Excerpt from Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Lost Children Archive

A novel

by Valeria Luiselli

Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli X
Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Feb 2019, 400 pages

    Paperback:
    Feb 2020, 400 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Karen Lewis
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About this Book

Print Excerpt

Part I: Family Soundscape

Relocations
"An archive presupposes an archivist, a hand that
collects and classifies."
—Arlette Farge

"To leave is to die a little.
To arrive is never to arrive."
—Migrant prayer

Departure

Mouths open to the sun, they sleep. Boy and girl, foreheads pearled with sweat, cheeks red and streaked white with dry spit. They occupy the entire space in the back of the car, spread out, limbs offering, heavy and placid. From the copilot seat, I glance back to check on them every so often, then turn around to study the map again. We advance in the slow lava of traffic toward the city limits, across the GW Bridge, and merge onto the interstate. An airplane passes above us and leaves a straight long scar on the palate of the cloudless sky. Behind the wheel, my husband adjusts his hat, dries his forehead with the back of his hand.


Family Lexicon

I don't know what my husband and I will say to each of our children one day. I'm not sure which parts of our story we might each choose to pluck and edit out for them, and which ones we'd shuffle around and insert back in to produce a final version—even though plucking, shuffling, and editing sounds is probably the best summary of what my husband and I do for a living. But the children will ask, because ask is what children do. And we'll need to tell them a beginning, a middle, and an end. We'll need to give them an answer, tell them a proper story.

The boy turned ten yesterday, just one day before we left New York. We got him good presents. He had specifically said:

No toys.

The girl is five, and for some weeks has been asking, insistently:

When do I turn six?

No matter our answer, she'll find it unsatisfactory. So we usually say something ambiguous, like:

Soon.

In a few months.

Before you know it.

The girl is my daughter and the boy is my husband's son. I'm a biological mother to one, a stepmother to the other, and a de facto mother in general to both of them. My husband is a father and a stepfather, to each one respectively, but also just a father. The girl and boy are therefore: step-sister, son, stepdaughter, daughter, step-brother, sister, stepson, brother. And because hyphenations and petty nuances complicate the sentences of everyday grammar—the us, the them, the our, the your—as soon as we started living together, when the boy was almost six and the girl still a toddler, we adopted the much simpler possessive adjective our to refer to them two. They became: our children. And sometimes: the boy, the girl. Quickly, the two of them learned the rules of our private grammar, and adopted the generic nouns Mama and Papa, or sometimes simply Ma and Pa. And until now at least, our family lexicon defined the scope and limits of our shared world.


Family Plot

My husband and I met four years ago, recording a soundscape of New York City. We were part of a large team of people working for the Center for Oral History at Columbia University. The soundscape was meant to sample and collect all the keynotes and the soundmarks that were emblematic of the city: subway cars screeching to a halt, music in the long underground hallways of Forty-Second Street, ministers preaching in Harlem, bells, rumors and murmurs inside the Wall Street stock exchange. But it also attempted to survey and classify all the other sounds that the city produced and that usually went by, as noise, unnoticed: cash registers opening and closing in delis, a script being rehearsed in an empty Broadway theater, underwater currents in the Hudson, Canada geese flocking and shitting over Van Cortlandt Park, swings swinging in Astoria playgrounds, elderly Korean women filing wealthy fingernails on the Upper West Side, a fire breaking through an old tenement building in the Bronx, a passerby yelling a stream of motherfuckers at another. There were journalists, sound artists, geographers, urbanists, writers, historians, acoustemologists, anthropologists, musicians, and even bathymetrists, with those complicated devices called multibeam echo sounders, which were plunged into the waterspaces surrounding the city, measuring the depth and contours of the riverbeds, and who knows what else. Everyone, in couples or small groups, surveyed and sampled wavelengths around the city, like we were documenting the last sounds of an enormous beast.

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Excerpted from Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli. Copyright © 2019 by Valeria Luiselli. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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