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Booker Prize 2019 Longlist: Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli

40245130

(Mexico/Italy)

Book One – read and rated by panellists Book Worm, Anita, Nicole, Tracy, Lisa and Susie

Valeria Luiselli was born in Mexico City in 1983 and grew up in South Africa, South Korea and India.

Synopsis from Booker Prize website: A family in New York packs the car and sets out on a road trip. A mother, a father, a boy and a girl, they head south west, to the Apacheria, the regions of the US which used to be Mexico. They drive for hours through desert and mountains. They stop at diners when they’re hungry and sleep in motels when it gets dark.Meanwhile, thousands of children are journeying north, travelling to the US border from Central America and Mexico. Not all of them will make it to the border.

In a breathtaking feat of literary virtuosity, Lost Children Archives intertwines these two journeys to create a masterful novel full of echoes and reflections – a moving, powerful, urgent story about what it is to be human in an inhuman world.

Book Worm’s Thoughts: This is an important book and one I think everyone should read through the use of fiction it really brings home the realities of life for child refugees. The real genius in the book lies in the way the author puts 2 American children into a similar situation – lost in the desert with no adults, no food and no water – everyone involved in the search for these children is pulling out all the stops to make sure they are found alive, whereas the reality for refugee children is no-one is looking and their deaths actually make life easier in terms of processing, housing and deportation.

I loved the narrative style the blending of language, of other fictional works, of the oral story telling tradition, the use of photos and documents to capture time and place and the distinct voices of the characters especially the Girl.

Real world rating 5 Stars.

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality: 4/5
Character development: 2/4
Plot development: 2/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 14/20

Anita’s Thoughts: First, let me say that if I were just reviewing the writing of this book alone, it would definitely be in five star territory. I loved the narrative voices, especially of the mother, and the use of language. I also found it interesting how the author used literary references and wove in language and metaphors of other authors. I wouldn’t hesitate to pick up another book by this author.

Thematically, I think this book tried way too hard. Ostensibly, the story is about a blended family where a father with a son married a mother with a daughter. The father and mother met on a work project where they connected, but when that project ended, their divergent career goals started to tear them apart. Therein lies my first critique, their career goals really were not all that different, and it’s pretty hard for me to imagine their marriage falling apart because of them, and yet, the reader wasn’t really shown much else about the marriage, so there’s no other conclusion that can be reached.

The novel goes on to attempt to tie the history of the Apache Indians to our current immigration situation with the imminent loss of this family. The Apache references didn’t really add to the theme nor enhance the story.

The parallels between some of the challenges with our immigration/refugee issues here in the U.S. and the loss of family due to divorce worked better for me. The son narrates the second half of the book. I felt his pain at both the thought of losing his step sister and the real loss of her. The issues regarding immigration were denoted by a book within a book,  Elegies of Lost Children, and the sorrows and struggles evoked there were moving.

All in all, the author’s true strength (beautiful, moving prose) was muddied by trying to do too much with the narrative structure and contrived plotting.

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality: 4/5
Character development: 2/4
Plot development: 2/4
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Total: 14/20

Nicole’s Thoughts: I consume most of my books on audio at this point, and I feel like sometimes I’m missing out.  For example, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous must be read, whereas, Daisy Jones and the Six was enhanced by the audio experience.  At first I thought this book should be read.  It’s narrated by the author, and I found her narration rather flat, though I was utterly enchanted by her mild accent.

But this is a book about (among other things) the sounds in our lives and after about an hour of listening, I knew this book was designed for audio and nobody could have read it but the author.  This book felt deeply personal – as if she were telling us about this point in her life.  A crossroads where relationships and careers should be examined.

There’s a road trip, the border crisis, history, a girl with a brother, a boy with a Polaroid, a man with mission, a woman with a map and children …. Lost. Found. Other.

It’s a multi-media experience (the audio comes with a 30-page PDF) and great decisions in the audio performance that I feel would have been lost in the reading.

It was an original story, relateable and beautifully told.

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality: 4/5
Character development: 4/4
Plot development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 18/20

Tracy’s Thoughts: I liked this, but didn’t love it. I did love the idea, and the plot and pacing were good. But for me the writing was a bit choppy. I also had a hard time connecting with the characters, but I think it was because the author was the narrator for the audiobook, and she didn’t use a lot of voice inflection. I wish I had actually read the book with this one, and I may have liked it a lot more. 

Writing quality: 3/5
Originality: 4/5
Character development: 2.5/4
Plot development: 3.5/4
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Total: 14/20

Lisa’s Thoughts: I have mixed feelings about this novel. I appreciated the beauty of some of the writing and felt connected to the young boy who narrates part of the book.  I was touched by his relationship with his younger stepsister. At the same time, I did not like reading the book. I never felt connected to the adult woman narrator, and never understood why her marriage was falling apart, and never cared about or understood the difference between a documentarist and documentarian. (Spoiler alert: the distinction is apparently important.) And finally, the subject of the book – lost children – is so incredibly painful to think about. That does not speak to the quality of the book; of course, it is critical to write about such difficult topics. It just contributed to my discomfort and growing  aversion to reading it. 

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality: 4/5
Character development: 2/4
Plot development: 1/4
Overall enjoyment: 0/2
Total: 11/20

Susie’s Thoughts:

I started listening to the audio of Lost Children Archive a number of months ago when it was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize.  I’m not going to lie.  I hated the audio.  The author’s choice to narrate her own work was a giant mistake in my opinion.

When it was selected for the Booker shortlist I felt compelled to dive back in, and chose to consume the print version this time.  I had a hard time shaking the narrator’s voice, even when reading it myself, and this ultimately impacted upon my lack of enjoyment of Lost Children Archive.  I found it to be a really hard slog to get through it.  I was bored, frustrated, and I eventually came close to hating it.  I found the characters one dimensional and annoying, the plot thin and disengaging, and the overall tone of the novel flat and disaffecting. It’s a shame, because I could genuinely see flashes of brilliance in her writing.  Some of her observations were poignant, and there were passages that were beautiful.  Unfortunately that was not enough to lift the novel for me.

Writing quality: 2.5/5
Originality: 3/5
Character development: 2/4
Plot development: 1/4
Overall enjoyment: .5/2
Total: 9/20

Rankings
Lost Children Archive 13.3

 

 

 

One Comment Post a comment
  1. Reblogged this on The Sardonic Reviewer.

    Like

    August 1, 2019

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