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Lost Children Archive

A novel

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Ebook (EPUB)
On sale Feb 12, 2019 | 400 Pages | 978-0-525-52062-7
| Grades 9-12 + AP/IB
NEW YORK TIMES 10 BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR “An epic road trip [that also] captures the unruly intimacies of marriage and parenthood ... This is a novel that daylights our common humanity, and challenges us to reconcile our differences.” The Washington Post

One of The Atlantic’s Great American Novels of the Past 100 Years

In Valeria Luiselli’s fiercely imaginative follow-up to the American Book Award-winning Tell Me How It Ends, an artist couple set out with their two children on a road trip from New York to Arizona in the heat of summer. As the family travels west, the bonds between them begin to fray: a fracture is growing between the parents, one the children can almost feel beneath their feet.
 
Through ephemera such as songs, maps and a Polaroid camera, the children try to make sense of both their family’s crisis and the larger one engulfing the news: the stories of thousands of kids trying to cross the southwestern border into the United States but getting detained—or lost in the desert along the way.
 
A breath-taking feat of literary virtuosity, Lost Children Archive is timely, compassionate, subtly hilarious, and formally inventive—a powerful, urgent story about what it is to be human in an inhuman world.

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.

The two of us were paired up and given the task of recording all the languages spoken in the city, over a period of four calendar years. The description of our duties specified: “surveying the most linguistically diverse metropolis on the planet, and mapping the entirety of languages that its adults and children speak.” We were good at it, it turned out; maybe even really good. We made a perfect team of two. Then, after working together for just a few months, we fell in love—completely, irrationally, predictably, and headfirst, like a rock might fall in love with a bird, not knowing who was the rock was and who the bird—and when summer arrived, we decided to move in together.

The girl remembers nothing about that period, of course. The boy says he remembers that I was always wearing an old blue cardigan that had lost a couple of buttons and came down to my knees, and that sometimes, when we rode the subway or buses—always with freezing air pouring out—I’d take it off and use it as a blanket to cover him and the girl, and that it smelled of tobacco and was itchy. Moving in together had been a rash decision—messy, confusing, urgent, and as beautiful and real as life feels when you’re not thinking about its consequences. We became a tribe. Then came the consequences. We met each other’s relatives, got married, started filing joint taxes, became a family.
 


Inventory

In the front seats: he and I. In the glove compartment: proof of insurance, registration, owner’s manual, and road maps. In the backseat: the two children, their backpacks, a tissue box, and a blue cooler with water bottles and perishable snacks. And in the trunk: a small duffle bag with my Sony PCM-D50 digital voice recorder, headphones, cables, and extra batteries; a large Porta-Brace organizer for his collapsible boom pole, mic, headphones, cables, zeppelin and dead-cat windshield, and the 702T Sound Device. Also: four small suitcases with our clothes, and seven bankers boxes (15” x 12” x 10”), double-thick bottoms and solid lids.



Covalence

Despite our efforts to keep it all firmly together, there has always been an anxiety around each one’s place in the family. We’re like those problematic molecules you learn about in chemistry classes, with covalent instead of ionic bonds—or maybe it’s the other way around. The boy lost his biological mother at birth, though that topic is never spoken about. My husband delivered the fact to me, in one sentence, early on in our relationship, and I immediately understood that it was not a matter open to further questions. I don’t like to be asked about the girl’s biological father, either, so the two of us have always kept a respectful pact of silence about those elements of our and our children’s pasts.

In response to all that, perhaps, the children have always wanted to listen to stories about themselves within the context of us. They want to know everything about when the two of them became our children, and we all became a family. They’re like anthropologists studying cosmogonic narratives, but with a touch more narcissism. The girl asks to hear the same stories over and over again. The boy asks about moments of their childhood together, as if they had happened decades or even centuries ago. So we tell them. We tell them all the stories we’re able to remember. Always, if we miss a part, confuse a detail, or if they notice any minimal variation to the version they remember, they interrupt, correct us, and demand that the story be told once more, properly this time. So we rewind the tape in our minds and play it again from the beginning.
  • WINNER | 2021
    International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award
  • WINNER | 2020
    Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction
  • WINNER | 2020
    Rathbones Folio Prize
  • FINALIST | 2020
    Aspen Words Literary Prize
  • FINALIST | 2020
    Dayton Literary Peace Prize for Fiction
  • SELECTION | 2019
    New York Times 10 Best Books of the Year
  • FINALIST | 2019
    National Book Critics Circle Awards
“The novel truly becomes novel again in Luiselli’s hands—electric, elastic, alluring, new . . . She is a superb chronicler of children: the daughter and son feel piercingly real—perceptive, irreplaceable, wonderfully odd. The book [is] an archive of curiosities, yearnings, animated by the narrator’s restless energy . . . It breaks out of the rhythms of the road trip, into a heart-stopping climax.” —Parul Sehgal, The New York Times
 
“Daring, wholly original, brilliant. . .fascinating. What Luiselli has pulled off here is a twist on the great American road trip novel, a book about alienation that chronicles fractures, divides, and estrangement—of both a family and a country. It’s a remarkable feat of empathy and intellectuality that 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. Luiselli is an extraordinary writer [with] a freewheeling novelist’s imagination.”—Heller McAlpin, NPR

“Pulsates with urgency and lingers with timelessness . . . If children are our future, what lies ahead for a country that fails them? Luiselli initiates a reckoning [and] audaciously stretches the bounds of storytelling. Lost Children Archive’s two kids—among the most tenderly, realistically drawn in American fiction—make this book unforgettable, down to its explosive final sentence.”
                —David Canfield, Entertainment Weekly “10 Best Books of the Year So Far”

“Engrossing…constantly surprising—a beguiling mixture of the real and the doubly invented; a passionately engaged book [with] intellectual amplitude and moral seriousness, [and] a beautiful, loving portrait of children and of the task of looking after them. The kids are utterly alive, hurling questions and mangling adult signals: we are with the family, inside their Volvo wagon, or looking over their shoulders as they eat in diners and stay in motels. It is a pleasure to be a part of the narrator’s family; just as pleasurable is the access we gain to the narrator’s mind—a comprehensive literary intelligence.” —James Wood, The New Yorker
 
“Riveting, lyrical, virtuosic . . . There is joy in make-believe in Lost Children Archive—a novel as much about storytellers and storytelling as it is about lost children. Two texts and two journeys—one by car, meandering; the other speeding forward with the locomotive propulsion of suspenseful fiction—seem on their way to a collision; Luiselli’s most thrilling section consists of one rhythmic, delirious feat of a sentence reminiscent of Molly Bloom’s epic soliloquy in Joyce’s Ulysses. The novel bears rereading, to reveal pleasing ironies. Luiselli’s metaphors are wrought with devastating precision . . . The brilliance of the writing stirs rage and pity. It humanizes us.” —Gaiutra Bahardur, The New York Times Book Review

“Luiselli is a master. Not since Lolita has a road trip so brilliantly captured the dark underbelly of the American dream, the gulf between its promise and reality. Luiselli confronts big picture questions: What does it mean to be American? To what lengths should we go to bear witness? Will history ever stop repeating itself? All the while, her language is so transporting, it stops you time and again.” —Carmen Maria Machado, O Magazine
 
 
"A big, heady Great American Novel for our moment . . . this book, about a husband and wife on a journey to the Mexican border with their kids, is many things at once—an epic road trip through a vanished America, passing through ghost towns from Tennessee to Oklahoma and Texas; the story of one family’s quiet dissolution; and a meditation on displacement and deportation, from the final days of the Apaches at the end of the 19th century to the present crisis. . . . Keen-eyed and thoughtful, an impassioned consideration of the very nature of documentation and trauma.” —Anderson Tepper, Vanity Fair “Best Books of 2019 So Far”

“Stunning—an engaging blend of essay, travelogue and narrative. Those who read with pen in hand will find much to underline and explore. At the halfway point we turn a corner, and echoes from the past converge with the present with devastating force. Readers have been galvanized by road trips before; one thinks of Jesmyn Ward’s haunting Sing, Unburied, Sing, and the ambition and humility of James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. As with that brilliant and challenging book, Luiselli’s singular narrative will prove uniquely rewarding, even life-changing.” —David Brockes, The Seattle Times 
 
“An epic road trip [that also] captures the unruly intimacies of marriage and parenthood... Luiselli’s mind is a delight; her writing shimmers like its desert setting. This is a novel that daylights our common humanity, and challenges us to reconcile our differences.” —Kristen Millares Young, The Washington Post

“An extraordinary allegory of this country’s current crisis of self-concept: Lost Children Archive [is] an inversion of the American frontier fable—its anti-myth, its interrogator. A family sets out from the relative safety of the East Coast in a wagon (here, a station wagon) in wary but hopeful search of a new home. The [mother] privately comes to think of their destination as the place where the family will discover which of its own possible trajectories will come to pass: stay together, or part. What happens when a person is lost to loved ones, to herself, to history? Can such loss be prevented? Can we be retrieved? One of Lost Children Archive’s pleasures is its resemblance to the kind of collection that emerges when a dedicated mind is at work on the same problem over the course of years. . . Luiselli’s approach is elegant and generous.” —Jordan Kisner, The Atlantic

Lost Children Archive stimulates and surprises—it exerts a visceral tug. It begins with a fraying family [on] an epic road trip [where] the children’s voices and viewpoints infuse hope. In the sun-strafed badlands of Arizona, as ghosts of the vanquished Apache warriors crowd around, [the] first-person account converges with a tale about a band of lone children— a conceit that frames eerie, visionary passages. Stories, the mother reflects, ‘don’t fix anything or save anyone,’ but they can make the world ‘sometimes, just sometimes’—as in the case of this novel—‘more beautiful.’” The Economist
 
“Luiselli uses innovative prose to tell a timeless story.” —PEN America

“Urgent, profound, and poetic, this is a modern classic in the making, one that should be considered required reading . . . Threading together a rich tapestry of heartbreaking stories is the story of [one] family on the road. As their journey continues, it becomes clear that something else is driving this family to the Arizona-Mexico border—something of much greater importance than their projects, their careers, and even themselves. Lost Children Archive asks important questions about the nature and importance of storytelling, fictional and factual. It is a layered narrative about family, immigration, justice, and hope. There is no simplicity in [the novel’s] structure, no easy ending. The story is still being written, being told, and perhaps most importantly, being heard.” —Sadie Trombetta, Bustle
  
“Remarkable, stunning . . . Luiselli’s writing possesses a restless intelligence that weaves disparate lives and cultures into a map of the world . . . The music this novel’s ensemble of voices creates is beautiful.” —Ismail Muhammad, Newsday

“In probing, elegant prose, Lost Children Archive maps one family’s road trip [through] a strange, beautiful, iconic landscape of gas stations, diners, and motels, [into] Apacheria, a place that contains the histories of ‘the last free peoples on the continent.’ The novel unfolds with great attention to voices, echoes and silences; it has a dreamlike rhythm that feels both urgent and reflective.” WBUR
 
“A resonant Great American Novel for our time—a dense and layered novel of the Americas, evocative of Kerouac and Bolaño, Rebecca Solnit and Juan Rulfo. There [is] a counterbalance of intimacy and inventiveness to Luiselli’s writing.” —Andy Tepper, Vanity Fair
 
“Poignant . . . Lost Children Archive is unquestionably timely, [but] it also approaches a certain timelessness, like all great novels. It is laced with the melancholy of last things. The novel reminds us how fragile family can be . . . It [reverberates] with the headlines of the present, and the great art of the past. The maddeningly ‘relevant’ political novel is all the rage right now, but what separates Luiselli’s book from the pack is that it manages to be political without being propagandistic, rousing without any didacticism. This novel is the kind of book we need right now.” —Tyler Malone, Los Angeles Times
 
“Stories appear on the news, lacking in compassion, meant to inspire fear. But there are those trying to paint a fuller picture. Valeria Luiselli is one of those people. Lost Children Archive is a story, but also a response: to the articles, to literature, to the nonprofits and schools, to the American landscape, to ideas of family, and to ideas of choice. There is so much truth in this novel. In some ways, Lost Children Archive is like a love letter to literature. Luiselli is an exceptional writer who knows her craft; this is a beautiful text, in which everyone is searching for connection and reconnection—a novel asking for more consideration, more mercy, and more action.”  —Abigail Bereola, San Francisco Chronicle
 
“However we decide what defines a Great American Novel in 2019, it must feel a lot like what’s inside Lost Children Archive. Not only because the narrative unfolds across a literal road map of the United States, or because its focus—open borders, blended families—is so painfully of the moment. But because the search for selfhood and manifest destiny seems so freshly recast in the frank intelligence and imagination of Luiselli’s telling. 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. The kids are precisely, perfectly drawn. By its feverish climax, Luiselli isn’t just giving us a story, she’s showing us new ways to see.” —Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly

“Elegant. . . epic in its assured embrace of American history, literature, pop culture, and politics. —Maureen Corrigan, NPR

“Revelatory, simply stunning . . . a road novel driven by fierce intelligence; a breathtaking journey that builds slowly and confidently until you find yourself in a fever dream of convergences. This book is a perfect intervention for our time, but that fleeting concurrence is not why this book will be read for years to come. Luiselli is swimming in the historical currents of the great stories and myths of journey and discovery that came before. Lost Children Archive is a great American novel. It is also a great human novel.” —Rob Spillman, Guernica
 
“Luiselli writes like a poet. Intelligent and patient, her telling of this historical moment of walls and inhumanity breaks open the mystery that surrounds immigration, making visceral a reality that few regard when thinking about the lives involved. She is ethnographer and activist, fictionalizing political work as she is immersed in it. A heartbreaking book.”—Lucy Kogler, Lit Hub 
  
“The spirit of Bolaño animates this novel about our American-made border crisis. What starts as fragmented narrative gives way to a suspenseful climax. Lost Children Archive is a story about all American sins.” —Boris Kachka, Vulture

“Masterful, compelling, beautifully articulated . . . a profound and unsentimental composition on exile.” —Lori Feathers, Los Angeles Review of Books

“A highly imaginative, politically deft portrait of childhood within a vast American landscape—a rollicking tale that contains within it an extremely disciplined exercise in political empathy. For her upside-down Western, Luiselli adopts the Virginia Woolf technique by which the minds of characters are linked as they watch the same objects move through the same sky. Luiselli takes the minds of children seriously, and the reader witnesses their intelligent eyes and ears recording each detail of the borderlands and registering the full terror of them. There’s no way to convey through quotation the effect of the novel’s most thrilling section, a single sentence sustained for some twenty pages near the end, which remains measured and crystalline, expertly controlling plot, setting, character, fluctuating views and moods and voices . . . Luiselli 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.” —Lidija Haas, Harper’s Magazine
 
“Radical, compelling: a book that is both personal and global, familial and political. Luiselli is capable of pushing the boundaries of the sentence like James Joyce and David Foster Wallace. [At] the novel’s climax, forgoing paragraph breaks, Luiselli builds a wall of prose across nineteen 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. A true literary spectacle.” —Patrick McGinty, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
 
“Luiselli is one of the most fascinating and impassioned authors at work today. Lost Children Archive is a haunting hybrid of lyrical storytelling and political fury—a powerful indictment of the cruelty and inhumanity inherent in the current American immigration system, and a vital work for the Trump era.” —Dan Sheehan, Lit Hub

“Virtuosic, exhilarating . . . By the final cadence, Lost Children Archive has become not only an indictment of US immigration policy, but a requiem memorializing every child who has ever lost their right to a childhood.” —Stephanie Elizondo Griest, Texas Observer 
 
“Lost Children Archive reads like a memory. It unfolds in vignette-like scenes and takes you deep into the head space of its narrators. Luiselli is an imaginative writer; her work as an advocate for asylum-seekers informs the novel’s skillful blend of family story and issue-driven themes. The characters join people forced to face separation and relocation to unfamiliar territory, their current situation an echo of so many others—echoes [that] will remain in the mind of the reader as well.” —Trisha Ping, BookPage
 
“Luiselli’s new novel maps a crumbling young family’s journey across the United States in search of the stolen home of the Apaches amid a national backlash against immigrants. Luiselli trains an analytical eye on the tropes she’s dealing with, drawing out threads that we use to define fuzzy ideas like a family, and holding them up to the light.”HuffPost
 
“Powerful and timely.” —Sarah Stiefvater, PureWow
 
“Luiselli is a brilliant novelist . . . she gently prods us to look at America from a wider perspective, [beginning] with the myriad negotiations of family life. Luiselli’ wit and her references to sources as diverse as Paul Simon, Ezra Pound, Susan Sontag, Laurie Anderson, and Sally Mann offer regular jolts of insight and delight; the influences are seamlessly embedded, not showy. Luiselli skillfully weaves together narratives that span multiple generations, perspectives, and cultures, creating a conclusion that might best be described as a spectacular singularity.” —Sally See, Columbia Magazine 
 
“An ambitious road-trip novel that traverses geography, ideology, and time, while exploring the dissolution of a marriage, Lost Children Archive is heartbreakingly relevant to the humanitarian crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. Luiselli has a gift for layering on the themes while also honing in on what makes the political so personal.” —A.V. Club
 
“Poignant, intense, keenly timely . . . Luiselli is no stranger to inventive storytelling; [this] latest work is perhaps her most politically relevant. A couple and their children embark on a cross-country road trip from New York City to Arizona; the scale of the migrant crisis redirects their efforts. Stories of Latin American asylum seekers and the disappeared Apaches overlap and converge; themes of translation and migration resonate. This is one of few novels that fully and powerfully conveys the urgency of this unsettling situation.” —Booklist (starred review) 
  
"Impossibly smart, full of beauty, heart and insight, Lost Children Archive is a novel about archiving all that we don’t want to lose. It is an ode to sound. Valeria Luiselli looks into the American present as well as its history: into Native American history, and the many intersections between American and Mexican history that are and have always been there. This is a road trip novel that transcends the form, while also being the perfect American road trip novel for right now. Everyone should read this book.” —Tommy Orange

 “A gorgeous and vital ghost-rich soundscape, and one of the most brilliant portrayals of child-parent relationships I have ever read. Luiselli floods extraordinary light onto childhood, parenthood, the literary consciousness, and how we make sense of past and present pain. Lost Children Archive is one of the best novels I’ve read in recent years, and one of the most important.” —Max Porter, author of Grief is the Thing With Feathers
 
“Valeria Luiselli writes with so much intelligence and compassion and originality, her work always astonishes me. Lost Children Archive is absolutely phenomenal.” —Claire-Louise Bennett, author of Pond 
 
“Engrossing.” Southern Living

“A feast of language and storytelling . . . Each page [brims] with a rich alchemy of fact, fable, and the narrator’s quest to make sense of life.” Karen Lewis, BookBrowse

Lost Children Archive is political . . . but Luiselli doesn’t let this obscure her story about family: about a marriage coming apart and the bond between a sister and brother. She paints beautiful scenes of family and wonderful portraits of the children. It’s a road trip: there are fights, there are meltdowns, there is singing, there are pit stops; most of all, there are stories. Luiselli’s stories are special, the result of a towering intellect and a remarkable imagination.”—David Ebner, The Globe and Mail (Canada)

“A delicate, funny, effortlessly poetic account of a family’s road trip from New York to the Mexican border—wonderfully subtle [and] memorable.”—Emma Brockes, The Guardian (UK)
 
“Urgent, poignant . . . Luiselli tunes our ear for echoes between its different threads. Dazzlingly, compellingly she urges her readers towards a common humanity.”—Emily Rhodes, The Financial Times (UK)

“An involving and richly textured book; an engrossing portrait of a family . . . Luiselli captures children’s outlooks with sympathy, set against a shifting backdrop of seedy motels in desolate hinterlands. More narrative strands are woven into the tapestry in haunting, poetic language. [A] journey [of] fascination and sombre beauty.” —Adam Lively, Sunday Times (UK)

“Lost Children Archive is a road trip, sat squarely in that grand American tradition stretching back from Jack Kerouac and John Steinbeck to Tocqueville’s Democracy in America and the Journals of Lewis and Clark. But there is no manifest destiny here, no hedonistic, hypermasculine musk. This novel is formally elastic . . . but at its heart there is always a narrative echo of [the] process of familial world-building, or accretion and mythmaking. [Luiselli] combines moral eloquence with a willingness to play, and each literary instinct reinforces the other. In a wrenching scene in an airport car park, the two collide. The novel’s crowning achievement is its single-sentence climax—a magnificent, wheeling, twenty-page tornado of prose, and it demands a single sitting. Lost Children Archive is an object lesson in why fiction matters.” —Beejay Silcox, Times Literary Supplement (UK)

“Gripping, timely, intelligent.” Library Journal

“Remarkable, inventive . . . A family treks south to the U.S.-Mexico border, bearing tales of the anguish of migrant families all the way down. The opening sections are thick with literary references and social critique; imagine On the Road rewritten by Maggie Nelson. But the story darkens as they witness the [families’] plight firsthand, and later, as the couple's children stumble into their own crisis. As the novel rises to a ferocious climax, Luiselli thunderously, persuasively insists that reckoning with the border will make deep demands of our emotional reserves. A powerful border story, at once intellectual and heartfelt.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
 
“Superb, powerful, eloquent. Juxtaposing rich, poetic prose with direct storytelling, and alternating narratives with photos, documents, poems, maps, and music, Lost Children Archive explores what holds a family and society together, and what pulls them apart. The novel begins with a family embarking on a road trip, and culminates in an indictment of the tragic shortcomings of the immigration process. Luiselli demonstrates how callousness toward other cultures erodes our own. Her novel makes a devastating case for compassion.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)
© Diego Berruecos/Gatopardo
Valeria Luiselli was born in Mexico City and grew up in South Korea, South Africa, and India. An acclaimed writer of both fiction and nonfiction, she is the author of the essay collection Sidewalks; the novels Faces in the Crowd and The Story of My Teeth; and, most recently, Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions. She is the recipient of a MacArthur “Genius Grant”; the winner of two Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, an American Book Award, and the 2021 Dublin Literary Award; and has been nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award twice and the Kirkus Prize on three occasions. She has been a National Book Foundation “5 Under 35” honoree and the recipient of a Bearing Witness Fellowship from the Art for Justice Fund. Her work has appeared in The New York TimesGranta, and McSweeney’s, among other publications, and has been translated into more than twenty languages. She lives in New York City. View titles by Valeria Luiselli

About

NEW YORK TIMES 10 BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR “An epic road trip [that also] captures the unruly intimacies of marriage and parenthood ... This is a novel that daylights our common humanity, and challenges us to reconcile our differences.” The Washington Post

One of The Atlantic’s Great American Novels of the Past 100 Years

In Valeria Luiselli’s fiercely imaginative follow-up to the American Book Award-winning Tell Me How It Ends, an artist couple set out with their two children on a road trip from New York to Arizona in the heat of summer. As the family travels west, the bonds between them begin to fray: a fracture is growing between the parents, one the children can almost feel beneath their feet.
 
Through ephemera such as songs, maps and a Polaroid camera, the children try to make sense of both their family’s crisis and the larger one engulfing the news: the stories of thousands of kids trying to cross the southwestern border into the United States but getting detained—or lost in the desert along the way.
 
A breath-taking feat of literary virtuosity, Lost Children Archive is timely, compassionate, subtly hilarious, and formally inventive—a powerful, urgent story about what it is to be human in an inhuman world.

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.

The two of us were paired up and given the task of recording all the languages spoken in the city, over a period of four calendar years. The description of our duties specified: “surveying the most linguistically diverse metropolis on the planet, and mapping the entirety of languages that its adults and children speak.” We were good at it, it turned out; maybe even really good. We made a perfect team of two. Then, after working together for just a few months, we fell in love—completely, irrationally, predictably, and headfirst, like a rock might fall in love with a bird, not knowing who was the rock was and who the bird—and when summer arrived, we decided to move in together.

The girl remembers nothing about that period, of course. The boy says he remembers that I was always wearing an old blue cardigan that had lost a couple of buttons and came down to my knees, and that sometimes, when we rode the subway or buses—always with freezing air pouring out—I’d take it off and use it as a blanket to cover him and the girl, and that it smelled of tobacco and was itchy. Moving in together had been a rash decision—messy, confusing, urgent, and as beautiful and real as life feels when you’re not thinking about its consequences. We became a tribe. Then came the consequences. We met each other’s relatives, got married, started filing joint taxes, became a family.
 


Inventory

In the front seats: he and I. In the glove compartment: proof of insurance, registration, owner’s manual, and road maps. In the backseat: the two children, their backpacks, a tissue box, and a blue cooler with water bottles and perishable snacks. And in the trunk: a small duffle bag with my Sony PCM-D50 digital voice recorder, headphones, cables, and extra batteries; a large Porta-Brace organizer for his collapsible boom pole, mic, headphones, cables, zeppelin and dead-cat windshield, and the 702T Sound Device. Also: four small suitcases with our clothes, and seven bankers boxes (15” x 12” x 10”), double-thick bottoms and solid lids.



Covalence

Despite our efforts to keep it all firmly together, there has always been an anxiety around each one’s place in the family. We’re like those problematic molecules you learn about in chemistry classes, with covalent instead of ionic bonds—or maybe it’s the other way around. The boy lost his biological mother at birth, though that topic is never spoken about. My husband delivered the fact to me, in one sentence, early on in our relationship, and I immediately understood that it was not a matter open to further questions. I don’t like to be asked about the girl’s biological father, either, so the two of us have always kept a respectful pact of silence about those elements of our and our children’s pasts.

In response to all that, perhaps, the children have always wanted to listen to stories about themselves within the context of us. They want to know everything about when the two of them became our children, and we all became a family. They’re like anthropologists studying cosmogonic narratives, but with a touch more narcissism. The girl asks to hear the same stories over and over again. The boy asks about moments of their childhood together, as if they had happened decades or even centuries ago. So we tell them. We tell them all the stories we’re able to remember. Always, if we miss a part, confuse a detail, or if they notice any minimal variation to the version they remember, they interrupt, correct us, and demand that the story be told once more, properly this time. So we rewind the tape in our minds and play it again from the beginning.

Awards

  • WINNER | 2021
    International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award
  • WINNER | 2020
    Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction
  • WINNER | 2020
    Rathbones Folio Prize
  • FINALIST | 2020
    Aspen Words Literary Prize
  • FINALIST | 2020
    Dayton Literary Peace Prize for Fiction
  • SELECTION | 2019
    New York Times 10 Best Books of the Year
  • FINALIST | 2019
    National Book Critics Circle Awards

Reviews

“The novel truly becomes novel again in Luiselli’s hands—electric, elastic, alluring, new . . . She is a superb chronicler of children: the daughter and son feel piercingly real—perceptive, irreplaceable, wonderfully odd. The book [is] an archive of curiosities, yearnings, animated by the narrator’s restless energy . . . It breaks out of the rhythms of the road trip, into a heart-stopping climax.” —Parul Sehgal, The New York Times
 
“Daring, wholly original, brilliant. . .fascinating. What Luiselli has pulled off here is a twist on the great American road trip novel, a book about alienation that chronicles fractures, divides, and estrangement—of both a family and a country. It’s a remarkable feat of empathy and intellectuality that 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. Luiselli is an extraordinary writer [with] a freewheeling novelist’s imagination.”—Heller McAlpin, NPR

“Pulsates with urgency and lingers with timelessness . . . If children are our future, what lies ahead for a country that fails them? Luiselli initiates a reckoning [and] audaciously stretches the bounds of storytelling. Lost Children Archive’s two kids—among the most tenderly, realistically drawn in American fiction—make this book unforgettable, down to its explosive final sentence.”
                —David Canfield, Entertainment Weekly “10 Best Books of the Year So Far”

“Engrossing…constantly surprising—a beguiling mixture of the real and the doubly invented; a passionately engaged book [with] intellectual amplitude and moral seriousness, [and] a beautiful, loving portrait of children and of the task of looking after them. The kids are utterly alive, hurling questions and mangling adult signals: we are with the family, inside their Volvo wagon, or looking over their shoulders as they eat in diners and stay in motels. It is a pleasure to be a part of the narrator’s family; just as pleasurable is the access we gain to the narrator’s mind—a comprehensive literary intelligence.” —James Wood, The New Yorker
 
“Riveting, lyrical, virtuosic . . . There is joy in make-believe in Lost Children Archive—a novel as much about storytellers and storytelling as it is about lost children. Two texts and two journeys—one by car, meandering; the other speeding forward with the locomotive propulsion of suspenseful fiction—seem on their way to a collision; Luiselli’s most thrilling section consists of one rhythmic, delirious feat of a sentence reminiscent of Molly Bloom’s epic soliloquy in Joyce’s Ulysses. The novel bears rereading, to reveal pleasing ironies. Luiselli’s metaphors are wrought with devastating precision . . . The brilliance of the writing stirs rage and pity. It humanizes us.” —Gaiutra Bahardur, The New York Times Book Review

“Luiselli is a master. Not since Lolita has a road trip so brilliantly captured the dark underbelly of the American dream, the gulf between its promise and reality. Luiselli confronts big picture questions: What does it mean to be American? To what lengths should we go to bear witness? Will history ever stop repeating itself? All the while, her language is so transporting, it stops you time and again.” —Carmen Maria Machado, O Magazine
 
 
"A big, heady Great American Novel for our moment . . . this book, about a husband and wife on a journey to the Mexican border with their kids, is many things at once—an epic road trip through a vanished America, passing through ghost towns from Tennessee to Oklahoma and Texas; the story of one family’s quiet dissolution; and a meditation on displacement and deportation, from the final days of the Apaches at the end of the 19th century to the present crisis. . . . Keen-eyed and thoughtful, an impassioned consideration of the very nature of documentation and trauma.” —Anderson Tepper, Vanity Fair “Best Books of 2019 So Far”

“Stunning—an engaging blend of essay, travelogue and narrative. Those who read with pen in hand will find much to underline and explore. At the halfway point we turn a corner, and echoes from the past converge with the present with devastating force. Readers have been galvanized by road trips before; one thinks of Jesmyn Ward’s haunting Sing, Unburied, Sing, and the ambition and humility of James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. As with that brilliant and challenging book, Luiselli’s singular narrative will prove uniquely rewarding, even life-changing.” —David Brockes, The Seattle Times 
 
“An epic road trip [that also] captures the unruly intimacies of marriage and parenthood... Luiselli’s mind is a delight; her writing shimmers like its desert setting. This is a novel that daylights our common humanity, and challenges us to reconcile our differences.” —Kristen Millares Young, The Washington Post

“An extraordinary allegory of this country’s current crisis of self-concept: Lost Children Archive [is] an inversion of the American frontier fable—its anti-myth, its interrogator. A family sets out from the relative safety of the East Coast in a wagon (here, a station wagon) in wary but hopeful search of a new home. The [mother] privately comes to think of their destination as the place where the family will discover which of its own possible trajectories will come to pass: stay together, or part. What happens when a person is lost to loved ones, to herself, to history? Can such loss be prevented? Can we be retrieved? One of Lost Children Archive’s pleasures is its resemblance to the kind of collection that emerges when a dedicated mind is at work on the same problem over the course of years. . . Luiselli’s approach is elegant and generous.” —Jordan Kisner, The Atlantic

Lost Children Archive stimulates and surprises—it exerts a visceral tug. It begins with a fraying family [on] an epic road trip [where] the children’s voices and viewpoints infuse hope. In the sun-strafed badlands of Arizona, as ghosts of the vanquished Apache warriors crowd around, [the] first-person account converges with a tale about a band of lone children— a conceit that frames eerie, visionary passages. Stories, the mother reflects, ‘don’t fix anything or save anyone,’ but they can make the world ‘sometimes, just sometimes’—as in the case of this novel—‘more beautiful.’” The Economist
 
“Luiselli uses innovative prose to tell a timeless story.” —PEN America

“Urgent, profound, and poetic, this is a modern classic in the making, one that should be considered required reading . . . Threading together a rich tapestry of heartbreaking stories is the story of [one] family on the road. As their journey continues, it becomes clear that something else is driving this family to the Arizona-Mexico border—something of much greater importance than their projects, their careers, and even themselves. Lost Children Archive asks important questions about the nature and importance of storytelling, fictional and factual. It is a layered narrative about family, immigration, justice, and hope. There is no simplicity in [the novel’s] structure, no easy ending. The story is still being written, being told, and perhaps most importantly, being heard.” —Sadie Trombetta, Bustle
  
“Remarkable, stunning . . . Luiselli’s writing possesses a restless intelligence that weaves disparate lives and cultures into a map of the world . . . The music this novel’s ensemble of voices creates is beautiful.” —Ismail Muhammad, Newsday

“In probing, elegant prose, Lost Children Archive maps one family’s road trip [through] a strange, beautiful, iconic landscape of gas stations, diners, and motels, [into] Apacheria, a place that contains the histories of ‘the last free peoples on the continent.’ The novel unfolds with great attention to voices, echoes and silences; it has a dreamlike rhythm that feels both urgent and reflective.” WBUR
 
“A resonant Great American Novel for our time—a dense and layered novel of the Americas, evocative of Kerouac and Bolaño, Rebecca Solnit and Juan Rulfo. There [is] a counterbalance of intimacy and inventiveness to Luiselli’s writing.” —Andy Tepper, Vanity Fair
 
“Poignant . . . Lost Children Archive is unquestionably timely, [but] it also approaches a certain timelessness, like all great novels. It is laced with the melancholy of last things. The novel reminds us how fragile family can be . . . It [reverberates] with the headlines of the present, and the great art of the past. The maddeningly ‘relevant’ political novel is all the rage right now, but what separates Luiselli’s book from the pack is that it manages to be political without being propagandistic, rousing without any didacticism. This novel is the kind of book we need right now.” —Tyler Malone, Los Angeles Times
 
“Stories appear on the news, lacking in compassion, meant to inspire fear. But there are those trying to paint a fuller picture. Valeria Luiselli is one of those people. Lost Children Archive is a story, but also a response: to the articles, to literature, to the nonprofits and schools, to the American landscape, to ideas of family, and to ideas of choice. There is so much truth in this novel. In some ways, Lost Children Archive is like a love letter to literature. Luiselli is an exceptional writer who knows her craft; this is a beautiful text, in which everyone is searching for connection and reconnection—a novel asking for more consideration, more mercy, and more action.”  —Abigail Bereola, San Francisco Chronicle
 
“However we decide what defines a Great American Novel in 2019, it must feel a lot like what’s inside Lost Children Archive. Not only because the narrative unfolds across a literal road map of the United States, or because its focus—open borders, blended families—is so painfully of the moment. But because the search for selfhood and manifest destiny seems so freshly recast in the frank intelligence and imagination of Luiselli’s telling. 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. The kids are precisely, perfectly drawn. By its feverish climax, Luiselli isn’t just giving us a story, she’s showing us new ways to see.” —Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly

“Elegant. . . epic in its assured embrace of American history, literature, pop culture, and politics. —Maureen Corrigan, NPR

“Revelatory, simply stunning . . . a road novel driven by fierce intelligence; a breathtaking journey that builds slowly and confidently until you find yourself in a fever dream of convergences. This book is a perfect intervention for our time, but that fleeting concurrence is not why this book will be read for years to come. Luiselli is swimming in the historical currents of the great stories and myths of journey and discovery that came before. Lost Children Archive is a great American novel. It is also a great human novel.” —Rob Spillman, Guernica
 
“Luiselli writes like a poet. Intelligent and patient, her telling of this historical moment of walls and inhumanity breaks open the mystery that surrounds immigration, making visceral a reality that few regard when thinking about the lives involved. She is ethnographer and activist, fictionalizing political work as she is immersed in it. A heartbreaking book.”—Lucy Kogler, Lit Hub 
  
“The spirit of Bolaño animates this novel about our American-made border crisis. What starts as fragmented narrative gives way to a suspenseful climax. Lost Children Archive is a story about all American sins.” —Boris Kachka, Vulture

“Masterful, compelling, beautifully articulated . . . a profound and unsentimental composition on exile.” —Lori Feathers, Los Angeles Review of Books

“A highly imaginative, politically deft portrait of childhood within a vast American landscape—a rollicking tale that contains within it an extremely disciplined exercise in political empathy. For her upside-down Western, Luiselli adopts the Virginia Woolf technique by which the minds of characters are linked as they watch the same objects move through the same sky. Luiselli takes the minds of children seriously, and the reader witnesses their intelligent eyes and ears recording each detail of the borderlands and registering the full terror of them. There’s no way to convey through quotation the effect of the novel’s most thrilling section, a single sentence sustained for some twenty pages near the end, which remains measured and crystalline, expertly controlling plot, setting, character, fluctuating views and moods and voices . . . Luiselli 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.” —Lidija Haas, Harper’s Magazine
 
“Radical, compelling: a book that is both personal and global, familial and political. Luiselli is capable of pushing the boundaries of the sentence like James Joyce and David Foster Wallace. [At] the novel’s climax, forgoing paragraph breaks, Luiselli builds a wall of prose across nineteen 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. A true literary spectacle.” —Patrick McGinty, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
 
“Luiselli is one of the most fascinating and impassioned authors at work today. Lost Children Archive is a haunting hybrid of lyrical storytelling and political fury—a powerful indictment of the cruelty and inhumanity inherent in the current American immigration system, and a vital work for the Trump era.” —Dan Sheehan, Lit Hub

“Virtuosic, exhilarating . . . By the final cadence, Lost Children Archive has become not only an indictment of US immigration policy, but a requiem memorializing every child who has ever lost their right to a childhood.” —Stephanie Elizondo Griest, Texas Observer 
 
“Lost Children Archive reads like a memory. It unfolds in vignette-like scenes and takes you deep into the head space of its narrators. Luiselli is an imaginative writer; her work as an advocate for asylum-seekers informs the novel’s skillful blend of family story and issue-driven themes. The characters join people forced to face separation and relocation to unfamiliar territory, their current situation an echo of so many others—echoes [that] will remain in the mind of the reader as well.” —Trisha Ping, BookPage
 
“Luiselli’s new novel maps a crumbling young family’s journey across the United States in search of the stolen home of the Apaches amid a national backlash against immigrants. Luiselli trains an analytical eye on the tropes she’s dealing with, drawing out threads that we use to define fuzzy ideas like a family, and holding them up to the light.”HuffPost
 
“Powerful and timely.” —Sarah Stiefvater, PureWow
 
“Luiselli is a brilliant novelist . . . she gently prods us to look at America from a wider perspective, [beginning] with the myriad negotiations of family life. Luiselli’ wit and her references to sources as diverse as Paul Simon, Ezra Pound, Susan Sontag, Laurie Anderson, and Sally Mann offer regular jolts of insight and delight; the influences are seamlessly embedded, not showy. Luiselli skillfully weaves together narratives that span multiple generations, perspectives, and cultures, creating a conclusion that might best be described as a spectacular singularity.” —Sally See, Columbia Magazine 
 
“An ambitious road-trip novel that traverses geography, ideology, and time, while exploring the dissolution of a marriage, Lost Children Archive is heartbreakingly relevant to the humanitarian crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. Luiselli has a gift for layering on the themes while also honing in on what makes the political so personal.” —A.V. Club
 
“Poignant, intense, keenly timely . . . Luiselli is no stranger to inventive storytelling; [this] latest work is perhaps her most politically relevant. A couple and their children embark on a cross-country road trip from New York City to Arizona; the scale of the migrant crisis redirects their efforts. Stories of Latin American asylum seekers and the disappeared Apaches overlap and converge; themes of translation and migration resonate. This is one of few novels that fully and powerfully conveys the urgency of this unsettling situation.” —Booklist (starred review) 
  
"Impossibly smart, full of beauty, heart and insight, Lost Children Archive is a novel about archiving all that we don’t want to lose. It is an ode to sound. Valeria Luiselli looks into the American present as well as its history: into Native American history, and the many intersections between American and Mexican history that are and have always been there. This is a road trip novel that transcends the form, while also being the perfect American road trip novel for right now. Everyone should read this book.” —Tommy Orange

 “A gorgeous and vital ghost-rich soundscape, and one of the most brilliant portrayals of child-parent relationships I have ever read. Luiselli floods extraordinary light onto childhood, parenthood, the literary consciousness, and how we make sense of past and present pain. Lost Children Archive is one of the best novels I’ve read in recent years, and one of the most important.” —Max Porter, author of Grief is the Thing With Feathers
 
“Valeria Luiselli writes with so much intelligence and compassion and originality, her work always astonishes me. Lost Children Archive is absolutely phenomenal.” —Claire-Louise Bennett, author of Pond 
 
“Engrossing.” Southern Living

“A feast of language and storytelling . . . Each page [brims] with a rich alchemy of fact, fable, and the narrator’s quest to make sense of life.” Karen Lewis, BookBrowse

Lost Children Archive is political . . . but Luiselli doesn’t let this obscure her story about family: about a marriage coming apart and the bond between a sister and brother. She paints beautiful scenes of family and wonderful portraits of the children. It’s a road trip: there are fights, there are meltdowns, there is singing, there are pit stops; most of all, there are stories. Luiselli’s stories are special, the result of a towering intellect and a remarkable imagination.”—David Ebner, The Globe and Mail (Canada)

“A delicate, funny, effortlessly poetic account of a family’s road trip from New York to the Mexican border—wonderfully subtle [and] memorable.”—Emma Brockes, The Guardian (UK)
 
“Urgent, poignant . . . Luiselli tunes our ear for echoes between its different threads. Dazzlingly, compellingly she urges her readers towards a common humanity.”—Emily Rhodes, The Financial Times (UK)

“An involving and richly textured book; an engrossing portrait of a family . . . Luiselli captures children’s outlooks with sympathy, set against a shifting backdrop of seedy motels in desolate hinterlands. More narrative strands are woven into the tapestry in haunting, poetic language. [A] journey [of] fascination and sombre beauty.” —Adam Lively, Sunday Times (UK)

“Lost Children Archive is a road trip, sat squarely in that grand American tradition stretching back from Jack Kerouac and John Steinbeck to Tocqueville’s Democracy in America and the Journals of Lewis and Clark. But there is no manifest destiny here, no hedonistic, hypermasculine musk. This novel is formally elastic . . . but at its heart there is always a narrative echo of [the] process of familial world-building, or accretion and mythmaking. [Luiselli] combines moral eloquence with a willingness to play, and each literary instinct reinforces the other. In a wrenching scene in an airport car park, the two collide. The novel’s crowning achievement is its single-sentence climax—a magnificent, wheeling, twenty-page tornado of prose, and it demands a single sitting. Lost Children Archive is an object lesson in why fiction matters.” —Beejay Silcox, Times Literary Supplement (UK)

“Gripping, timely, intelligent.” Library Journal

“Remarkable, inventive . . . A family treks south to the U.S.-Mexico border, bearing tales of the anguish of migrant families all the way down. The opening sections are thick with literary references and social critique; imagine On the Road rewritten by Maggie Nelson. But the story darkens as they witness the [families’] plight firsthand, and later, as the couple's children stumble into their own crisis. As the novel rises to a ferocious climax, Luiselli thunderously, persuasively insists that reckoning with the border will make deep demands of our emotional reserves. A powerful border story, at once intellectual and heartfelt.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
 
“Superb, powerful, eloquent. Juxtaposing rich, poetic prose with direct storytelling, and alternating narratives with photos, documents, poems, maps, and music, Lost Children Archive explores what holds a family and society together, and what pulls them apart. The novel begins with a family embarking on a road trip, and culminates in an indictment of the tragic shortcomings of the immigration process. Luiselli demonstrates how callousness toward other cultures erodes our own. Her novel makes a devastating case for compassion.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Author

© Diego Berruecos/Gatopardo
Valeria Luiselli was born in Mexico City and grew up in South Korea, South Africa, and India. An acclaimed writer of both fiction and nonfiction, she is the author of the essay collection Sidewalks; the novels Faces in the Crowd and The Story of My Teeth; and, most recently, Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions. She is the recipient of a MacArthur “Genius Grant”; the winner of two Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, an American Book Award, and the 2021 Dublin Literary Award; and has been nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award twice and the Kirkus Prize on three occasions. She has been a National Book Foundation “5 Under 35” honoree and the recipient of a Bearing Witness Fellowship from the Art for Justice Fund. Her work has appeared in The New York TimesGranta, and McSweeney’s, among other publications, and has been translated into more than twenty languages. She lives in New York City. View titles by Valeria Luiselli