Booker Prize Longlist (2019)
In this mishmash of a novel, it is as if the author could not decide what she was doing. Is this auto fiction? A post-modern exercise? Why did she change the narrator to an unconvincing child? Why place such emphasis on her marriage breakup but provide no insight on the reasons? The focus on the thousands of children fleeing unbearable conditions in Central America is lost by a self absorbed author in a too long novel.
After an extremely promising start, Luiselli surrenders all her hard work to an unconvincing 10-year-old narrator and relies on the interjection of chapters of a fictional other work to present a nightmarish vision of the dilemma of border crossers. By the end, it’s flat, distant and ragged, with unfinished seams and characters who become increasingly contrived.
I thought this book was beautiful, poetic and sometimes magical. I think I read a different book than some of these commenters.
Modernist fiction and political activism have been brought together to produce Lost Children Archive. Luiselli is the daughter of a Mexican ambassador. When the southern border crisis grew around 2014 or so, Luiselli admirably volunteered her time and efforts to help the desperate refugees trying to reach the United States navigate the US legal system. One isn't surprised to read that this novel began as a scathing essay on how refugees are treated before being put on hold and later re-worked as a modernist intertextual manuscript, in dialogue with Pound, Eliot, Woolf, and others.
In the first half of this novel of two parts, the story is told from the point of view of a mother traveling by car from NYC to the border area with her soon-to-be ex-husband and their two children. She is working on a story about the children who travel to the border alone and disappear in their attempt, wiped from the map, except sometimes as a red X marking where bodies are found in the desert. She questions her project, mirroring Luiselli herself no doubt:
"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?"
In part two of the story, the narration shifts to her ten year old son, who takes along his five year old sister as they run away from their parents to find some "lost children" and make their way to a location of importance to the Apache tribe, whose genocidal destruction is the focus of the husband. This section culminates in a 20 page long sentence in which his viewpoint alternates with that of a small group of lost refugee children who seem to physically emerge from a book he and the mother have been reading in a whirlwind of, what, neo-magical realism?
Overall for me it is a novel that is intellectual, produces lots to discuss, and is moderately enjoyable as a work of fiction.
Barack Obama recommendation
I don't know what to say but perhaps the times we live in have allowed us to expect this sorry mess to be described as a novel. I'll carry on trying but it seems to be painting by numbers mixed with some bizarre notion of profundity. I like nothing more than a mixed media approach to the novel but this is reportage and navel gazing and an ill-formed oddity. Very disappointed.
This book was submitted for consideration for the 2019 Southwest Books of the Year list in the Fiction category!
NYT 2019 Top 10
Inspired by the experiences of desperate children crossing the desert to get to US and the history of the Apache warriors making their last stand, framed by a fictionalized version of a road trip this Mexican born writer took from New York to Cochise County with her husband and two kids. For the first half , narrated by an unnamed woman, we are with the family in the Volvo wagon, diners and rented cabins while the parent patiently and loving execute the task of caring for the children while worrying about the “lost children” and giving history lessons of the Apache. The structure is around 7 boxes of material the family has taken with them, 4 for the husband, 1 for each the wife the kids. The boxes are inventoried at the beginning of the chapters with lists of books and other literary materials bearing on the parents' research. This is how the author references her intensely allusive prose. It contains a book within the book "elegies for Lost children" purportedly by an Italian author but is descriptive of the struggle of the lost children in current border crisis.
The second part narrated by the ten-year-old boy contains a single sentence that runs on for 20 pages. An astonishing work of literature.
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