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Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli

Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli

I am probably just one more person shouting my opinion into the void on this matter but I’m going to say it anyway: Lost Children Archive was robbed of the Women’s Prize and the Man Booker.

When this book was long-listed for the Women’s Prize I hadn’t heard much about it. Then a few reviews started trickling in from people I follow on Instagram and my curiosity was piqued. I’m a huge fan of sprawling narratives, and strangely also of unnamed characters. By the time it was long-listed for the Man Booker, I knew I had to read it, so I splurged on a full-price hardback edition – something I never do because I am very strict with my book budget! Plus, usually when I buy books full-price, I end up not loving them and then feeling like I’ve wasted so much money.

Thankfully, this was not the case with Lost Children Archive. As soon as I started reading it, I knew I was in for a treat. Our unnamed narrators, Ma, Pa, boy and girl are going on a road trip across the US down to the southern states. A sound documentarist and documentarian, Ma and Pa are embarking on two separate projects, which puts a strain on their marriage as for the past few years they have been working on the same soundscape project, which was how they met in the first place. Their children, both from previous marriages, are accompanying them. Pa wants to create a soundscape to remember the story of the last Apaches, while Ma is determined to document via sound the horrific situation regarding children attempting to cross the US border.

This book is heartbreakingly relevant. Children’s lives are in danger every day as they attempt to flee countries for a safer life elsewhere. Luiselli is telling that story and now, more than ever, do we need to listen.

Her writing drips with atmosphere and description and yet not once does it feel like a chore to read. Even near the end, when a 20-page sentence makes an appearance, I tried to read it while holding a breath, I was so engrossed in the narrative and this lengthy sentence embodied the tension perfectly. There’s a rhythm to her prose which sucks you in almost from the first page, and the novel is broken up periodically by the inclusion of documents, extracts from books and tapes. I don’t know about you, but that’s one of my favourite features of a book as I think it adds a whole new dimension to the story. The inclusion of the migrant mortality reports had such a strong effect on me: a brutal yet necessary move to force the reader to confront the reality migrant children face at the US border.

The echoes Luiselli creates with these extracts blew me away. She really makes you think about storytelling – the way we tell stories, why we tell them, and how our own perspective can blur even our own memories.

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There is so much to unpick within this novel, as not only does Luiselli tackle all of the above, she also gives us the depiction of a stalling marriage. Without even naming the protagonists, we feel for them and empathise with their careers moving in different directions. The only minor issue I had with Lost Children Archive was when the narrative briefly switched from the mother’s perspective to the son’s. I’m never a huge a fan of child narrators, as they either feel too childish or I’m sceptical as to why a seven year old is having such profound thoughts. But even this section was done better than many other books narrated by children that I’ve read.

In brief, intense, moving and utterly unflinching.

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