BookPage starred review, February 2019
Valeria Luiselli’s fourth novel takes readers on a contemplative road trip from New York City to the American Southwest. A blended family of four—parents and their two children, a boy, 10, and a girl, 5—is relocating so the father can research Apache history for a new project. The mother is going on the thin hope of locating the daughters of a friend, two young girls who attempted to cross the border from Mexico in search of asylum. But both parents know the marriage is winding down, and the mother and her daughter will return to the city after the summer is over.
As they wend their way through the Appalachians, across Oklahoma and into the desert, the father tells stories of the Apaches’ civilization and its eventual exile and defeat, while the mother frets over the fates of migrant children and dreads her separation from the boy in the back seat. During the drive, the children read books and learn all the words to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” seemingly ignorant of their parents’ burdens.
Lost Children Archive isn’t a stream-of-consciousness story, but it reads almost like a memory. It unfolds in short, vignettelike scenes and takes you deep into the head space of its narrators. The first half, told by the mother, is meandering, the current-day journey interspersed with sketches from her earlier life and scenes from a book called Elegies, which tells the stories of migrant children. In the second half, told through the boy’s eyes, the stakes become higher and the action ramps up. Luiselli is a deliberate yet imaginative writer, and her work as an advocate for asylum-seekers informs the novel’s skillful blend of family story and issue-driven themes.
The characters join a long line of people forced to face separation and relocation to unfamiliar territory, their current situation an echo of so many others, from enslaved Africans to Apaches and today’s child refugees. These echoes will remain in the mind of the reader as well.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a Q&A with Valeria Luiselli for Lost Children Archive.