by Ella Camposanto, and translated into English by Aretha Cleare. It is the only work by Camposanto (1928–2014), who probably wrote it over a span of several decades, and is loosely based on the historical Children’s Crusade, which involved tens of thousands of children who traveled alone across, and possibly beyond, Europe, and which took place in the year 1212 (though historians disagree about most of this crusade’s fundamental details.)

But this last book is actually a fictional construction of Luiselli's own which forms a lovely novel within a novel in the book, the author's name meaning cemetery in Italian, and perhaps also a nod to W G Sebald's Campo Santo. And as she explains in an extensive and illuminating afterword, the Elegies allude to various literary sources, including those from her husband's box:

The Elegies are composed by means of a series of allusions to literary works that are about voyages, journeying, migrating, etc. The allusions need not be evident. I’m not interested in intertextuality as an outward, performative gesture but as a method or procedure of composition.
The first elegies allude to Ezra Pound’s “Canto I,” which is itself an “allusion” to Homer’s Book XI of the Odyssey—his “Canto I” is a free translation from Latin, and not Greek, into English, following Anglo-Saxon accentual verse metrics, of Book XI of the Odyssey. Book XI of Homer’s Odyssey, as well as Pound’s “Canto I,” is about journeying/descending into the underworld. So, in the opening Elegies about the lost children, I reappropriate certain rhythmic cadences as well as imagery and lexicon from Homer/Pound, in order to establish an analogy between migrating and descending into the underworld. I repurpose and recombine words or wordpairings like “swart/night,” “heavy/weeping,” and “stretched/wretched”— all of which derive from lines in “Canto I.”

There are many such references, my favourite of all - as I've done exactly the same thing- when a child in the novel within a novel asks for a story, the author tells them perhaps the most famous piece of flash fiction in world literature: “El Dinosaurio” by Augusto Monterroso.

The narrator relays a fictional version of a real incident in Luiselli and Enrigue's trip. As they, Latin American in origin and hence appearance, get closer to the border they are increasingly themselves suspect, frequently asked for their passports by law authorities and called to account as to why they are in the area. On one occasion Enrigue / the narrator's husband claims they are they to research a spaghetti western, which draws a favourable response but further (albeit friendly) interrogation as to their inspiration:

My husband rummages in the back of his mind for names of directors of and actors in spaghetti Westerns. He is visibly struggling to win at least one point in credibility with our host. But he’s not managing too well, so I interrupt him: My favorite Western is Bela Tarr’s Satantango

And when their children, towards the novel's end, goes missing, she muses on how far one should allow children to stray: A friend of mine calls this’ the rescue distance’’ the constant equation operating in a parent’s mind, where time and distance are factored in to calculate whether it would be possible to save a child from danger. The friend of course Samanta Schweblin and a reference to her wonderful Distancia de rescate (oddly published in English under the title Fever Dream).

One issue that seems inevitably raised nowadays is cultural appropriation, something of which Luiselli's narrator is very conscious:

Constant concerns: Cultural appropriation, pissing all over someone else’s toilet seatstory, micromanaging identity politics, heavy-handedness, am I too angry, am I mentally colonized by Western-Saxon-white categories, what’s the correct use of personal pronouns, go light on the adjectives, and oh, who gives a fuck how very whimsical phrasal verbs are?

This is particularly relevant with the sections on Native Americans, rooted in historical tales rather than present reality. I was initially a little concerned with this, particularly given the salutary comments made in Tommy Orange's important There There/ But the best answer to those concerns is a suitable way to conclude my review – Tommy Orange’s own view on the book:

“Impossibly smart, full of beauty, heart and insight, Lost Children Archive is a novel about archiving all that we don’t want to lose. It is an ode to sound. Valeria Luiselli looks into the American present as welinto Native American history, and the many intersections between American and Mexican history that are and have always been there. This is a road trip novel that transcends the form, while also being the perfect American road trip novel for right now. Everyone should read this book.”
Profile Image for Radioread.
115 reviews106 followers
November 8, 2019
Bölümler boyunca mekanik bir beğeni duygusuyla okudum; sonra nasıl olduysa önce esridi, sonra zincirlerinden boşandı. Savruldum, kayboldum kitabın içinde. Luiselli'nin yapmak istediği tam olarak buydu, anladım. Son sayfaya şaşırmış, büyülenmiş, gözlerim dolu dolu vardım. Fazla açıp tadını kaçırmadan şunu da yazmalıyım: Amerikan ve Latin Amerikan edebiyatından belli başlı okumalar yaptıysanız, şiirle haşır neşirseniz ve ah, bir de anne babaysanız bir çığ gibi düşebilir bu ağıt size.

Çöl topraklarından bir çığ.
Profile Image for Sinem A..
449 reviews247 followers
March 29, 2020
Uzun süredir birlikte yolculuk yaptığım bu insanlara veda etme zamanı.
Her şey çok sıcak ve taze ve etkisi damağımdayken birşeyler söylemek istedim;
Uzun süre birlikte gezdiğim, birlikte dinlediğim, gördüğüm hissettiğim yani kahramanları ile birlikte bir yolculuğa çıktığım kitaplara veda etmem çok zor oluyor, etkilerini unutmak da.
Vedat Türkali'nin Bir Gün Tek Başına'sı, Tanizaki'nin Nazlı Kar'ı, Bolano'un Vahşi Hafiyeleri ve şimdi Luiselli'nin Kayıp Çocukları...
Bu ve bu tarz kitapları okurken mutlaka adı geçen şarkılar, yerlere ilişkin haritalar, fotoğraflar, kitaplar, şiirler hep eşlik eder okuma serüvenime.
Belki bu kitaptan fazlaca etkilenmemin soyut ve kişisel nedenleri olabilir ama ne olursa olsun harika bir edebi oyun ya da edebi yolculuk örneği.
Bir çok dokümandan, materyalden, eserden harika bir oyun yaratmış, bir sürü gönderme, bir sürü referans bir sürü şarkı vs. Bir çok malzemeyi edebiyata ekleyip harika bir oyun çıkarmış. Üstelik bunu yaparken samimiyetinden hiç bir şey kaybetmemiş.

Tabi çeviriden bahsetmemek haksızlık olur. Caanım Seda Ersavcı yine harika bir çeviriye kelimenin ilk anlamı ile "harika bir imza" atmış. Kitabı okurken fark ettiğim öyle yerlerde selam etmiş ki zaten fazlasıyla yürek burkan hikayenin bu halini katmerlemiş adeta .Ve yazarla öyle güzel bir birliktelikleri var ki okuyucuya daha da keyif veren heyecanlandıran. Bazı çevirmenler bazı yazarlarla anılır. Örneğin yakın zamanda kaybettiğimiz Kamuran Şipal... Kafka ya da Hesse'yi onsuz düşünemezdik bir dönem. Ersavcı da çevirdiği yazarlarla özdeşleşme yolunda genç kuşak ve çok çok umut vaat eden bir çevirmen. Kendisini bu çeviri sürecini anlattığı Edebiyat Evi etkinliklerinde de dinleme fırsatı bulduğum için ayrıca şanslıyım. Çünkü diğer bir taraftan okuma sürecime acaip güsel bir katkı sağladı bu deneyim. Hem çevirdiği güsel kitaplar hem de güsel çevirileri için tekrar teşekkür ederim.

Ve tabii Siren'e de ..Böyle güsel kitaplarla bizi buluşturdukları için.
Profile Image for Javier.
217 reviews128 followers
May 11, 2022
Una de las primeras veces que tuve que hablar en público alguien me explicó que nadie iba a retener lo que dijese —poco importaba que el mensaje fuese relevante o estuviese bien desarrollado—, pero que sí recordarían cómo se sintieron mientras me escuchaban; debía preocuparme menos por la exactitud de la información en mi PowerPoint y más por contar una historia.
Algo parecido debió pensar la escritora mexicana afincada en Estados Unidos Valeria Luiselli cuando decidió darle una nueva vuelta la tragedia de la inmigración ilegal infantil, un tema sobre el que ya había escrito anteriormente el ensayo Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions —ganador del American Book Award en 2017— a partir de su experiencia trabajando como interprete voluntaria en centros de detención para niños indocumentados en Nueva York.
Tell me How it Ends describe la experiencia de los menores recién llegados ilegalmente de México y otros países de Sudamérica a partir de las 40 preguntas en el formulario de inmigración que Luiselli les traducía, para después transcribir sus respuestas al inglés. El ensayo, que combina los aspectos administrativos y legales del proceso con el testimonio de los niños y las vivencias de la propia autora, trataba de concienciar a la sociedad americana del drama de estos menores al contrastar la idea del sueño americano que tenían al embarcarse en su viaje con la realidad que encontraban.

Si hay algo ante lo que es difícil permanecer indiferente es el sufrimiento de un niño, no digamos ya cuando uno tiene hijos y, automáticamente, comienza a imaginar que son ellos los que lo padecen. Sin embargo, hemos llegado a un punto en que ya ni eso nos impresiona, tal es la avalancha de información —mil historias compitiendo a diario a ver cuál es más terrible para poder alcanzar la primera página del periódico. El ensayo de Luiselli, por personal que fuera, no era suficiente para conmover a personas acostumbradas a cenar delante de la televisión contemplando las peores atrocidades sin perder el apetito, ni para que honrados ciudadanos se identificaran con la desgracia de los sin papeles. Hacía falta contar una historia: no hay nada mejor que la ficción para describir la realidad.

En Lost Children Archive la realidad es el penoso peregrinaje ilegal de miles de niños sudamericanos, a través de junglas y fronteras, sobre el techo de un vagón de mercancías o a pie por el desierto, en busca de una vida mejor en los Estados Unidos. La ficción es el viaje de una pareja de documentalistas, desde New York a Arizona, recopilando material sonoro para sus respectivos proyectos.
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.

Ambos se conocieron mientras trabajaban juntos en un ambicioso proyecto que trataba de documentar el paisaje sonoro de New York, con sus cientos de idiomas y jergas. Se casaron y formaron una pequeña familia con sus respectivos hijos de matrimonios anteriores —un niño de 10 años él, ella una niña más pequeña— quienes, aprovechando las vacaciones escolares, los acompañan en este largo trayecto.
El problema es que una vez finalizado el trabajo común sus carreras han empezado a divergir —a él le obsesiona el genocidio de los nativos americanos y quiere grabar los ecos de los desaparecidos apaches en Arizona; ella está interesada en el drama de los menores sin papeles que cruzan la frontera con México para acabar en centros de detención— y su matrimonio, que al principio de basaba en un interés compartido, va acusando el paso del tiempo y comienza a desintegrarse lentamente.
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.

Los cuatro parten en coche hacia el sur sin un plan claro, más allá de la certeza de que al llegar a sus destinos deberán separarse, probablemente para siempre. Durante el trayecto, tratando de retrasar el final de manera inconsciente, harán infinidad paradas en lugares que creen pueden aportar algo a sus respectivos proyectos. En el coche o en los moteles donde pernoctan, leen o escuchan audiolibros y noticias sobre la crisis migratoria en la frontera. Mientras tanto, como un juego de carretera más e imitando a sus padres, el niño comienza a documentar el viaje con la Polaroid que regalaron por su último cumpleaños; quiere que su hermana, todavía muy pequeña, pueda recordar cómo eran cuando formaban una familia.
Lost Children Archive – Valeria Luiselli

“Ficción” no significa necesariamente “novela” y Lost Children Archive, más que un ejemplo de esto último, es un inventario, una caja que, al igual que las que transportan en el maletero del coche, contiene distintos materiales —libros, fotos, recortes, historias y sonidos— que pueden combinarse para formar muchas historias diferentes. La historia narrada por Luiselli se compone de estas piezas, pero es solo una de las muchas que podrían contarse a partir de ellas. Ni siquiera está complete o cerrada; deja espacio al lector para crear su propia historia, aquella con la que se puede identificar mejor.
Collecting is a form of fruitful procrastination, of inactivity pregnant with possibility.

Además, la narración no es estática y los distintos elementos se recombinan con el paso del tiempo. A medida que la pareja avanza hacia el sur la narración se rompe en otras historias, en otras realidades; el paisaje cambia, el foco se desplaza hacia los niños. El otro viaje, el de los niños perdidos, empieza a cobrar protagonismo; primero en la radio, luego a través de uno de los libros que viajan en las cajas, Elegía para niños perdidos, de Ella Camposanto, un texto poético inventado por Luiselli que la madre lee al niño y que poco a poco va enredándose con la trama principal. Y como si los niños perdidos —los reales y los doblemente ficticios del libro de Elegía— llamasen a los propios hijos del matrimonio, estos últimos también se convierten en protagonistas.

A medida que ambas rutas convergen en la frontera, realidad y ficción se cruzan, se solapan, interaccionan la una con la otra ¿Hay diferencia, al fin y al cabo? En definitiva, no son más que voces, de vivos, de muertos, de personajes de ficción, qué más da. Es algo que ya sabíamos por Pedro Páramo , que también viaja en una de las cajas del maletero.
The sound of everything and everyone that once surrounded us, the noise we contributed, and the silence we leave behind.

A través de las múltiples voces en su libro, Luiselli presenta el drama de una forma indirecta, desde la perspectiva no de la víctima sino de alguien con quien el lector se puede identificar —el matrimonio, con sus problemas domésticos y laborales, su crisis sentimental, su preocupación por sus pequeños— envolviéndolo en una sutil pero densa red de referencias intertextuales (no siempre explícitas) que intensifican el vínculo con el lector.
Las voces en Lost Children Archive son aquellas que habitualmente no tienen la oportunidad de ser escuchadas. Luiselli no habla de los niños, deja que hablen ellos. No aparecen como víctimas pasivas de un drama (por supuesto que son víctimas de un sistema injusto y brutal, pero no son retratados como víctimas) sino como los grandes héroes épicos de hoy en día; su viaje, la última odisea de los tiempos modernos. El auténtico drama no es tanto el de los niños como el nuestro, con nuestra insensibilidad ante el drama ajeno.

Lost Children Archive no se lee como una obra de testimonio o periodística; es más bien una especie de road movie en cuyo trasfondo, como si quisiera pasar desapercibido, se desarrolla lo que, en realidad, es el tema principal. El típico road trip americano, siguiendo la ruta de este a oeste a través de la cual el país se inventó a sí mismo, es un viaje de descubrimiento. El relato de viajes predominante en la literatura latinoamericana suele ser, en cambio, una peregrinación, una huida, un descenso a los infiernos. Lost Children Archive combina ambos: el viaje iniciático hacia el sur de la familia protagonista y la terrible odisea hacia el norte (en busca de la libertad o, al menos, de la oportunidad, pero efectivamente encontrando el infierno de la frontera y el desierto) de los niños perdidos. Esa segunda historia está entrelazada con los grandes relatos de viaje y migración, desde Homero hasta Ezra Pound, pasando por el omnipresente Pedro Páramo o La carretera de McCarthy.
En realidad, todo el libro consiste en una combinación de opuestos, un equilibrio entre realidades que se excluyen: norte y sur, vida y muerte, recuerdo y olvido. Dos adultos, dos niños, dos viajes, dos libros, dos realidades convergen hacia su Comala particular, habitado por los fantasmas de las vidas que soñaron y no vivirán.
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.

Como decía al principio, los dramas infantiles son difíciles de digerir y Luiselli adopta una forma muy inteligente de ofrecérselo al lector, a través de una historia con la que se puede identificar y con personajes con los que le es fácil empatizar. De este modo, se asegura de dejar una huella más profunda de la que los fríos datos dejarían. Además del formato elegido, Luiselli está interesada en una forma de ficción que es consciente de sí misma y crítica consigo misma, y en mostrar no sólo el producto final sino el proceso creador: la forma de la historia es la historia. El resultado es uno de los textos más originales e interesantes que he leído en mucho tiempo, la historia de una familia viajando hacia el sur en busca de los niños perdidos, de los apaches exterminados, solo para descubrir que ellos, los cuatro, están perdidos también y que solo descubriendo que están perdidos pueden empezar a encontrarse a sí mismos.
Lost Children Archive – Valeria Luiselli

Como sucede con las fotos que toma el niño con su Polaroid (y esta es una idea que he tomado, sin permiso, de la extraordinaria reseña de Fionnuala ), que siempre salen sobreexpuestas bajo la cegadora luz del desierto, el drama de los niños perdidos es demasiado intenso para ser capturado en una simple imagen. En un momento dado el niño encuentra la solución; nada más salir de la cámara, esconde la instantánea entre las páginas de un libro para protegerla de la luz y que el proceso de revelado se complete correctamente. Lo mismo hace Luiselli, esconde la tragedia de estos menores que buscan la libertad entre las páginas de su libro (y de los otros libros, reales o ficticios, que aparecen a lo largo del texto) para que seamos capaces de percibir la imagen con claridad.
Profile Image for Jennifer Welsh.
228 reviews175 followers
May 9, 2023
This is a novel of a woman saying goodbye to her family. It is an archive of this goodbye, organized into small bites – the woman is a professional archivist, and it’s in her nature. Within this tight structure, as emotions ebb and flow, pain bubbles to the surface.

The family created was a foursome: a mother and a father, a boy and a girl. The girl was hers, the boy his, when work drew the couple together: both the mother and the father told an overlooked part of each story by focusing on the sounds of a life. I found this fascinating, and started listening harder to my days, started remembering the sounds of events.

The story is of a road trip across the US, after which the family will return to a life in pairs – one parent with one child. The road trip has a purpose and an end. The man wants to end up in Arizona to pursue a sound documentary on the lost tribes of The Apache. Throughout the road trip, we get to “hear” his stories of this community when he entertains the children. We witness how the children respond, the children who don’t yet know what’s coming. The very thing that drew their parents together is now pulling them apart.

The creative pull on these characters is more powerful than the need to preserve a family. Luiselli taps into the truth of that choice. The story, told from the POV of the woman, is not about whether she should stay or go: it’s about how painful it is to be pulled apart by a force greater than her will from the ones she loves. Add to that her work – to help children at the US-Mexican border reunite with their parents – and what’s highlighted are questions of privilege and choice, the damage done to children through separation, and the human ability to adapt no matter how much it hurts.

The last part of the book is told from the perspective of the young boy. He and his sister run away, get lost, and take a kind of road trip of their own, apart from their drifting parents. Here the book takes on a slightly different tone, perhaps a bit warmer to the mom’s archival cool.

Overall, the story asks, when two good parents make something good together, does that need to continue in its living form to matter, or can it, too, be archived and then held sacred?

Profile Image for Eric Anderson.
665 reviews3,234 followers
March 10, 2019
“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
Profile Image for Trudie.
526 reviews560 followers
May 13, 2019
* 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.
Profile Image for Hakan.
206 reviews158 followers
October 10, 2019
valeria luiselli'yi bu romanıyla günümüzün en iyi romancılarından biri olarak selamlayabiliriz. bunun için otorite olmaya gerek yok. bazı romanlar gücünü-değerini net olarak gösteriyor. bu roman böyle. okursunuz ve aynı konuda yazılmış yüzlerce roman daha okusanız kayıp çocuk arşivi'nin ayrı bir yerde duracağını görürsünüz.

kusursuzluk değil, söylenmemişi söylemek değil, çığır açmak değil. luiselli kayıp çocuk arşivi'nde hem mülteci çocuklar gibi bıçak sırtı bir meselenin hem de bu meseleyi romanlaştırmanın sınırlarını zorlayarak, risk alarak, kumar oynayarak özgün bir roman ortaya koyuyor.

türkçeye daha önce çevrilen iki romanından iyi anlatıcı olduğunu biliyoruz luiselli'nin. biçimde yaratıcı-yenilikçi, oyuncu...düşündürüyor, şaşırtıyor, okuma keyfini fazlasıyla veriyor ama dokunmuyordu -dişlerimin hikayesi'nde, dokunsa bile sarsmıyordu -kalabalıkta yüzler'de...kayıp çocuk arşivi'nde ise bir adanmışlık içinde neredeyse. meselesini derinleştiriyor, başka meselelerle ilişkilendiriyor, bazen güçlü bazen zayıf bağlarla benzerlikler kuruyor, zıtlıklar oluşturuyor, kurmacanın içine gerçeği dahil ediyor, gerçekliği eğip büküyor, referanslar veriyor, alıntılar yapıyor, anlatıcı değiştiriyor, bakış açısı değiştiriyor, tekrarlara girişiyor...müthiş bir çaba ve bu çabanın ardında göz yaşartan bir duyarlılık.

aslında daha kısa, daha derli toplu olsa, güçlü bağlarına-bağlantılarına yoğunlaşsa daha iyi olabilecek bir roman kayıp çocuk arşivi. ama luiselli zorlayarak başka bir yere taşımak istiyor sanki. her yerden sızmak istiyor okurun aklına ve kalbine. her yerden etkilemek, okuruna dokunmak istiyor. anlatmak, anlatmak, anlatarak hayatı yakalamak istiyor. çocuksu bir istek bu belki çocukların merkezinde olduğu bir romanda. luiselli'nin hayatından, çocukuğundan belki. bilemiyorum. bildiğim, kayıp çocuk arşivi gerçekten başka.
Profile Image for Marc.
3,068 reviews1,087 followers
May 2, 2021
By far the best book I've read so far, this year. But also difficult to put a label on. It surely is an evocative work on the horrible migration problem in the south of the United States, especially with the influx of minors from Mexico. At the same time, it is a travelogue, a classic road novel, with a man and a wife, their children in the backseat, driving from New York to the Southwest, including the shabby motels. And regularly it contains stories on the expulsion and partial extermination of Apache Indians in the Southwest of America, at the end of the 19th century. Finally, it is a philosophical-reflexive book about a marriage in crisis, about the interaction between parents and children, about how children have a different take on the world, and about the ambiguous relation between past, present and future. So that's quite an impressive package.

The ingenuity of Luiselli's writing process is that for each of these themes she mixes narrative genres: internal monologues, dialogues, lists of the contents of their suitcases, reflexive passages and purely descriptive scenes. A very important input is given by excerpts they read from a fictional novel about migrant children being smuggled across the border, 'Elegies of the Lost Children'. The narrative voice is mainly that of the mother, which gives the impression that this is an autobiographical book (like the woman, Luiselli is of Mexican descent).

There are two connecting themes. In the first place, there's the issue of the 'Lost Children', which concerns both migrant children crossing the American border through the desert or riding above train wagons, the children in the backseat of the car (a boy of 10 and a girl of 5), the parents themselves, and by extension also people who seem lost in their own lives. The second theme is that of registering, describing and mapping reality, summarized in the notion of 'documenting'; it is a clever find by Luiselli that her two main characters (the father and the mother) are sound scape artists, constantly recording all kinds of sounds, the father passively (he’s called a documentarist), the mother more intrusive-probing (documentarian). Again, the author constantly mixes up these different approaches and themes. This gives this book a clear postmodern feel, evoking the constantly shifting, elusive character of reality, only to capture in narrating: “the only thing to do is tell it over and over again as it develops, bifurcates, knots around itself.”

The thoughtful narrative tone, the different layers, the constantly changing form and ultimately also the change of perspective, impose a slow reading pace. Occasionally, Luiselli seems a bit repetitive, or engages in musings that get stuck, but isn't that inherent to the way we all reflect? Formally, the penultimate chapter in particular is a masterful piece of prose, with just one sentence over 26 pages, in the style of Joyce and Woolf. In it, the story of the couple's son and daughter magically entangles with the story of the migrant children from the 'Elegies' novel.

I suspect that I have by no means fathomed all layers of this rich and multiform book, which certainly asks for a rereading. What also really appealed to me is how Luiselli clearly settles scores with a number of 'cult' road novels, such as Kerouac's On the Road, and more implicitly also with Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values. And at the same time the book evoked memories of the reflexive style of Siri Hustvedt and Rebecca Solnit, just to illustrate on what level Luiselli plays. With ‘Lost Children Archive’ she indisputably has written one of the most remarkable novels of the early 21st century.
Profile Image for Neale .
292 reviews132 followers
March 16, 2019


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.
Profile Image for Lisa.
1,466 reviews564 followers
December 6, 2019
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.
Profile Image for Peter Boyle.
489 reviews596 followers
August 5, 2019
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.
Profile Image for Perry.
632 reviews516 followers
February 16, 2019
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.
Profile Image for Barry Pierce.
559 reviews7,420 followers
October 9, 2019
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.
Profile Image for Katia N.
585 reviews659 followers
May 20, 2021
It is a beautiful novel.

It is not about so-called immigration crisis though there is a big shadow of it in the novel. For those who want to know the shocking facts of the crisis it is better to start with her brilliant essay Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questionsand The Line Becomes A River: Dispatches from the Borderthe book by Cantu. It is not a road trip novel, at least not in the the usual sense - you would not see a lot of other people and landscape changes though you would see some. You would not spend a lot of time witnessing the struggle of the human beings with the elements either though there is a little bit of that.

It is rather a sparse and meandering space of reflection how a particular family ends. What is the place or art and its creation in the modern life. How something which was remote yesterday suddenly becomes very close, scary and urgent. How the relationship between the grown-ups affects children. How the politics cannot be disentangled from the personal, even if we would keep pretending it can. And how our children perceive the world through our eyes, but equally are trying to make sense out of it and act totally independently.

It is the novel which ask powerful questions without an attempt to answer them categorically. (In his essay The Blind Spot: An Essay on the Novel, Javier Cercas calls this “a blind spot” of a novel and suggests it is an imperative for its long lasting impact.) And if this novel is a journey, it is more of a journey through reading books and thinking about them. All main characters - Mother, Father, the Boy (10) and the Girl (5) are the readers and story-tellers as well.

Being a Mexican and a native Spanish speaker, Luiselly has written the book in English but with the deep roots in a certain Latin American literary tradition where the act of reading by the characters, mentioning other books and their impact is a very natural process and integral part of the narrative. And this intertextuality does not feel artificial at all. In many cases, it is more important than actions and the plot. In my limited observation, this way of writing fiction is very different from the mainstream English language plot driven literature. A book about writers are frowned upon as pretensions and boring. Mentioning the other works are considered “name dropping”. It is a pity. But i think, it has begun to change with the penetration of other influences into English-language literary landscape through the works in translation and the writers like Luiselli who start writing in English.

The one of the most beautiful passages in the book is devoted to the moment when the Wife is reading Sontag. It has been quoted everywhere, I’ve heard Luiselli reading it aloud, but i cannot stop myself from quoting it here:

“When i read Sontag for the first time, just like the first time i read Arendt, Dickinson, and Pascal, I kept having those sudden, subtle, and possibly micro chemical ruptures - little lights flickering deep inside the brain tissue- that some people experience when they finally find words for a very simple and yet till then utterly unspeakable feeling. When someone else’s words enter consciousness like that, they become small conceptual light marks.

They are not necessary illuminating. 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, of the enormous ignorance that envelops everything we think we know. And the recognition and coming to terms with the darkness is more valuable than all the factual knowledge we may ever accumulate.”

I feel the allusion to the Plato’s cave in this but somehow her words are more intimate and immediate.

The perception of “name dropping” is also affected by the growth of auto-fiction in the anglo-sphere. But I would not pigeon-hall this book as auto fiction. I think her characters are imaginary, in spite of the obvious resemblance to her personal life. For example, I think the Husband here could be a man with some native american heritage (vs a fellow Mexican in real life). At least his knowledge and interest in their story and her physical description of him points me that way. Also in real life, Luiselli’s stepson was not part of her nuclear family as he was living in Mexico. But the Boy's character is very much part of the family and plays the huge role in the book.

Without being a bold proclamation, the novel is thoughtfully political. The Wife is preoccupied by her planned project about the crisis on the border as well as the disappearance of two girls of her immigrant friend. On this background, she comes across to such a line in a local newspaper: “60 or 90 thousand of alien children mass that has come to america”. She thinks: “Reading articles like this one, I find myself amused at their unflinching certitude about right and wrong, good and bad. Not amused, actually, but actually a little frightened. None of this is new, though i guess i am simply accustomed to dealing with more educated versions of xenophobia. I don’t know which is worse.” Unhappily, I can sign up under each word of this last sentence.

Children are wonderfully natural and alive in the novel, though all they do at the first part is sitting at the back of the car. Their presence inevitably leads to a reflection how our present and the past affects future. I would just pinpoint two observations by the Wife. Being in a confounded space, they listen to the radio and discuss politics, they tell stories about the past. She thinks: “I suppose we all contribute to the xenophobic inertias with the versions of history we tell our children.” And it is so true and so unavoidable, how we program our kids with our own misconceptions which in turn, we took unconsciously from our parents. How to deal with that? Is knowing where you come from overrated?

Another, more specific observation is related to how they teach children to write in America and the UK. (I do not know about other english-speaking countries, but it is very different from where I am originally from). Her 5 years old daughter splits the page into squares for Beginning, Problem, Resolution and the End. So, at the age 5, the first thing children learn, even before they can write, that each story has to have a plot. Each story has to have a problem. Each story has to have an end. Why? I was amazed with this approach when my son was at that age. They’ve hardly talked about any stories, hardly listened to them before they’ve been taught some pragmatic, and quite frankly limiting formula. The Wife comments: Bad literary education begins too early and continues for way too long.

So many more things i can talk about. My head is still buzzing with this novel. I can mention how the echoes are playing on its pages between the present and the past, the real and the imagined. I can also mention that it is beautifully and carefully designed book; that there are polaroid photos, the list of names of the children perished crossing the border (similar to the novels of Dasa Drndic who is mentioned as well), maps, documents etc. There is also a novel within the novel which normally i would consider a step too far. But it worked for me here when i’ve figured out what it was.

The first half of the book was narrated by the Wife. Then the narrator has changed and the novel has moved into a different gear in terms of pace and the atmosphere. I struggled initially with the “suspension of disbelief”, but the novel was alluding more and more to the spirit Pedro Páramo which I’ve just finished - the one of those serendipitous coincidences -so it carried me through. And the end has moved me close to tears.

PS 1

This book was nominated on Woman’s Prize 2019. But was not shortlisted which is a real shame. The fact is vindicating my view not to read by the lists, especially the lists of the prizes.


Valeria Luiselli is a millennial born in 1983. Why don’t they call her “a voice of millennial generation” then? In my view, she is a way better than the other books by the millennials I’ve read (a very limited sample I have to admit). Maybe I know why they do not. Maybe because her writing easily transcends generational divide and talks about something timeless being deeply in engaged in our time.


About our time:

We don’t know how to explain it yet, but I think we all can feel it, somewhere deep in out gut or in our brain circuits. We feel time differently. No one has quite been able to capture what happening or say why. Perhaps its just that we sense as absence of future, because the present has become too overwhelming, so future has become unimaginable. And without future, time feels like only an accumulation. An accumulation of months, days, natural disasters, television series, terrorist attacks divorces, mass migrations, birthdays, photographs sunrises. We have not understood the exact way we are now experiencing time. And maybe the boy’s frustration at not knowing what to make a picture of, or now to frame and focus the things he sees as we all sit inside the car, driving across this strange, beautiful, dark country is simply a sign of how our ways of documenting the world have fallen short. Perhaps if we found a new way to document it, we might begin to understand this new way of experience space and time.

Concerns of being a modern artist (who presumably wants to make a difference):

Political concerns: 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 shitty 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 susceptible it is to becoming politicised, and in these times, a politicised 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, pissing all over someone else’s toilet seat, who am I to tell this story, micromanaging identity politics, heavy-handedness, am I too angry, am I mentally colonised by Western-Saxon-white categories, whats the correct use of personal pronouns, go light on the adjectives, and oh, who gives a fuck how very whimsical phrasal verbs are?

Political Narrative to be fed to the masses:

I think of Manuela’s girls (the disappeared ones), and its hard not to be overcome by rage. But I suppose its always been like that. I suppose that the convenient narrative has always been to portray the nations that are systematically abused by more powerful nations as a no-mans-land, as a barbaric periphery whose chaos and brownies threaten civilised, white peace. Only such narrative can justify decades of dirty war, interventionist policies, and the overall delusion of moral and cultural superiority of the world’s economic and military powers.

It has won IMAC prize in May 2021, two years since I’ve read it. So well deserved. I am very happy for Luiselli. I hope she would publish something new soon.
Profile Image for Barbara.
273 reviews214 followers
July 11, 2021
Deported, Disappeared, Detained, Removed, Missing, Lost

Valeria Luiselli's novel is so much more than the poignant reality of unaccompanied migrant children. It is at least three stories. Journeys to yet unknown destinations. Children moving away from the home they have known to an unfamiliar place, traveling by car, by train, on foot, always beginning with hope and anticipation, but those emotions dissipating as the journey continues. It is about the disintegration of life the way it once was; of marriage, families, tribes. It is about how we document ourselves, our lives, and if and why that is important. And always, the undocumented, those who only become documented when their death becomes a statistic.

Our names are a form of identification or documentation, yet this traveling family are unnamed until they assign themselves Native American names well into their trip. This mother and father obsessed by the need to record histories, sounds, places, memories, but are nameless to the reader. The other children are nameless to most, with only an address, a destination, sewn into their clothing. They survive on their memories of home, of loved ones and dreams of a new life. Amidst the uncertainty of the future, all the children find comfort in playacting, the stress reducer of children. The author does not let us forget how similar children are regardless of their circumstances.

The boy and girl, hearing snippets about those other children, take off on their own journey. On this adventure Luiselli masterfully brings the two groups of young travelers together, while overhead, eagles, the great symbol of strength and freedom, fly.

The boy's desperate (12 page long sentence) attempt to document this family trip was so full of love and sadness. His five year old stepsister is too young to remember. With quickening urgency this perceptive ten year old records for her the happy family times. Remember these things and our family as it now is, before all this is lost.

Lost Children archive is a complex, multi-layered book. The allusions and metaphors are numerous. Its unique narrative techniques are innovative. Only a writer of Luiselli's caliber would even consider veering as greatly from the traditional novel. It may not work for everyone, but I found it brilliant, dizzying, and deeply sad.

"It is not the American Dream they pursue, but rather the more modest aspiration to wake up from the nightmare into which they were born."
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Vaso.
1,138 reviews146 followers
October 5, 2020
Ξεκίνησα να διαβάζω Το αρχείο των χαμένων παιδιών χωρίς να το έχω "ψάξει" σχεδόν καθόλου.
Μια οικογένεια τεσσάρων ατόμων ξεκινάει ένα road trip από τη Νέα Υόρκη έως την Αριζόνα για να βρουν την πατρίδα των Απάτσι.
Στο δρόμο παίζουν διάφορα παιχνίδια, ακούνε βιβλία καθώς και ειδήσεις στο ραδιόφωνο για τα χιλιάδες παιδιά που περνούν τα σύνορα για μια καλύτερη τύχη.
Η συγγραφέας με κέρδισε αρχικά με τον ιδιαίτερο τρόπο με τον οποίο παρουσιάζει την ιστορία της.
Συγχωρέστε με που δεν θα επεκταθώ περισσότερο, καθώς θεωρώ ότι θα "προδώσω" άθελά μου τα "κρυφά χαρτιά" αυτού του βιβλίου.
Θα πώ μόνο ότι τα τελευταία κεφάλαια ήταν συγκλονιστικά.
Το βιβλίο μπαίνει ξεκάθαρα στα αγαπημένα μου για το 2020..
Profile Image for Come Musica.
1,532 reviews378 followers
December 30, 2019
Siamo echi di suoni lontani che si propagano nelle stanze del cuore, riservate alla memoria.

"Mi sono imposto di tornare in me. Mi sono imposto di rimettermi a pensare. Di immaginare. Di ricordare. Di riavvolgere il nastro di quel treno che correva, di riavvolgerlo nella mia testa per capire. Ho preso la bussola che era nello zaino, l'ago indicava che il treno andava verso ovest, la direzione giusta. Allora mi sono ricordato di averti detto, proprio nel giorno in cui ci siamo persi, prima di entrare nella tavolta calda, che il piano era di salire in cima ai vagoni in sosta davanti alla tavolta calda e andare a ovest con quel treno, verso mamma e papà, e l'Echo Canyon, e di colpo ho capito. Ho capito che anche tu dovevi essere lì, da qualche parte, su quello stesso treno in movimento. E anche se non potevo vederti, sapevo che stavi bene, perché ti avevo sentita ridere nel sogno. Ho capito di dover aspettare soltanto che il sole sorgesse, e poi ti avrei trovata."

Questo è un romanzo di echi da documentare (con il fare del documentarista e del documentario), con l'atteggiamento di chi è sia alchimista sia bibliotecario: echi di voci lontane che testimoniano le vite dei bambini che si sono perduti nell'attraversare il confine che va dal Messico agli Stati Uniti. È il romanzo di una famiglia che intraprende un lungo viaggio in macchina: che parte unita per poi trovarsi irrevocabilmente divisa.
Ma per mettersi sulla strada dei bambini che si sono perduti, occorre essere dei bambini, perché solo loro possono comprendere pienamente il loro linguaggio, solo loro hanno quella fiducia cieca che gli adulti hanno perso per strada. E magistralmente Valeria Luiselli, nella seconda parte del romanzo, cede la voce narrante a quella del figliastro, Piuma Veloce (con il secondo nome che ciascuno dei quattro componenti della famiglia si è dato in una delle soste di questo lungo viaggio, intrapreso alla ricerca degli echi degli Apache e dei bambini perduti).
Piuma Veloce e Memphis, i due fratellastri nel romanzo, incontrano, anche se per poco, alcuni di questi bambini perduti e si perdono anche loro: "E se anche il termine "perduto" non è preciso, nel nostro privato lessico famigliare, i rifugiati sono i "bambini perduti". E in un certo senso, credo, che siano questo, bambini perduti. Sono bambini che hanno perduto il diritto a un'infanzia."

Un romanzo struggente e al tempo stesso delicato e poetico, che lavora su piani simbolici e frutto esso stesso di echi di altri romanzi e di musica.
E in questo viaggio ci sono scatole, mappe, libri, bussole e registratori: ma serve cuore per dare un senso a tutti quegli echi; occorre comprendere con la pancia prima che con il cuore. E Valeria Luiselli cede la voce narrante al figliastro perché possa trasmettere ai propri genitori "qualcos di meno tangibile ma al tempo stesso più grande e durevole, una sorta di stimolo ad abbracciare la vita con pienezza e comprenderla, per conto loro, così da poter provare a spiegarla, a tramandarla "con accettazione e senza rancore", come scrisse una volta James Baldwin, non senza una certa dose di rabbia e ferocia." E i bambini impongono agli adulti di cambiare il loro sguardo e di raccontare le storie nella maniera giusta, perché "le storie sono un modo di sottrarre futuro al passato, il solo modo di fare chiarezza con il senno di poi."

E in fondo al cuore selvaggio della piccola Memphis, lei sa che Piuma Veloce c'è e ci sarà sempre per lei, anche se è una pessima guida, anche se è un pessimo fratello a volte: "Può darsi che un giorno tu ti senta perduta, ma devi ricordarti che non lo sei, perché io e te ci ritroveremo ancora."

E in questo viaggio, che è anche un viaggio del disamore, alla fine, è l'amore che trionfa, insieme a quella granitica certezza che, nonostante i possibili allontanamenti, l'amore tra fratelli cresciuti in simbiosi, sarà per sempre la bussola e la mappa che non faranno mai perdere la strada maestra.
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,339 reviews697 followers
April 8, 2020
I listened to “Lost Children Archive” by Valeria Luiselli narrated by her, Kivlighan de Montebello, William DeMerrit, Maia Enrigue Luiselli. I LOVED the audio. I wish I would have noticed that the audio comes with an accompanying PDF. If you get the audio LOOK AT THE PDF!! Don’t make my mistake and notice it midway through the narrative. The PDF supports the story with items in boxes that the family uses during their adventure.

What can I say beyond the fact that this gem was a highly rated, nominated, and noted novel of 2019? Well, hearing Luiselli’s voice narrating it was fantastic. Plus, the addition of the other narrators’ voices added to the joy of listening.

In this story, a husband and wife take their blended family on a journey from New York City to the Arizona border. What I found to be a bit difficult is that Luiselli chooses to not name her characters. They are noted as “the boy”, “the girl”, Mamma, and Papa. To me, it felt an aloof approach; in other words, Luiselli wanted to create a detachment of the family dynamics. Yet, her lyrical writing showed the love for each other.

Luiselli explores many versions of lost children, not just the immigration children who arrive at our American borders unaccompanied. She also notes the Orphan Trains created by the New York Children’s Aid Society in the 1800’s. We, as a society have a history of treating children unkindly. Plus, our own children can become “lost”.

“The Mother” contemplates through the journey. The children add their sweet innocent parts, with “the boy” possessing a more intellectual idea of what the trip means.

It’s difficult to define the story. It’s a family trip with all the crazy family stuff that occurs in a long car ride. It’s a story of a marriage. It’s a story of artistic passion. Most importantly, it’s a revelation of what young children endear when they are sent by parents to cross the boarder.

I loved listening to Luiselli’s voice. I looked forward to listening to the story. When “the boy” took over, I enjoyed his voice.

I enjoyed every second of this novel. I can’t praise it high enough.
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