Lost Children Archive II: Really?

First of all, it makes me sad that this blog is the last one that I will write for this class. It has been good to share my thoughts with all of you guys, and tell you my perspectives about the different books we have read and discussed during this term. I will miss to have the liberty of writing about anything I decide, and don’t feel the pressure to think that anyone will judge me for what I posted in my blogs. So, thank you for the work we all have done during this term.

With respect to the book, once again, I don’t know where is that I should begin. I have to recognize that in no way did I imagine that when the title of the book makes reference to the ‘archive of lost children’, it would include both: 1) the children migrants who get lost in the desert  trying to cross to the US; and 2) the couple’s own children who get lost trying to get to the Echo Canyon. Once I get to this part of the book, it was very difficult to stop because I was interested to know what will happen at the end.

I remembered that last week, some of us agree that the story lacked some drama and suspense, not meaning this that it was less interesting, but perhaps different from the other books we read. However, after reading the second part of the book, I can affirm that this book has indeed a lot of suspense. This is also a sad story. There are different parts of the book that make me feel bad. For instance, the condition of the migrant children, who are left to their fate in the desert. As well as the fact that many of them do not reach the finish line, as was the case of Manuela’s children. I don’t like either that at the end, the couple couldn’t reconcile their differences and the two sibling (Memphis and Pluma Ligera) had to be separated. 

The relationship between these two children is something that makes me feel overly tender. It is so nice and cute the way in which Pluma Ligera takes care of his sister. The part of the book that is my favorite, is when he leaves his recording so that Memphis could remember him and everything that happened, all the adventures that both of them overcome. I realized that the parts I like the most is when he tells from his own perspective, how is that the trip was developing. I like his own reflections about the world. He is a very mature boy, who understands very well what is occurring at that moment. He is aware of the problems that his parents are facing; he sees how worried and sad his mother is due to the circumstances of the lost children; he even understands the complex social issue behind those children’s  lives.

Somehow, when he tells the story, everything is simpler, fresher, more realistic, purer, and with more love.

Valeria Luiselli on the Youtube

Here is a clip of Valeria Luiselli describing her work, how her characters are unnamed and how she describes her work as documentary/ fiction. I found it neat, so I thought I’d share it.

Stay healthy everyone!

Lost Children Archive Part 1:

I’ve really enjoyed this novel so far. As I’ve been reading the first part, I have encountered myself noticing how the reader is not really presented with any kind of suspense. Instead we are simply following a family through their road trip through the United States. As we join them in this journey, we learn about their family interaction, the relationship between the mom and the dad, music, photography, literature and the political climate in relation to the immigration crisis at the southwestern border. All this is narrated through the eyes of the wife. I must say that when I first saw the title of the novel, I was expecting something that would focus on tackling the child migrant crisis but after reading this first part it seems that this is the backdrop of the story. It is a novel with immigration. It’s a backdrop of the family road trip where the family also observes the wide variety of Americans in the country, witnessing things such as the way they live and their political and social beliefs. As the family is witness of this immigration crisis through listening to the radio, they also have a crisis of their own. This crisis revolves around the marriage presented, which is slowly dissolving throughout the family road trip. Though physically they are together, emotionally and internally the mom and dad seem to be lost in the direction of their marriage.

Throughout the journey the mother also reflects on how she wants to work and present her project on the border situation. As the trip progresses, she realizes that she wants to document the stories about the missing migrant children, something that is brought to her attention after hearing of the disappearances of the two girls that are part of the legal case that she has become interested in. The mother wants her project to humanize these children, as she shares that she does not want her project to use the suffering and unjust treatment of these innocent beings for political intentions, sob stories or to follow a narrative of us vs them or how she states it “patriots versus illegal aliens”. The mother is in search to give a human face to these beings who are victims of a terrible situation. This crisis that is touched on in this book clearly reminds me of the situation that is still happening presently and is still greatly politicized today.

Lost Children Archive (Part 1)

I am really enjoying this novel so far, but I can’t quite pin point exactly why – I am going to use this blog post to try and figure out why by spilling out my thoughts. If I am being honest, I am quite shocked that I am such a fun because I think a lot of people (including myself even just 2 years ago) would maybe find it too boring. I think part of the reason I like it so much is because I am constantly fascinated by the narrator, her words, and they way she delivers her thoughts. I remember Jon saying something last week about how the mother (the narrator) is an over-thinker, and even by page 1 I had made this observation myself. In a strangely pleasant way, I find myself becoming slightly anxious while reading this novel, and it’s all due to the narrator being an over-thinker, and therefore the narration being super fast-paced, as if time is moving very quickly. Actually, the mother even talks about how fast time is moving, both directly and indirectly. I find the descriptions in this novel super interesting; it seems on each and every page there was something that caught my attention, for example on page 84 the mother describes a woman as having: “Hyperthyrodial eyes”.  Another reason I think I like this novel so much is because I can somehow establish a personal connection to either the characters, the situation, etc., on pretty much each page. There are things the children say that I specifically remember myself saying as a kid; for example: “when will we get there?” (15).  This was the only thing that came out of me and my sisters’ mouths on road trips; every five minutes my parents would have to give us an answer. I also think that this novel is just beautifully written – there is so much thought and emotion in every sentence. There are so many times where I find myself rereading the same cluster of words just because of how beautifully written it is. I like how we as readers are let into all aspects of their lives; their jobs, their family, their relationship problems, etc. Interestingly though, we don’t even know any of their names. In my opinon, in this novel it seems that the narrator overcomplicates and overanalyzes things, where as in “House on Mango Street” it’s as if things are not analyzed enough. Interestingly enough, the tendencies to overanalyze and under analyze both left me with questions. Of course the ways in which sounds and space are used in this novel was also super interesting to me; something so simple like sound is turned into something to major – it’s almost as if it’s a character. Even the mother recognizes this: “Sound and space are connected in a way much deeper than we usually acknowledge” (39). I think this theme of sound extends to the narration itself; each paragraph is either filled with so much noise, or so much silence.

As much as this novel is about children, I think it is just as much about storytelling; throughout the entire first half, there are always stories being told. Whether it is the mother telling stories about her relationship/the situation at the border with the “lost children”, or the father who tells stories about the Apache children, among other things. On page 185 the mother even says: “For a long time I’ve been worried about what to tell our children, how to give them a story. But now, as I listen to the boy telling the story of this instant … / It’s his version of the story that will outlive us; his version that will remain an be passed down.” (185) It is also a story about and marriage, and relationships in general (between partners, between mother/father and child/step-child, etc.). The second paragraph on page 82 is just one of the many examples of where the mother reflects on her own relationship with her partner, and expresses how much she loves him, and how this is sometimes the problem, or rather HER problem as she likes the put it. I am fascinated by the relationship dynamics in this novel; each relationship is so unique.

I don’t really know how to explain this well but I also think this novel is sort of exclusive; what I mean is that there are so many references in this book to other songs, other books, etc.. One example is Lord of the Flies; if you’ve never heard of or read the book, maybe the parts of the novel that mention this book won’t make us much sense. This novel challenged me in this way; it was like a test of how much I know and how much I don’t.

Lost Children Archive: Where to begin?

This book has been my favorite so far. It has been really challenging to read and intriguing, I am spending more time on it than I expected. Each little “chapter”/section gives a lot to think about. I found the section “Routes and Roots” to present themes that we see throughout the book. A lot of them are presented by this woman narrator, of whom I haven’t found the name of, and we basically read an exposition of her thoughts and interpretations. So far I haven’t read any book like this. With His Pistol In His Hand holds some resemblance to this book, in the way it is structures, however it is a dissertation whereas this book seems to be part nonfiction and fiction. The part that I assume is fiction is the backstory of this family, however all of the works that are mentioned in the inventory of the boxes, the places they travel to, the “lost children” are true. Is the backstory of this family, their trip, true as well? The polaroid photos correspond to scenes in the book “The picture comes out in shades of brown: sepia, ecru, wheat, and sand. (…) they look as though they are not really there, like they are being remembered instead of photographed.” (p.68)

There is this focus on capturing, recording, memory, collecting, languages and tongues, pronouns, maps, directions, the Apaches, archives, etc., and I think most importantly children. It seems as if this book exists to archive a series of experiences, concepts, the lost children, and how this family of four puts the very nature of the world into question. The very idea of family is in question, of what destiny is, of where the road takes them in life. I have reread a few sections and I always find different underlying meanings, or questions. I think so far, this book seems to present more of what seems like a series of questions and tentative answers. The children seem to possess most of the answers. The protagonist/narrator really analyzes what her daughter and stepson tell her, how they are the ones that reprimand her and make her see the world clearly.

I am still trying to understand the relationships in this family. At certain points we see how the woman and the daughter are one whole and then the separate whole being the “husband” and “the boy”. Other times she feels a maternal bond to the boy, even though he is not her biological son. The wife and the husband see themselves as “passing strangers” that live their lives in parallel. Another aspect of this unconnected existence is in the section on pronouns at the beginning of the book “(…)pronouns shifted constantly in our confused syntax while we negotiated the terms of the relocation. We started speaking more hesitant about everything (…)” (p.26). So far I only have pieces of what this book might mean to me and how it is found in the world. I don’t know if they are right, I don’t know nor do I understand this, this is completely uncharted territory for me and I find myself following the thoughts of the narrator, as they are written on paper, as if I were experiencing and thinking things over with her.

I do see purpose and meaning in this book, and the work the narrator does, I think that is something the narrator holds dear to her heart and what gives her doubt about her marriage. She wants to archive, record, the struggles of living beings whereas she describes her husband as one who follows ghosts. That is an interesting perspective, maybe it will change by the end, or maybe not. There is more to debate there.

Lost Children Archive: Where to begin?

This book has been my favorite so far. It has been really challenging to read and intriguing, I am spending more time on it than I expected. Each little “chapter”/section gives a lot to think about. I found the section “Routes and Roots” to present themes that we see throughout the book. A lot of them are presented by this woman narrator, of whom I haven’t found the name of, and we basically read an exposition of her thoughts and interpretations. So far I haven’t read any book like this. With His Pistol In His Hand holds some resemblance to this book, in the way it is structures, however it is a dissertation whereas this book seems to be part nonfiction and fiction. The part that I assume is fiction is the backstory of this family, however all of the works that are mentioned in the inventory of the boxes, the places they travel to, the “lost children” are true. Is the backstory of this family, their trip, true as well? The polaroid photos correspond to scenes in the book “The picture comes out in shades of brown: sepia, ecru, wheat, and sand. (…) they look as though they are not really there, like they are being remembered instead of photographed.” (p.68)

There is this focus on capturing, recording, memory, collecting, languages and tongues, pronouns, maps, directions, the Apaches, archives, etc., and I think most importantly children. It seems as if this book exists to archive a series of experiences, concepts, the lost children, and how this family of four puts the very nature of the world into question. The very idea of family is in question, of what destiny is, of where the road takes them in life. I have reread a few sections and I always find different underlying meanings, or questions. I think so far, this book seems to present more of what seems like a series of questions and tentative answers. The children seem to possess most of the answers. The protagonist/narrator really analyzes what her daughter and stepson tell her, how they are the ones that reprimand her and make her see the world clearly.

I am still trying to understand the relationships in this family. At certain points we see how the woman and the daughter are one whole and then the separate whole being the “husband” and “the boy”. Other times she feels a maternal bond to the boy, even though he is not her biological son. The wife and the husband see themselves as “passing strangers” that live their lives in parallel. Another aspect of this unconnected existence is in the section on pronouns at the beginning of the book “(…)pronouns shifted constantly in our confused syntax while we negotiated the terms of the relocation. We started speaking more hesitant about everything (…)” (p.26). So far I only have pieces of what this book might mean to me and how it is found in the world. I don’t know if they are right, I don’t know nor do I understand this, this is completely uncharted territory for me and I find myself following the thoughts of the narrator, as they are written on paper, as if I were experiencing and thinking things over with her.

I do see purpose and meaning in this book, and the work the narrator does, I think that is something the narrator holds dear to her heart and what gives her doubt about her marriage. She wants to archive, record, the struggles of living beings whereas she describes her husband as one who follows ghosts. That is an interesting perspective, maybe it will change by the end, or maybe not. There is more to debate there.

Lost Children Archive

I had lowered my expectations for this novel, as per Jon’s request, but I have honestly found it easier to read than Bless Me Ultima or Gregorio Cortez. Particularly, I have found the style of writing quite interesting. It is seemingly uninteresting and anticlimactic – there are no names for the characters (which I have not figured out why yet), the dialogue is rather dry and the conflicts we’ve seen so far are anti-dramatic. Instead, it is written in a self-reflexive nature, where Luiselli’s thoughts turn in and upon themselves.  In fact it seems that the book is written in such a way that is analogous to comparing a movie with a documentary; while a movie is full of action and expression and music that enhances every scene, a documentary is raw, dry and simply following the actions of the characters with no embellishments. I somewhat appreciate this about Luiselli’s writing, because it makes the events seem real and untainted. Moreover, like a documentary, Luiselli’s writing envelops the reader in such a way that it seems we are there with them I their 1996 Volvo wagon. That we are there as they drive across the country and make their pit stops to eat and drink and sleep.  

The title is also very intriguing… the meaning and purpose of it seems to be unravelling slowly as the novel goes on. For starters, the husband, wife and kids had brought archives with them – the boxes of books and audio recordings in their trunk – and they are attempting to find new material to add. However, the “lost children” part remains more mysterious. We do, however, have some idea thanks to the wife helping Manuela get her daughters into America. (I am realizing now that other characters have names while the main family does not, why is that?). When Manuela calls to say that they had lost their case and the girls have disappeared somewhere between New Mexico and Arizona, it seems that Luiselli had an ah-ha moment that her novel must be for “the children who are missing, those whose voices can no longer be heard because they are, possible forever, lost”. I think that this is such an intriguing way to write, because it seems as though we were brought on Luiselli’s journey to find her purpose and her passion. It seems as though we were included in the process of writing this book, as well as included in discovering the the how, why and for whom it was written.

Lost Children Archive (part 1)

I enjoyed reading the first half of the Lost Children Archive because it reminds me of many things, of my own experiences. Even just starting out with the first few pages were enjoyable to me because it takes me back to places that I hold very close to my heart. The pages of this book brings me back to the backseat of a car driving to Arizona, or driving down the East Coast from New York to Georgia. While the narrator mentions (wait.. do we know her name?) that they were driving from New York to Arizona, it excited me because I am familiar with that route. Though we were coming from California when we drove to Arizona and we drove straight down than across the States when we drove from New York. The mention of the George Washington Bridge, Virginia and all those other places excited me. It is as if I was doing a long drive again, something that my dad loves doing.

However, there is a negative side to all this nostalgia. As I was reading the last few pages of the first half of the book last night, I realized that this book also brings images in my head that are not very exciting to me. In fact, they made me sad. I realized that as I was reading the words out of that book that it’s actually happening at that very moment- children arriving at the US-Mexican border without knowing what would be next for them in a country where they don’t speak the language and where they don’t know how to locate their parents. I am lying down comfortably under my sheets reading this book and there are literally children with bleeding feet at the border at that very moment who have nowhere to sleep.

 

It’s interesting to see the parallels of the child characters in this novel. We see the children of the narrator sitting comfortably in the backseat of their car as they drive across the States. Their needs are tended to. They have everything they need. But at the same time the narrator reads of all these “lost children”. Of course the narrator’s children are important to her but we also see that they do not have names. I’m not quite sure why that is. Does the narrator feel a disconnect with her own children but feels a connection with the “lost children”? Or is she acknowledging the fact that they are all children and it could happen to any one of them?

Lost Children Archive I: What should I say about this book? It has so many things …

I am really enjoying reading this book. I find it very interesting, and the story captured me since the beginning. However, while I like the book and the story it tells, I have not decided what to write about in this blog. There are so many topics inside this book, that I don’t really know how to organize them into a coherent blogpost.

One obvious topic that the book mentions is the political environment of the US and the terribly sad stories of the thousands of children who try to cross the Mexico-US border illegally. These stories are well-known for many of us. Yet, the perception that the book offers, is maybe, more humane than the political commercialized version we are used to see at the TV. The wife, who is the one that tells the story, has herself a particular concern on how to document the realities of these forgotten children who are in search of a refuge in the US. She does not want to use these children’s testimonies as a political flag or a commodity to sell in the media in order to create the audience’s pity.

Other topic I found recurrent is the problems that the marriage faces during their travel from New York to Arizona. It is kind of curious how the wife found different circumstances and events in order to compare what is happening to her and to her marriage. For instance, we found her making connections between her marital crisis and the sentences she reads in her strange books. She compares her marriage with songs, dance choreographies, and I would even say with landscapes. It’s interesting but also sad how the story changes from being a ‘happy’ couple to a more ‘frustrated marriage’. She is lost, captive in his husband’s project, and while she ended fighting for her own project, she is still complying with her husband in the decision to travel with him. She is really in love, I would say, but she is also very encabronada about the situation. I like her character. She is both, strong and weak. I like the way she tells her own story, how she manages for going from very sophisticated literature ideas to simple and random events about her children. I like her prose.

Other fascinating topic of this book is childhood, and the particular way in which the mother represents this stage of life for her own children. I felt bad for myself, at the beginning, when I saw that these two siblings have more adventurous lives that I had when I was a child. There a variety of books that these children have read, or maybe know about. They seem to have a very interesting and unique musical taste. Their comments and arguments are sometimes more accurate or compelling of what I admit thinking in my head. Are these children real? I mean, are there really children that can express their ideas, dreams and opinions in the way these children can?  Anyway, I really admire these two little characters and I think this is something that caught my attention because of the way in which childhood is represented here in comparison with the childhood of Antonio in Bless Me, Ultima; or of Esperanza in The House on Mango Streets; even of Piri in Down These Mean Streets. I don’t know, maybe the difference relies in the fact that, in this book, we are told about the children since their mother’s perspective; while the other stories are told by the children themselves.

Random fact: I found that the title of the book is Lost Children Archive in the English version. However, in the Spanish version, the title is Desierto Sonoro. Why would you think that the author decided to change the title for the two versions? What does the title mean for each version?  Is this a kink?

Lost Children Archive I

lost-children-archiveHow to write about the migrant experience today? More particularly, how to write about the current crisis at the US/Mexico border? The multiple forms of violence compelling continued migration north, especially from Central America; the deliberate collapse of the asylum system and the rule of law; the separation of children from families amid the institution of a system of what are effectively concentration camps operated by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. As the Covid-19 pandemic grips us, these stories may be fading from consciousness, but immigration to the USA has long been denounced via the rhetoric of disease and contamination. And Trump is fond of referring to immigrants and people of color in terms of “infestation”, just as he wants to insist that Covid-19, “the Chinese virus,” comes from beyond US borders.

Earlier this year, this question of who and how to write about migration and the borderlands flared into a brief but intense controversy around Jeanine Cummins’s American Dirt, a novel that was harshly criticized on the grounds that it commodified and exoticized migrant trauma for an Anglo audience. One text repeatedly put forward by that book’s critics as offering a better approach to representing the border crisis and its ramifications was Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive, which in fact puts the problem at center stage.

Luiselli’s novel is in some ways the inverse to Cummins’s. Though its narrative focuses similarly on a mother and her child, a fractured family making its way to the border, here the journey starts in the north, rather than the south, and the fracture is psychological or affective, rather than the very literal rupture with which American Dirt spectacularly opens. Here the family are physically together: a husband and wife, with a child each that they bring from previous relationships. And together they are embarked on a trip from New York to the US Southwest. But whether they will remain together once the trip is over is uncertain, perhaps unlikely. Though they are both engaged in recording sounds (as either documentarians or documentarists; the difference seems both ineffable and yet somehow absolute), each has their own project, their own goal in mind. He is in search of the traces of the last Native Americans to surrender to the US state, the Apache band led by the semi-mythical Geronimo. She has taken on a vaguely journalistic mission to investigate the plight of children detained on the border, specifically the two children of a woman with whose legal case she has become involved. And however much the narrator (the novel is written almost entirely from the mother’s point of view) can reflect on the ways in which these two obsessions overlap, interact, and resonate with each other, she and her husband are barely able to communicate except indirectly, as they try to keep their two young children, aged ten and five, amused and more or less oblivious of the cracks opening up in the cramped atmosphere of the family car. At the same time, she also increasingly realizes that the children, too, are in many ways “strangers, especially when we add them together” (74). Indeed, the entire novel is a meditation on the many possible forms of alienation, the ways in which “the other can suddenly become a stranger” (21), as even those with whom we are most intimately connected become alien to us.

The husband seems to be much more sure of himself and what he is doing, though this may be a consequence of the fact that (in this first half of the novel at least) we have much less access to whatever thoughts and concerns may be preoccupying him. He tells the kids stories about the Apache, confidently if not necessarily reliably (“I don’t know if what my husband is telling them is true” [74]). When they stop somewhere, as they often do, he gets out his recording equipment to capture a soundscape of ambient noise, “collect[ing] sounds that are usually not noticed [. . .]. Maybe the rain falling on this tin roof, some birds if we can, or maybe just insects buzzing” (96). At other times, the four of them listen to the news on the radio, to music, or to audiobooks, notably William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. But for all the assurance with which these narratives are presented, his wife notes that the children “combine the stories, confuse them. They come up with possible endings and counterfactual histories” (75). And, much more (apparently) than her husband, she is led to meditate therefore on the uncertain fate of any story, including (it is implied) the one that is told by Lost Children Archive itself.

When the narrator tells us of her worries about her own project, these are surely then indications of concerns about any attempt, including Luiselli’s own, to have some kind of social impact through art. As the narrator says: “How can a radio documentary be useful in helping more undocumented children find asylum?” This she terms a “political concern.” But she goes on, as the narration continues in something like stream of consciousness, to itemize other problems with what we could “politically-committed” art, including the “Aesthetic problem: On the other hand, why should a sound piece, or any other form of storytelling, for that matter, be a means to a specific end? I should know by now that instrumentalism, applied to any art form, is a way of guaranteeing really shitty results.” This then leads her to consider the perhaps even more significant

Ethical problem: And why would I even think that I can or should make art with someone else’s suffering? [. . .] Constant concerns: Cultural appropriation, pissing all over someone else’s toilet seat, who am I to tell this story, micromanaging identity politics, heavy-handedness, am I too angry [. . .]. (79)

Luiselli’s novel steadfastly keeps these issues in view, as if by raising them (and not simply confining them to an “Author’s Note” tacked on at the end, as does Cummins) she may not quite ward them off, but at least warn the reader and invite us to think about our own complicity in the kinds of stories that are told about migration and their effects on others (and surely also ourselves). Hence too, no doubt, the obliqueness of Luiselli’s portrayal of the refugee crisis: we are halfway through what is not a short book, and still a long way from the border.

But we already realize that the borderlands stretch a long way. Space and time in this novel both expand and contract. Just as the narrator’s husband is convinced that the echoes of the nineteenth-century history can be almost materially registered by his recording devices, so Luiselli suggests that the injustice and violence of asylum and immigration policy can and should resonate far beyond their specific geographical limits. As we have been forcefully reminded of the current pandemic: this affects us all.