There is a real lack of truly original novels in modern literature, quite often novels which are seen as revolutionary are dressed up reinventions of other books or are overtaken by a sense of kitsch and rendered unreadable. ‘Lost Children Archive’ is one of the truly few original novels released in recent years, as Luiselli’s story not only acts as a alternative exploration of the classic American road novel, but also focuses on the tragedy of America’s border and immigration policy which has led to the loss of so many children in the name of political point-scoring.
The novels follows the journey of a nameless narrator as she journeys to the Mexican family alongside her (also nameless) husband and their children. Initially the novel acts as a retelling of the American road novel, as the narrator is driven down the vast, endless American expanse, a country of ochre sunsets and foggy mountains, however Luiselli is also exploring the gradual unravelling of a marriage, where the characters feel as engulfed in their mutual silences as they are by the seeming endlessness of the American country. The road trip serves to not only exacerbate the different of the married couple, but also the closeness of their children, who seek to hold onto the bond which their parents no longer have and whose desperate attempt to stay together only ends up severing the family completely.
Luiselli’s narrative frequently jumps between past and present, between abstract explorations of human nature and the injustices experienced by Native Americans and Mexican immigrants and the childish musings and conversations between the two young children. Interspersed between this are the stories of all the children who have died, been imprisoned or deported, told in a variety of different styles, from matter-of-fact government reports to a detailed journey of young immigrants on a precarious freight train.
Beneath all of is the theme of the loss of childhood, as the hardships the young Mexican children and adolescents are forced to explore cause them to lose their innocence. Their journey eventually intersects with the journey of the children of the narrator and her husband, who also go through a voyage of discovery and loss of innocence, with the different being that they are able to go back to the security of their family, whereas the Mexicans are destined for a lifetime of running and incarceration, their lives and hopes gradually wearing away beneath the endless blaze of the American desert, beneath the callous cruelty of American bureaucracy. ‘
Lost Children Archive’ is one of the great modern American novels, a story which explores and challenges not only what it means to be American but also what it means to be human where your desperation and powerlessness is weaponized against you.