This book was a recent gift from a friend in publishing with a note attached: “Supposed to be good”. When this friend recommends a book, I read it sooner rather than later. I was rewarded with something new, different and amazing.
Lost Children Archive (2019, 383 pages, Alfred A. Knopf) by Valeria Luiselli tells the story of a family of four on a road trip. They are leaving their life in NYC to pursue different things in Arizona. There are many uncertainties but it’s clear that their lives will be completely changed by the journey.
I’ve already been compelled to re-read parts of the book and am still thinking/processing everything, so this post will not encompass everything important about the book. But I had to start somewhere.
A few immediate things I loved:
Elements of Storytelling – The book has a few layers of stories within it. The book is mostly narrated by the woman/wife/mother (we don’t know her name). Ms. Luiselli uses photos, lists, maps, and I think made-up fictional works to enhance the narrative and make it real.
Inventory of Sounds – The husband/wife met while making an “Inventory of Sounds” in New York City. The husband is intent on getting to Apacheria, the last place the United States where native Americans were free, with the intent of capturing any remaining echoes of the free native Americans (at least that’s how I interpreted it). The idea of documenting different sounds is new to me and is presented in a way that is important to the story.
Experience of Migrant Children – The wife is focused on getting to the US/Mexican border to witness and document the removal of children (though very timely now, in 2014 Valeria Luiselli worked as a translator for children after they crossed the border). The wife is also looking in particular for 2 young sisters who were sent to meet their mother Manuela (a friend of the wife’s) but were abandoned in the desert by the “coyote” who was paid to transport them.
The story of the 2 sisters is interwoven with the family’s journey as a fictional narrative that the mom reads to her children. It becomes more and more real as the family approaches Apacheria. The details of the two sisters’ journey seems like a bad dream but it becomes clear that it is no dream nor made up cautionary tale.
Couple & Family Dynamics – What makes a family? What makes a couple? What makes them endure? Luiselli dives deeply into the relationships. I love the older brother’s care and protection of his sister. He is the book’s other narrator and you will enjoy his voice.
One very interesting comment from the wife: “we…had made the common mistake of thinking that marriage was a mode of absolute commonality … instead of understanding it simply as a pact between two people willing to be the guardian of each other’s solitude…” She attributes this notion to Rilke but I had never really heard it before and find it very interesting to think about.
OK there’s so much more in this book but will leave it at this for now. I need to read more about the author’s personal experiences, I think she also has something nonfiction about this topic also.