February: “Lost Children Archive” by Valeria Luiselli

Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli

Our February 2020 Book of the Month

This week, Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli, acclaimed as one of the best books of 2019, will be released in paperback. At Literary Affairs we often revisit books that our readers may have missed. In the current publishing industry maelstrom surrounding the release of American Dirt, Luiselli’s unique novel is the perfect pick for the February Book of the Month. By viewing these two books in juxtaposition, it points out the nuances of the larger conversation about cultural appropriation and how we tell story. Lost Children Archive is an actual archive that creates a cohesive narrative that repeats and echoes through time and space.

The book opens with a quote, “An archive presupposes an archivist, a hand that collects and classifies.” Throughout the book it is the deft handling of the material by the author that gives this story its power and resonance. This car ride, with all the recognizable dynamics of a family road trip allows the reader to careen through the American Landscape and along with our unnamed narrators contemplate what is being presented to them through all of their senses.

This is a book that as a facilitator I must warn you requires you to pay close attention, demands a thoughtful reading and a consideration of language, rhythm and theme. It is a meditation on life, past, present, and future. It is about who and what is remembered and how. It is a book that will reward you and even have you looking back over passages if not re-reading the book for its richness. Lost Children Archive is a novel that will change your way of viewing the issues at our southern border and our humanity. The brilliant layering of children; from Apache warriors, to Central American children riding the tops of trains, to the two kids in the backseat of the car, to you and your own children, helps Luiselli make this story deeply personal. There is a glitch in the mother’s phone so that every time she turns it on it plays the first dark line from Cormac McCarthy’s, The Road. “When he woke in the woods in the dark and cold of the night he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him.”

As the father in the audio book keeps reaching for his child, and the mother in the novel keeps trying to turn off the book quickly to not scare the children, it dramatically played out one of the central questions in the novel. How do we keep all of our children from being lost and give them back the right to be children in a society that is breaking down and forever losing things?


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.


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 Faces in the Crowd, Sidewalks, The Story of My Teeth, Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions, and, most recently, Lost Children Archive. She is the winner of two Los Angeles Times Book Prizes and an American Book Award, and has twice been nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Kirkus Prize. 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 Times, Granta, and McSweeney’s, among other publications, and has been translated into more than twenty languages. She lives in New York City.

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