Lost Children Archive

Valeria Luiselli

Lost Children Archive
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Lost Children Archive

Valeria Luiselli

Suppose you and Pa were gone, and we were lost. What would happen then?

A family in New York packs the car and sets out on a road trip. A mother, a father, a boy and a girl, they head south west, to the Apacheria, the regions of the US which used to be Mexico. They drive for hours through desert and mountains. They stop at diners when they’re hungry and sleep in motels when it gets dark. The little girl tells surreal knock knock jokes and makes them all laugh. The little boy educates them all and corrects them when they’re wrong. The mother and the father are barely speaking to each other.

Meanwhile, thousands of children are journeying north, travelling to the US border from Central America and Mexico. A grandmother or aunt has packed a backpack for them, putting in a bible, one toy, some clean underwear. They have been met by a coyote: a man who speaks to them roughly and frightens them. They cross a river on rubber tubing and walk for days, saving whatever food and water they can. Then they climb to the top of a train and travel precariously in the open container on top. Not all of them will make it to the border.

In a breath-taking feat of literary virtuosity, Lost Children Archive intertwines these two journeys to create a masterful novel full of echoes and reflections - a moving, powerful, urgent story about what it is to be human in an inhuman world.

Review

In Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive, the archive is a noun, a repository for information collected by the first narrator on her road trip, trying to find the children lost as they tried to cross from Mexico to the US. ‘Lost children archive’ is also a verb, a description of the process of making meaning from chaos, from parts you have no control over, half-formed ideas and experiences not fully related, reconfigured by the boy (the final narrator) and girl in the back of the car.

The first narrator is a sound documentarist. She is setting out with her husband, and the boy and girl, her children, on a cross-country drive from New York to Arizona. She and the man are both working on different sound-archiving projects. She has been with ‘undocumented’ migrants held in detention in New York. She is trying to find information about a friend’s children, detained just over the border and now lost in detention. He is working on a recording of the lost echoes of the Apaches, the last resistance, he says, to the white occupation of the southern states.

The structure of Lost Children Archive expertly carries the reader through the dizzying multiplicities of questions about how to record experience, how to construct meaning. In a bookshop along the way, overhearing a book-club meeting, the first narrator listens to a woman quietly contribute, ‘I think it’s more about the impossibility of fiction in the age of nonfiction…’

If this sounds like it might be too theoretical, too self-reflexive to enjoy, be reassured by the number of times I cried and laughed my way across the states with this family and with the lost children travelling from the south. Be reassured by the beauty of the prose and the joy of so many voices being heard. This is a truly remarkable work.


Marie Matteson is a book buyer at Readings Carlton.

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