Book Review: Lost Children Archive – Valeria Luiselli

Posted 9 months ago in Print

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Lost Children Archive

Valeria Luiselli

[4th Estate]

In any narrative where the backdrop for personal strife is large-scale atrocity, a reader must question whether the tragic framework lends illusive gravity to the main storyline. In the best-case scenario, a text will question itself, and in so doing force its reader to question her own reactions. Lost Children Archive manages to do that. Luiselli interrogates what it means to set the breakup of a family against the disappearance of young Mexican migrants. Though Luiselli’s voice is gripping, and her metafictional critique is mostly even-handed, an overall examination of the novel finds its conceit somewhat wanting.

Anyone will agonize over the plight of children forced to walk through the desert until their feet bleed, forced to scavenge for food, forced to perch precariously on top of trains and run from armed border guards. I’m willing to bet that your own discomfort just reading that sentence proves my point. So, devoting nearly half of a narrative to such suffering devalues the surface story rather than augmenting it. The fact that the overall plot revolves around something as quotidian as divorce only makes the contrast more glaring. Still, the novel as a whole compels in spite of its ideological shortcomings. It’s an archive of interpersonal violence, a stunning depiction of what we’re capable of doing both to strangers and to those we love most.

Words: Sophie Stein


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