Updated: Mar 21, 2019
This novel is not one but two narratives. The first narrative is the story of a family travelling to the Apacheria, where the father hopes to record and document sounds from the location that Geronimo and the Apaches lived. The mother also works in acoustics and the two of them met working together documenting sounds and recording a soundscape of New York City. However, their relationship is dying, and this trip could be the final nail in the coffin. Both father and mother have a child from another partner, but this part of the narrative is left intentionally vague and is not part of the story. Strangely we are never given the names of the family members either. Perhaps the family is meant to represent a typical average family, and Luiselli wants the reader to focus on the narrative not the characters, not sure. This narrative is firstly narrated by the mother and later the ten-year old son. This narrative see’s the mother and father slowly slipping further apart, and as the trip progresses, the gulf between the two begins to widen. While the father is absorbed in his project with the Apaches, the mother becomes more and more concerned about an immigrant friend’s missing children. She takes a strong interest in the plights of the immigrants who go missing, particularly the children, while trying to cross the border. This increasing interest leads into the second narrative which takes the form of a book that the mother reads to the children to help stave off boredom on the road. The book is called The Lost Children and is about seven young migrant children trying to cross the border into the States. When the son and daughter strike out on their own to try to find the mother’s friend’s missing children the narratives seem to converge together, and the son and daughter literally become the lost children. Documenting and recording is a major theme of the novel. Even the son, who is afraid he will lose contact with his sister if the parents separate, is documenting the trip to maintain a record for his sister. The boot of the car is filled with archive boxes and each family member has at least one of their own. I believe that Luiselli is showing us that the lost children are more than just data recorded in an archive, more than just a statistic recorded and then filed away. Each lost child is a tragedy, a life stolen away before it even got a chance. I have not read any of Luiselli’s other work but this subject seems to be one she is very passionate about, and you could feel it in her writing. One problem for me was at times Luiselli dances along the fine line of beautiful, exquisite prose, and overwriting. She may cross it a few times, but this is very much a personal criticism and down to the reader’s taste. Having said that, I think that there is some terrific writing, and the way Luiselli brings the narratives together is skilfully handled. The way she weaves the children from the first narrative briefly into the second is genius. I also like the way that the perspective is changed from the mother to the son in the main narrative, it works extremely well. With a little editing and cuts this could have been a five star read for me, I still enjoyed it immensely though. 4 Stars.
Valeria Luiselli was born in Mexico City in 1983 and grew up in South Africa. Her novels and essays have been translated into many languages and her work has appeared in publications including the New York Times, Granta, and McSweeney’s. Some of her recent projects include a ballet libretto for the choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, performed by the New York City Ballet in Lincoln Center in 2010; a pedestrian sound installation for the Serpentine Gallery in London; and a novella in installments for workers in a juice factory in Mexico. She lives in New York City.
There is a very interesting interview with Luiselli talking about this novel at PowelsBooks.