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Lost Children Archive: 04/12/19

Lost Children Archive

Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli is a run of the mill road narrative wrapped up in a literary fiction package. Actually it's two such narratives strung together, one in two parts serving as the bookends to a shorter one.

The narrator of the longer of the two narratives is the mother/step-mother. Her husband has decided to uproot the entire family to record the sounds of the south west. In particular, he's oddly fascinated with Geronimo and the Bedonkohe band of Apaches.

The mother / narrator, meanwhile, while also interested in recording sounds for posterity is more concerned with the present and the separating of immigrant children from their parents. This is a real, current, and terrible thing that is happening.

But for all the narrator's thoughts on the matter, the novel really never does anything with this current events. She speaks of trying to help a mother whose sons were deported to Mexico but never arrived at their destination and she exchanges some telephone calls with her, but nothing really comes of this plot thread.

Instead, upon arrival in Arizona, the narrator suddenly changes to the son. Throughout the trip he has been in charge of keeping the trunk organized: his parents boxes and his and his sister's boxes. For reasons all his own, he decides to rifle through one of them. What he finds inspires him to take his step-sister on a journey to a wilderness spot marked on one of the maps.

For previous books, when there are multiple narratives or multiple destinations, I have chosen to take the highest ranking one. Thus for the purpose of my project, it's the children's journey that counts.

By marriage, these two children are siblings. Sibling (CC) travelers are the second most powerful (in terms of their ability to survive or succeed against insurmountable odds). Their destination is the wildlands of Arizona, a spot marked on a map, a spot they have heard about in stories while in the car (99). Their method of getting there is not too dissimilar to their trip to Arizona: a straightforward, fixed path, except it's via the railroad instead of the interstate (00).

Outside of this novel being an American road narrative, it's really nothing special. It uses the tropes of would-be literary fiction in an attempt to set itself apart from more genre aware books. Quotation marks are avoided for most things, rendering all the dialog into a bland monotone. The mother's ties to indigenous Mexico somehow is supposed to absolve the family's racist comments about the Apache. Finally, there is the author's choice to not name any of the family members. They are just "Ma, Pa, the Boy, the Girl." That approach can work (see Last Year at Marienbad (1961) but it doesn't for this novel.

Three stars

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