I wrote down the microchemical raptures I was having, one after the next, from beginning to end of this revelatory novel ... The Lost Children Archives [is] a semi-autobiographical gloss that Lueselli skillfully crafts without dipping into the pedantic accumulations that sometimes overwhelm such books ... It is a breathtaking journey, one that builds slowly and confidently until you find yourself in a fever dream of convergences. The Lost Children Archive is simply stunning. It is a perfect intervention for our horrible time, but that fleeting concurrence is not why this book will be read and sampled and riffed on for years to come ... The Lost Children Archive contains multitudes, contradictions, and raises difficult questions for which there are no easy answers. It is a great American novel. It is also a great human novel.
The novel truly becomes novel again in [Luiselli's] hands — electric, elastic, alluring, new ... Luiselli is a superb chronicler of children, and the narrator’s 5-year-old daughter and her husband’s 10-year-old son feel piercingly real — perceptive, irreplaceable, wonderfully odd ... Luiselli drives home just how much pain and sacrifice we are prepared to accept in the lives of others. She dramatizes what it takes for people to stare hard at their own families, to examine their complicity in other people’s suffering.
What emerges from this braiding and reworking of disparate texts is a highly imaginative and politically deft portrait of childhood within a vast American landscape. The parents and their children—one of whom narrates parts of the book—see and imagine the same territory differently, their experiences and those of the young migrants traveling elsewhere in the desert overlapping and separating again to create a kind of patchwork representation of how America might see itself ... A rollicking tale that contains within it an extremely disciplined exercise in political empathy ... Luiselli performs a perspectival shift that shows the reader something she wouldn’t normally see, and also maps the past onto the present in ways that can reveal hidden contours in both.
... a passionate, if complicated, American novel—or, perhaps more accurately, a novel of the Americas ... [The narrative from the stepson's perspective] is suspenseful, but its progression and resolution make clear that we are in the realm of consoling—and not entirely convincing—fantasy rather than in that of truth ... Luiselli’s stylistic freedoms... form a patchwork designed simultaneously to reflect and reinterpret our current reality ... The mother’s narrative voice, in its varying registers, sounds as natural as is possible ... The first half of the novel reads less like fiction than like a record of time spent in a café with a particularly interesting friend—one whose observations are alternately delightful and trenchant, unexpected and familiar; one whose presumption of her interlocutor’s intelligence and erudition is both flattering and quickening ... As [Luiselli] endeavors to marry fact-like fiction... with fairytale-like fiction... with dark myth... with a strong political intention that nevertheless aims to avoid propaganda, all the while spinning formal complexity upon formal complexity, there is ultimately a sense that the center cannot hold ... Many elements of Lost Children Archive are extraordinary, and yet the ultimate act of transformation has not occurred. One might of course contend that, in this ghastly time, such a transformation is no longer possible; but Luiselli’s decision to write a novel at all surely affirms otherwise.
Now her brilliant new novel, Lost Children Archive, takes these issues — and this extraordinary writer — to a new level ... Luiselli, a formally experimental collagist of a writer who conceives of her work as a dialogue with various texts, has filled this novel with imbedded references and quotes from a semester's worth of seminal books and documents about road trips, Native American history, and immigration, which the family tote cross-country in seven boxes. Remarkably, these materials add edifying heft without weighing down the novel ... Lost Children Archive is more sobering than playful, but what Luiselli has pulled off here is a twist on the great American road trip novel, a book about alienation as well as aliens that chronicles fractures, divides, and estrangement — of both a family and a country. Like her earlier work, it's a remarkable feat of empathy and intellectuality that once again showcases Luiselli's ability to braid the political, historical, and personal while explicitly addressing the challenges of figuring out how to tell the very story she's telling.
In spinning Tell Me How It Ends into a work of ambitious fiction, Luiselli widens her lens to capture the unruly intimacies of marriage and parenthood ... Lest anyone get upset about artistic license, Luiselli includes a detailed works cited page that sources those quotes, allusions and craft decisions. Does plot matter, when her deep thinking yields vital insights? Her mind is a delight. Still, Luiselli builds heat she doesn’t use, preferring the elision provided, halfway through, by a switch from the point of view of the wife/mother/narrator to that of her stepson ... In the book’s late, lyric section, [Luiselli's] writing shimmers like its desert setting, flickering among the minds of children walking to find a future.
From this central family drama springs a number of narrative moves that can hardly be called minor or tangential ... The most compelling sections center on the narrator and her unease about her documentary project ... The novel’s climax — a chapter-spanning single sentence — is a true literary spectacle. Foregoing paragraph breaks, Ms. Luiselli essentially builds a wall of prose across 19 pages. It’s the most emotionally draining sentence that will be published this year, and, unlike a wall of concrete, her wall of prose unites the many characters’ story lines ... [Luisielli] is capable of pushing the boundaries of the sentence like James Joyce, David Foster Wallace and other over-celebrated white male novelists of the 20th century, but rather than mere performative page-passing, her intent is to corral politics, history and story into conversation. In short, Ms. Luiselli is now constructing books that are both personal and global, familial and political.
Valeria Luiselli charts the couple’s intellectual concerns and political commitments (and her own) in ruminative, layered prose that deliberately digresses more than it progresses, with a riffing, essayistic logic, subtitles that become refrains, and minimal plot ... What perhaps sets a novel apart from these other genres [about migration] is the childlike pleasure it can take in pure play, in the imaginative pact of treating the artifice of the story as lived reality. And there is joy in make-believe in Lost Children Archive, which gains much of its wry charisma from the playacting of its precocious child characters ... But what might one do after reading a novel that stirs pity and rage? Acutely sensitive to these misgivings, Luiselli has delivered a madly allusive, self-reflexive, experimental novel, one that is as much about storytellers and storytelling as it is about lost children. Play she in fact can, and does: with structure, cleverly, inventively ... This highly conceptual, cerebral approach is rich but occasionally frustrating as it carries nested within it the potential to stir pity and rage ... [Luiselli's] novel bears rereading, to reveal pleasing ironies (the boy loses the “little red book about lost children” on a train) and stylistic sleights of hand ... [The book's elegies] achieve a lyrical immediacy that makes us feel for those children atop the train. The brilliance of the writing stirs rage and pity. It humanizes us.
Lost Children Archive is, in short, probably not a beach read ... The narrative structure is difficult, the language sometimes clunky. But then Luiselli dazzles with a poetic description, or a trenchant observation about the power and danger of stories. And the motivating crisis — those thousands of unaccompanied, 'undocumented' children — forces itself through with moving insistence.
Readers of contemporary autofiction will recognize the form: plot is relaxed into essay, with room for authorial digression, political and theoretical commentary, and reports on what the author has been reading, along with just enough storytelling to keep the novel moving forward ... So the novel, like Emmet Gowin’s photographs, takes its time rather than quickly imposing a point of view... it inhabits its material naturally rather than performing it too strenuously. The results are often engrossing ... The book offers a beautiful and patiently loving portrait of children and of the task of looking after them ... And just as pleasurable is the access we gain to the narrator’s mind—a comprehensive literary intelligence sorting through a lot of data ... The book’s weaknesses in traditional evocation more generally revolve around the husband, a dimly realized creature who alternates between lecturing the children on the destiny of the Apaches and quarrelling, for no apparent reason, with his very appealing wife ... It is impossible not to admire the novel’s surging ambition. But this is also an oddly symptomatic book, characteristic of our age’s self-doubts, divided between the quotidian realism of diaristic autofiction and the magical privileges of unfettered fiction-making ... brilliantly intricate and constantly surprising...
Much of the first part is an engrossing portrait of a family, and Luiselli captures children’s’ outlooks with touching sympathy, set against a shifting backdrop of seedy motels in desolate hinterlands ... The novel’s formal experimentation and documentary inclusiveness, running, at the end, to a series of Polaroid snapshots, along with the narrator’s often fascinating digressions, on the pleasures of reading Susan Sontag’s journals, for example, make Lost Children Archive an involving and richly textured book ... It is here, at the end, that the main narrative of Lost Children Archive radically speeds up and takes a somewhat implausible and melodramatic turn, as the children run away from their archivist parents and set out across the desert, to link up briefly with the child migrants seeking to avoid deportation. One senses here an over-desire to cement parallels and analogies, to hammer home themes. But these weaknesses in the ending are more than outweighed by the fascination and sombre beauty of the journey that has taken us to this point.
... a compelling, beautifully articulated work that is a profound and unsentimental composition on exile ... Lost Children Archive incorporates samples from actual literary works, music, photographs, maps, and official records into its plot, and the novel’s intertextuality, the way that these items communicate with and relate to Luiselli’s story, is masterful ... The novel is rich with parallels ... Lost Children Archive brings into sharp focus the deep wrongs that are being inflicted upon immigrant children in our name. It demands that our numbed complacency be shaken, and our rage unleashed.
Lost Children Archive is laced with the melancholy of last things — not only through the stories told of the last Apaches, but also the choices of literary touchstones ... [Luiselli's] sentences are often as scintillating as those of her forebears ... The book reverberates with so much that has been in the headlines for the last months and years, that it’s impossible to read it without those stories acting as shadows ... Luiselli’s novel is the kind of book we need right now: one not afraid to dig into the politics of the present, but always with an eye toward posterity ... Lost Children Archive hits the right pitch and finds the right surface, whispering back to us our own questions and concerns, reverberating with the headlines of the present and the great art of the past. It doesn’t offer answers or illumination necessarily, but it does, like the struck match, make us aware of the dark, unknown space that surrounds it, of the enormous ignorance that envelops everything we think we know.
As to my skepticism about whether or not such a baldly relevant political subject as the fate of undocumented migrant children can be transformed into art, Luiselli's narrator — her semi stand-in in this novel — asks those same questions, worrying whether her documentary will be 'moralistic' 'boring,' and heavy handed. In response, the novel Luiselli has created vaults over those pitfalls, thanks mostly to the inexhaustible buoyancy of its language. But be forewarned: that soaring writing style is practically the only uplifting element in this fictional travelogue ... Lost Children Archive is epic in its assured embrace of American history, literature, pop culture and, yes, politics. Luiselli smoothly integrates different ways of telling the same story: fragments of poems, a bravura sentence that runs on for 20 pages, Polaroid photos and other documents, like migrant mortality reports ... That's really the point of all of Luiselli's elegant exertions in this novel: to draw readers into the gut realization that, if not for luck, the grace of God, money — whatever — these lost children could be our children. Not every reader is going to like that message; not everyone is going to want to go along for this rough ride. But there should be no worries about Luiselli's up-to-the-minute subject. Lost Children Archive ratifies the power of great fiction to expose our deepest desires, fears, and hopes as we stumble through a world we share with others, yet barely understand.
... meticulously constructed, stultifyingly cerebral ... Every detail, including the children’s obsession with David Bowie’s 'Space Oddity' and the boy’s retro birthday gift of a Polaroid camera, is part of Luiselli’s painstaking architecture ... For its oxygen-starved first half, structure and literary complexity seem to be of greater interest to Luiselli than storytelling ... As the trip morphs into an adventure starring him and his sister, who in their very American safety take needless, stupid risks, the layers and echoes in Luiselli’s prose deepen to beautiful, even magical effect ... For the most part, though, [the family's] reality remains at a remove from us, as if Luiselli couldn’t fully persuade herself of her right to tell their story — to use her words to help us understand and, yes, feel. Would that she had. Because great art, like great journalism, can in fact move people to action.
Urgent facts and poignant details are carried across into Lost Children Archive, which is in many ways a fictional elaboration of this previous book. In retelling this story — dazzlingly, compellingly — again and again, Luiselli urges her readers towards a common humanity.
However we decide what defines a Great American Novel in 2019, it must feel a lot like what’s inside Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive ... the search for selfhood and manifest destiny seems so freshly recast in the frank intelligence and imagination of [Luiselli’s] telling ... Packaged like a sort of impressionistic scrapbook scattered with song lyrics, sketches, and Polaroids, the novel drifts almost dreamlike between the personal and political, finding beguiling detours and cul-de-sacs as it goes. By its feverish climax — the last 20 pages spill out in one single, streaming sentence — Luiselli isn’t just giving us a story, she’s showing us new ways to see.
The novel may be cool as it opens, but the ending is white hot. Both the unnamed family and the anonymous migrant children succeed as individual characters. Family and migrant voices ultimately combine to tell a collective story both specific and universal ... Luisielli’s novel provides convincing evidence for the valid albeit complicated role of fiction in telling painful stories that must be heard.
... incredibly eloquent and ambitious ... Lost Children Archive feels just as timeless as it is pertinent ... Reading Lost Children Archive, it’s hard not to marvel at Luiselli’s technique ... But like the sunlight that pours in through the windshield on a journey westward, her writing, while dazzling, can sometimes make you lose sight of the very themes and relationships she’s developing. Luiselli’s prose is very considered; it often feels like she’s trying to find a way to tell the larger story in each sentence, rather than allowing them to accumulate ... Lost Children Archive doesn’t fail for succeeding—beautiful writing is still beautiful writing—but the unintentional result is that the experimentation in form, switching from a kind of journaling to the more intimate firsthand account of a 10-year-old boy, can come off as oddly detached ... when Lost Children Archive concerns itself more with the destination than the journey, it loses its vitality.
Reading this ambitious and thought-provoking novel feels not so much like entering the 'archive' of the title as it does opening an overstuffed suitcase, out of which quotes, dates, literary references, historical events, personal reflections, and political passions burst with pent-up energy ... Autofiction doesn’t seem like the most logical tool for this job, though, and the narrator, aware of the mismatch, hesitates and holds back. For roughly its first half, Lost Children Archive is a formally accomplished, intertextual road novel of ideas. But the arrival at the border keeps getting postponed. There’s always another motel, truck stop, or song on the car stereo to describe, as if Luiselli isn’t yet ready to enter that charged emotional zone ... But [Luiselli] offering her readers everything she’s got, and that in itself makes it moving and persuasive when, here at the heart of the novel, she finally makes room for the border itself, that desert land full of threat, promise, and transformation.
[Luiselli's] most ambitious work yet ... The result is an engaging prismatic blend of essay, travelogue and narrative that sensitizes the reader for the magnitude of what is to follow when, at the halfway point, we turn a corner, and the lost children take the wheel ... In her own more oblique, associative way, Luiselli brings to bear on our present moral crises all the ambition and humility of James Agee’s landmark Depression-era documentary, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. As with that brilliant and challenging book, Luiselli’s singular narrative may not resonate with every reader. But for many, it will prove uniquely rewarding — and even life-changing.
Luiselli’s novel, and the novel within the novel, are so carefully constructed that it begins to echo and rhyme. A surprising shift in the narration creates a resonant repetition that further interrogates whose perspectives are privileged in traditional storytelling. But this deep attention to structure holds the reader at a distance, putting calculated parallels ahead of its characters’ emotional journeys ... One of the rare places where the novel has an emotional spark is in its depiction of what Luiselli calls 'the savage daily ritual of being married' ... Lost Children Archive is a novel written with the eye of an essayist, each moment dissected rather than lived. It’s like a road trip in its own right, meandering, sometimes filled with absorbing, delicious conversation, sometimes haunted by the nagging question, How much further to the end?
Luiselli’s writing possesses a restless intelligence that weaves disparate lives and cultures into a map of the world ... Lost Children Archive builds into a stunning structure of allusion and metaphor and encourages us to think about how fiction reveals links between people as disparate as New York journalists and Central American refugees. Sometimes, though, Luiselli’s ideas ride a bit too close to the surface ... Still, when this novel allows us to hear its notes ourselves, the music its ensemble of voices creates is beautiful.
The thematic layering of absences and silences, and the real and invented meta-texts sown throughout the narrative, make this a highly conceptual novel. Ms. Luiselli has a wonderful mind, and there are pleasures in watching her slowly unfold her ideas to reveal hidden resonances ... But her bookish approach fits uncomfortably with the immigration crisis, turning the subject of missing and separated children into a literary device ... The personal becomes a means by which to understand the political. In truth, the gambit doesn’t entirely work. Though the children bring the story a much-needed burst of vitality, they labor under their metaphoric burden ... This is a searching, cerebral, nobly intentioned novel that never manages to move from the abstract into the real.
There’s pathos here, but maybe not quite how Luiselli intends; it gets hard not to crave a bit of the chutzpah on show in a more conventional social problem novel such as Rachel Kushner’s recent The Mars Room, which simply rolls up its sleeves to brazen out the difficulty of imagining its way into prison life. Luiselli’s more cautious approach... may be more honest but its insights are moot, especially when the noodling ends up having to go toe to toe with the bald facts of 'migrant mortality reports' inserted into the narrative, describing children found dead from exposure in the desert ... In the end, Lost Children Archive runs out of steam and has to change tack, switching perspective to the narrator’s stepson as he plans to run away, as if becoming a lost child himself might make him more interesting to his mother. The episode might have fuelled the novel all by itself, but in selling this very different story in the shape of another, Luiselli, almost despite herself, seems to fall into the trap of thinking the personal isn’t political enough.
As the drama unfolds, the author skillfully weaves together narratives that span multiple generations, perspectives, and cultures, creating a conclusion that might best be described as a spectacular singularity ... Luiselli is an erudite writer, and the novel is an interrogation of many literary texts and techniques. The elegies that the wife reads aloud each allude to literary works about voyages, but the influences are seamlessly embedded, not showy ... gives us a deeper look into the lives of migrant children, while reminding us that this is a story that has been told before and will need to be told again.
But for all its cleverness, this is also a warm and funny novel, equally droll in its treatment of the precocious, anxious children and its mockery of the solipsistic adults who are so careless of them ... Lost Children Archive, in its seriousness and beguiling oddity, is a welcome addition to the Sebaldian genre.
A poignant portrait of current events. Intense and keenly timely, Luiselli’s latest work is perhaps her most politically relevant, and themes of translation and migration resonate, making it one of few novels that fully and powerfully convey the urgency of this unsettling situation.
There is so much truth in this novel ... The narrative is unhurried, almost leisurely, even when the story line itself turns frantic. There is a sentence that goes on for pages and pages, perhaps to bombard us with a sense of time, but the section still winds up feeling somewhat relaxed. Luiselli is clearly an exceptional writer who knows her craft, but at some points, the novel feels convoluted, as if it could be at least three stories instead of just one. Despite this, Lost Children Archive is a beautiful text, in which everyone is searching for connection and reconnection. There’s a lot to parse in the novel, many details in service of a bigger picture asking for more consideration, more mercy and more action.
Spellbinding ... works on many levels. Luiselli breaks up her narrative with inventories, lists, quotes, maps, poems, photos, stories, statistics and more. These are blended into the book in a metafictional way so that, like her protagonists, Luiselli becomes an archivist of sorts, assembling reality from many disparate sources. The cumulative effect is powerful ... a haunting novel that illuminates timely issues.
Lost Children Archive isn’t a stream-of-consciousness story, but it reads almost like a memory ... 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.
This remarkable, inventive fictional take on the theme captures the anguish of those families through a deliberate piling-up of stories; reading it, you feel yourself slowly coming face to face with a world where masses of children are separated, missing, or dead of exposure in the desert ... In the current political moment, one might want a less abstruse approach. But as the novel rises to a ferocious climax in a 20-page-long single sentence, Luiselli thunderously, persuasively insists that reckoning with the border will make deep demands of both our intellectual and emotional reserves ... A powerful border story, at once intellectual and heartfelt.
Powerful, eloquent ... uxtaposing rich poetic prose with direct storytelling and brutal reality and alternating narratives with photos, documents, poems, maps, and music, Luiselli explores what holds a family and society together and what pulls them apart ... Luiselli demonstrates how callousness toward other cultures erodes our own. Her superb novel makes a devastating case for compassion by documenting the tragic shortcomings of the immigration process.