Lost Children Archive

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 31 Aug 2019

Member Reviews

The Lost Children Archive is not quite what the blurb would lead you to expect. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This book wasn't readable in any enjoyable way. I'm sure it would be interesting as a text to study, but for me, for the first time, I feel strongly let down by the Women's Prize longlist.
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I tried hard with this book but found it rambling and confusing. The change in narration halfway through was jarring and just added to the overall confusion. An important topi.c but know it all and condescending in parts.
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I have read one of Luiselli's essay collections, which deals with very similar themes, in the past.  I did find echoes of it here, but felt that this fictional narrative did not work anywhere near as well as the essay form.  The narrative perspective was meandering, and went off at so many tangents that it was sometimes difficult to keep everything straight.  A good idea, but lacking a little in execution and believability.
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A thought-provoking read with a lot of details, touching a lot of issues of the modern world's immigration problems, blending the native American's history and contemporary immigration problems. I think the way it's structured is clever, a family on road trip, from the viewpoints of family members so Luiselli offers different experiences in the same story in a way. To be honest, although I think this is a good book, I had to push myself to finish it through half way. The last half of the book was way better and the story picks up. However, I felt like it took time for the book to find its tone of voice.
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Valeria Luiselli's ambitious latest novel is an American 'road trip' tale, which encompasses the escalating issue of American vitriol towards child immigrants. 

The narrative centres around one family, a mother and her daughter who merge into a family with a father and his son. The two adults work in sound recording, though the philosophy with which they view their professions is vastly different. With them following two different projects, him seeking to capture the sounds of the lost Apache tribes and her seeking to document the plight of the 'lost children' or child migrants who have gone missing. The story centres around giving voice and sound to the silenced. It also draws clever parallels with the family's relationships, the silence that lies between them and the growing divide, as well as the children's own understanding of the world around them and their parents' work. 

There are lots of aspects that make this novel very clever and imaginative. The second half, narrated by the son picks up momentum and intrigue, and the ideas the novel explores about why we record and document are very interesting. By adding in 'real' examples of these documents and images, Luiselli builds a rich and layered narrative. However, at some points the novel begins to feel like an accumulation of the author's research, including seemingly abundant information on quite minute details. 

Overall the novel is thought-provoking and enjoyable, capturing hugely important ideas and themes in an inventive way. In The Lost Children Archive Luiselli sets up a fascinating and innovative change to the novel form.
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Read April 2019. Women's Prize for Fiction 2019 Long List. 

A sound documentarian and his journalist wife, embark on a journey across USA from New York to Arizona, with their 10 year old son and 5 year old daughter. 

The couple met while working on a documentary about the sounds of New York, and fell in love over this shared project. 
Each brought to the marriage a child - the husband, a boy and the wife, a girl. They have become a single family unit, but the husband is restless and wants to embark on an epic road trip to follow the history of the Apache - for reasons unknown. 
The wife is reluctant, at first, but comes to realise that something is amiss with their relationship, and she is also feeling restless. She has become involved in the story of two Mexican refugee girls, being held at the border, and decides to combine the road trip with a project about missing refugee children - "lost children". 

They begin their trip with a few possessions, recording equipment, a polaroid camera, and some archive boxes, which are filled with various research materials/books/pictures associated with their two projects - and two empty boxes for the children to fill along the way. 

As the family drives west, the father tells the children of the tragic history of the Apache, and the mother shares stories of the refugee children stranded at the southern border and being deported back home to an unknown fate....while a marriage falls apart at the seams. 

This is a difficult book to review, so I may ramble a bit here! 
Ultimately, it is a book about the sound and rhythm of our lives - how sometimes the beats of individuals can be in harmony, and at other times discordant. Sometimes, the harmonious note of a couple can become out of sync over time, and the music that was once there is gone. 
It is a book about things that are lost - not just "lost children". 

This book is actually in two different parts. 

The first covers the narrative of the mother and describes their journey west, the tales that are shared with the children, and the worsening relationship with her husband. She finds it difficult to understand why her husband is so obsessed with tracing the history of the Apache tribe, and this is not really explained, although it does provide a reason for the road trip. 
This part of the story, which takes up the majority of the book, is actually rather boring and introspective. Not a lot really happens, other than domestic dramas and the pace is very slow. To be honest, the Apache tales become a bit tedious, though they do serve to inspire the children to take on new identities - as sort of "braves". 
I have seen a few reviews from people who have given up on this book, because they found it boring and I can see why, based on the first part. 

The second part of the book is the narrative of the son. This part was by far the best bit of the book. 
In this section, it becomes clear that the stories of both the mother and father have made a very big impression on him. The boy becomes fired up with the idea that, as a "brave", he can help to find the two refugee girls, who have now become lost after running away from a detainment centre. 
The boy leaves a note and map for his parents, and takes his sister on a journey through the desert to trace the footsteps of the "lost children". In effect, they become "lost children" themselves. 
This is the most powerful part of the book and my heart was in my mouth the whole time they were alone and vulnerable. 

Thankfully, the boy and girl are found safe and well, but the fate of the other "lost children" is not so certain - are the missing girls alive or dead? We will never know for sure. 

The boy is actually very astute, when it comes to the state of his parents' marriage. He can see the end is nigh, and because of this, he fills his archive box with momentos for his sister, so she will remember him and their adventures. This was so touching and beautiful that it made me shed a tear or two, and made the whole book worthwhile. So, if you give this book a go, please make sure to read it all.
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When I first read the synopsis of this book I thought it would follow two families. A Mexican one and an American one. Instead the focus of this book is an American family taking a road trip to the Southern states. It incorporates the narrative of children looking to cross the Mexican/American border through the mothers research on the subject.

The mother becomes interested in the border crisis after a neighbour told about her children, who she’d left in Mexico when she crossed the border, had tried to come join her but had been put in a detention centre after being caught by border control.

This is actually the first book I’ve read that tackles this subject and I think it did it in a very powerful way. When hearing about migrants in the news we hear statistics and ways of preventing it. This book explores the morality of it. The treatment they suffer and lack of compassion felt for them.

This has all the elements to make a highly impactful story but for me the execution and way it’s written let that down. The characters weren’t overly strong (perhaps on purpose) and I caught myself skimming a few sections because I just lacked interest in them.

I hope to read more books about the Mexican border. This one just won’t stay with me for long.
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Starting this book 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" and then went back to the start of this 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 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 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, 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 colonized by Western-Saxon-white categories"
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Valeria Luiselli's earlier books are playful, fragmentary and persuasive.  At first, Lost Children Archive seems a more conventional novel, bigger in both size and theme, but then gradually also fragments into competing found narratives, archives, boxes of objects, and photos.  There's a lot going on here - a family travelling, lost Mexican children, who are the obsession of the narrator here and the subject of Luiselli's great Tell Me How it Ends essay, which in turn parallel the partially lost Native American culture that is the obsession of the (main) narrator's husband.  It's also an account of a marriage falling apart, which then switches into something approaching an adventure story, when the boy takes over the narrative later on. This section is nicely drawn, especially in the relationship between the children, but lacks tension (which may be the point).  This then resolves into a long, single sentence section where it is not clear who is narrating and a final, slightly frustrating pulling-together of loose ends. Early on, the narrator asks of their family archive: "will it amount to a story"? and sometimes it amounts to much more and sometimes to rather less.  Wildly ambitious, not everything comes off but there's plenty here to hold your interest.
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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 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.

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In a weirdly similar vein to follow longlisted book, Silence of the Girls, Valeria Luiselli's Lost Children Archive too, fails horrendously in its main aim: to give a voice to the voiceless. Centrally revolving on two main groups of missing children: those, in the present day, fleeing over the Mexican-American border, only to be kept in Trump’s detention centres, and those somewhere in the indeterminate past, Native Americans who fell to colonisation.
But, as I need to point out before going any further, not all members of the Apache communities were wiped out in centuries-long mass genocides committed by their European invaders. A bloody lot of them were, but not all of them. And, approaching the community as though they have been wiped off the face of the Earth, disrespects the survivors who have gone on to live, and create, and contribute in so many amazing ways. I just kept waiting (and waiting, and waiting) for the fact that they still exist in present day and yet, that moment never seemed to come. Instead, I had to watch whilst apparently-liberal characters played cowboys and Indians and re-enacted famous massacres.
And, this is just the subplot, the main narrative strand was a whole different, unstructured mess. This is because, instead of it focussing (as it was supposed to do) on the experiences of unaccompanied children migrant children, it revolves entirely on the breakdown of a marriage.  Leave him, or stay with him... I really couldn’t give a shit.
The whole mirroring, if that was indeed the aim, was wholly offensive to both the communities who had been victims of genocide and then systematically ignored by the narrative, and the children wandering through the desert who risk starvation, dehydration, imprisonment and traffickers to make it across the border. And, if this book earned its place on this longlist simply because it “tackled” the latter subjects, I would rather it had not. Because this was bare minimum. At best.
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Valeria Luiselli’s long essay, Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions, recounted her period working as a translator for the unaccompanied child refugees who arrive at the US-Mexico border from the ‘Northern Triangle’ of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Her first novel written in English, Lost Children Archive, picks up on these themes though an unnamed female narrator who is driving with her husband, daughter and stepson from New York to Arizona. Our narrator wants to document the Mexican migrant ‘crisis’, which has been brought to her attention via a friend who is trying to find her two lost daughters. Her husband is more interested in the soundscape of the ‘vanished’ Apaches who once lived in Apacheria, retelling the stories of their decline to his children, which the girl gleefully repeats as ‘when Geronimo fell off his horse, he died’. Her narrative is interspersed with descriptions of the contents of various boxes the couple have brought with them for their two projects, which, as Luiselli explains at the end of the novel, is one way of citing her sources within the text itself, rather than confining them to footnotes. There’s also an emotional tension on this long road trip; our narrator and her husband are considering divorce, which means that the two children, who are ‘only’ step-siblings, will be separated.

More than half of this long novel is narrated by this female narrator, and this section fits squarely into the emerging genre of autofiction, tracing the themes of Luiselli’s own life very closely. However, it lumbers under the weight of its own intertextuality. Everything that the family encounter has to be fitted into the theme of lost or vanished children in some way, from the haunting voices in ‘Echo Canyon’ to the fading images in Polaroids. Moreover, as Luiselli suggests in her note on sources, this is not just autofiction, but a kind of creative non-fiction; she deliberately wants to weave her workings through the text to tell the horrific story of the journeys of child migrants. This is compounded by the introduction of an imaginary text into this section, Elegies for Lost Children, which effectively and brutally narrates the experiences of these children. While this text would work well on its own, the way Luiselli scatters it throughout an already complicated and thematically-burdened narrative dilutes its force. It’s only when we finally get to read it in full that it really hits us.

Luiselli pushes at the boundaries of the novel form, but in doing so, loses much of what makes novels work. It’s in the shorter second section, narrated by the stepson, where Lost Children Archive really comes alive, making it one of the very few novels that I’ve ever read that manages to win back some ground after the halfway point. Unlike his stepmother’s narrative, the stepson’s voice is compelling, and it foregrounds one of the most successful aspects of the novel; the depiction of his relationship with his stepsister, which perfectly shows how children create little worlds of their own. Indeed, when Luiselli is writing about real rather than figurative children, she’s incredibly good on the physicality, word-play, and belief systems of childhood. Once the two children step into a kind of alternate reality formed from reading Elegies for Lost Children, the novel reaches another level; suddenly, it works as it should, free from references and footnotes. You can almost feel the pages speeding up.

The first section, however, is not only inferior because it’s so dense; I just wasn’t convinced that all the different kinds of loss Luiselli explores worked very well together. Most obviously, the novel plays into the ‘vanishing Indian’ narrative, assuming that Native Americans are now totally absent from America, which is recognised as an untruthful and harmful trope that ignores the persistence of these peoples. It’s a shame to see this perpetuated in a book that is otherwise so good at highlighting the displacement caused by American power politics, tracing this back (for example) to the division of Texas from Mexico and its annexation by the United States. Moreover, the divorce plotline never felt emotionally credible; I couldn’t understand what had come between this couple, and the impact on the two children was implied rather than shown. When the kids strike out on their own, it feels totally unmotivated, and while this was my favourite bit of the novel, I suspect that they do this not because their own motivations have taken them to this point but because Luiselli wants to manoeuvre them into a final symbolic journey.

While you have to admire Luiselli’s ambition, Lost Children Archive doesn’t really work as a whole. I like it better than some of the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlistees I’ve read because of its sheer inventiveness, but I’d be surprised to see this make it to the shortlist. 3.5 stars.
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