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Lost City Radio Paperback – February 5, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Set in a fictional South American nation where guerrillas have long clashed with the government, Alarcón's ambitious first novel (after the story collection War by Candlelight) follows a trio of characters upended by civil strife. Norma, whose husband, Rey, disappeared 10 years ago after the end of a civil war, hosts popular radio show Lost City Radio, which reconnects callers with their missing loved ones. (She quietly entertains the notion that the job will also reunite her with her missing husband.) So when an 11-year-old orphan, Victor, shows up at the radio station with a list of his distant village's "lost people," the station plans a special show dedicated to his case and cranks up its promotional machine. Norma, meanwhile, notices a name on the list that's an alias her husband used to use, prompting her to resume her quest to find him. She and Victor travel to Victor's home village, where local teacher Manau reveals to Norma what she's long feared—and more. Though the mystery Alarcón makes of the identity of Victor's father isn't particularly mysterious, this misstep is overshadowed by Alarcón's successful and nimbly handled portrayal of war's lingering consequences. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
From Bookmarks Magazine
Daniel Alarcón, a native of Peru, has personally witnessed the devastation he describes in his first full-length novel. Critics were full of praise for Alarcón's vivid descriptions, compelling characters, and refusal to side with any one political faction, though he obviously sympathizes with the country's dispossessed. While the Rocky Mountain News was distracted by the country's lack of identity, most critics agreed that a specific name or place was unnecessary, given the fablelike nature of the story. Often compared to the work of William Faulkner and Gabriel García Márquez, Alarcón's harrowing tale of the breakdown of a society and the emotional price paid by its survivors will undoubtedly haunt you long after you've turned the last page.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Top customer reviews
Lost City Radio is set in an unnamed capital city in an unnamed Latin American country, and here we encounter Norma, the voice of the unnamed nation. Unlike the magical realism sometimes associated with fictional settings in Latin American literature, this novel is painfully realistic and political. Although set in an unnamed Latin American country, it represents Alarcón’s Peruvian homeland and draws on the country’s history of conflict and civil war. To read more about how Alarcón’s novel responds to history, see the Berkeley Review of Latin American Studies, Spring 2007. In some ways, we can read the novel as an intimate narrative of Peru. But there’s a bigger landscape behind the novel as a whole. It’s certainly not limited to Peru. I would suggest, even, that the reason this book has been so well received is because of how it speaks universally to war’s aftermath and lingering effects. It resonates, in many ways, all of Latin American history, politics, dictatorship, struggle and collective consciousness. Instead of being about a single place or a history, it is about Latin Americans as a whole and the tragic dictatorships and civil wars that have torn apart so many of their countries.
In an interview with Bookpage, Alarcón admits that the experiences of his own family amid Peru’s civil war formed “the emotional framework of [Lost City Radio]… a somber, moving elegy to all souls similarly erased or displaced by war, poverty or ideology.” In the novel, he imagines a Sunday evening radio show, “Lost City Radio,” which attempts to reunite family members separated during the long and terribly violent civil war that has shaken the country to its very core. As the Berkeley Review notes, even the “premise for the novel’s call-in radio show…came from a Peruvian program, “Busca Personas” (“In Search of People”), which functioned as a radio bulletin board for the country’s internally displaced and the people who missed them.” In this fiction/non-fiction setting, the novel’s protagonist, Norma, is the voice behind the radio, but she isn’t just the official sound piece for the disappeared and the lost; instead, we find that she is conducting her own search as well, for her husband, who disappeared into the jungle at the tail end of the war, nearly ten years before.
We enter the novel after the war is over, but in a period when the country is irreparably changed. For Norma, she is but a ghost in the capital city, her voice fluttering through the radio waves, searching for the lost, for her lost. The momentum and lamenting tone of the story changes with the arrival of Victor, an eleven year old from the jungle community of 1797 (the government has renamed all cities and villages to numbers) shows up with a list of lost people, including the name of the boy’s father, and one of the secret identities of Norma’s husband, Rey, a college professor turned insurgency supporter. The passages with Victor are important in their own right for the story’s momentum, but they have a particular resonance for us as writers and readers at Vamos a Leer. Here, we see a glimpse into a young person’s life. Although aged by his experiences, Victor is still only eleven and Alarcón, in writing his character, provides us with a glimpse into an experience that is all too familiar in the real world: children lost and displaced in the midst of larger conflicts and war’s endless deaths.
Yet Victor’s narrative is only a piece of the larger story. At the larger scale, the novel unfolds as Alarcón unravels the paths of his cast of survivors. At the beginning, we follow Norma through the capital streets in the urban world she has created for herself since the war ended. Using straightforward, almost removed language, Alarcón normalizes Norma’s experiences in the aftermath of war. Then, with disjunctive writing, he begins to force the reader into the personal terror and struggles of the post-conflict years. As the story progresses, Alarcón masterfully intertwines stories from separate landscapes (rural jungle villages and war-torn urban centers), and embraces more than twenty years and a variety of characters. The narrative structure becomes convoluted; chapters are no longer separated from one time period to the other, or limited to one regional location. As the book continues, sometimes one sentence is locally in the present, while the next one takes place ten years previously and a thousand miles away.
All of this shows Alarcón’s mastery, his ability to put us in a place and rip us out of it all at the same time, to show us that memory is fickle. Readers come to engage with the complications of the post-war civilization in which Norma and the rest of the characters reside. Certain questions come to mind as the novel progresses: What is truth amid so much deception? How can someone survive after such grief? What happens in the vacuum of war? What is community and love when we have been torn apart from one another?
For our complete review and additional resources, please check out our Vamos a Leer blog at teachinglatinamericathroughliterature.com.