Lost Children Archives–multiple stories

Lost Children Archives

By Valerie Lusisella

Published 2019

Read April 2021

This reader is still trying to decide what to think about this book.

The mother/wife/woman narrates most of the book but not all of it.  She describes their beginning—she and the father/husband/man both signed onto a project to record sounds in New York City.  She was a journalist and glad to get work that would last awhile and have medical benefits. They were assigned as a team to record as many of the 800 some languages spoken in the city.  They worked well together, fell in love, and decided to move in together.  She brought her daughter, then a little less than two years old. He brought his son, five years older.  We learn the boy lost his mother during childbirth.  We learn nothing of the girl’s father.  The adults marry and begin filing joint tax returns.  They use choose to use pronouns for the various family members that show they are one family.

The narrator picks up the story as the project is nearing its end and the adults are thinking about their next projects, although they aren’t discussing their next steps with each other.  His new sound project, for which he has secured a grant, will involve the last Apache leaders and he eventually tells her he will need silence and solitude and relocation to the southwest.  She had become involved with a Mexican woman living in the city whose daughters had tried to sneak into the country but had been abandoned by their “coyote”, found by border patrol agents, and prepared to be deported back to Mexico.  This leads her to get funding for a sound documentary about the immigrant children’s crisis at the border while still hoping she can help her friend find her children.  It becomes clear they aren’t on paths that have a clear intersection.  She tells us that she decides to find an intersection by refocusing her project on a site near the southern border.  This leads to a family road trip to the southwest.

The woman narrator gives us an interesting picture of that road trip.  They choose not to go quickly to their destination but rather avoid the interstates and fairly slowly meander their way to the southwest.  The father/husband/man declares the final destination will be in the Chiricahua Mountains as that’s where the Chiricahua Apaches had lived before they had to surrender to the “white-eyes”.  During the slow trip west, we hear stories the father/husband/man tells the children about the Apaches.  We learn more about the lost girls that the mother/wife/woman is seeking and we hear her read from a book called “Elegies for Lost Children” (a book that the author creates for this novel) that describe the journey of seven children being led by a “coyote” from Mexico into the United States.  We hear about the games the children (now 10 and 5) play in the back seat of the car including role-playing the lost children in their mother’s book.

The picture of the road trip leads us to understand that the family unit, which has only been together four short years, is coming undone and perhaps has already completely disintegrated as far as the father/husband/man is concerned.  We don’t hear anything from him.  The mother/wife/woman’s acceptance of the disintegration of the family unit grows over the course of the trip.  They become father/man and mother/woman but the bond between the two “parents” dissolves with limited effort from either party, it seems, to hold it together. 

The picture presented made this reader question the parenting capabilities of the adults.  For instance, the parent’s choices for audiobooks astounded this reader.  Cormac McCarthy’s The Road?? This reader found that book quite astonishing but the extremely dark post-apocalyptic world includes people who raise babies to eat them.  They would play this for the children?  The parents do decide this book might be a little dark for the children but when the woman’s audio-player starts up each time, the first line of that book always plays.  They decide on The Lord of the Flies as the best book they have for the family and proceed to listen to it.  This reader shouldn’t have been surprised considering how dark the “Elegies for Lost Children” is.  Fortunately, the children are clearly very connected to each other and can carry on quite well with each other despite little attention from their parents. 

Eventually the boy takes over narration of the book.  He has certainly been listening to his parents and understands that they are likely separating and that this is their last family trip.  He wants to help his mother (he has certainly fully accepted her in this role) and eventually decides to help her find the lost children his mother is desperately trying to find—the two little girls who are being sent back to Mexico.   He takes his sister on a trek across the desert to find them and leaves behind a map for their parents to let them know where they are headed—to Echo Canyon which their father has been discussing.  Thus we leave the haunting narration by the mother of the parents distancing themselves from each other and seemingly their children too as they become increasingly focused on their respective projects.  We enter an even sadder narration by the son telling about the two young children trekking across a desert with little to eat or drink but with a mission to find the lost girls.   The boy has concluded that saving the children may be more important to his mother than they are themselves. Can this book become more tragic?  This reader will leave to your own reading to learn how things turn out.

This book has received many accolades.  This reader agrees that “The Elegies for Lost Children” paints a very dark, and likely accurate, picture of the trek many immigrant children are taking to come to the United States.   The author conveys the pain parents feel as they send their children on such a trek to rejoin family already in the United States.  The author makes the reader question the rationality and humanity of the policies that create this situation. 

However, the story of the family’s disintegration is troubling.  The parents allow their four year relationship to die with seemingly little attempt to save it and with little thought of how this might impact their children.  Of course the boy will stay with the man and the girl will go with the woman.    Their children not only get lost trying to help their parents find the lost children in their mother’s book, they are about to be very lost when they lose their sibling, and are left only with their biological parent who seems to have limited interest in them.     It remains unclear to this reader why this is the story the author chooses to tell while reeling out “The Elegies for Lost Children”. 

Snow—John Banville writes a mystery


By John Banville

Published 2020

Read March 2021

As noted in a previous entry, this reader found a Benjamin Black novel in a Little Library on a road in the Finger Lakes and learned two things:  Benjamin Black is the pen name of Dublin’s famous writer John Banville; Benjamin Black’s mystery novels are well “crafted” (as the author describes) and quite the worthy read.  This reader has enjoyed another Benjamin Black novel since then and commented on it.

Recently this reader found John Banville’s Snow in a Little Library in Naples Park, Florida.  While this book was found 1500 miles away from the other Little Library, the discovery was just as welcomed as the first.  Apparently Banville (a highly celebrated Irish writer) has decided it’s acceptable to sign his “entertainments” with his real name.   

This book too is has a mystery in it.  While the book suggests it may have a classic Agatha Christie plot—the victim is found dead in the library and the killer must have been inside the house when the family retired—the book also provides a unique look into the 1957 world of Wexford County via depiction of a  fraying Anglo-Irish Protestant family and its interactions with the Catholic priest who is murdered in their slowly decaying house.  St John Strafford, the investigator from Dublin, is an unusual Garda member as he is from the same class as the family and also a Protestant.  We hear his thoughts as he moves through the investigation and through his days and nights while staying in this small town south of Dublin.  We watch him slowly unfold a number of family secrets and we see him interact with the Catholic Church as it defines what is expected from the investigation of the death of one of their priests.  

This reader won’t divulge more about the plot which is certainly darker than hoped for by this reader but as dark as should be expected by some of the details of the murder.    Rather this reader will leave you with a passage that quite took this reader by pleasant surprise and made her sit upright.  Strafford has been forced to stop his car to wait for a flow of sheep to pass across the road.  “Strafford idly studied the milling animals, admiring their long aristocratic heads and neat little hoofs, like carved nuggets of coal, on which they trotted so daintily.  He was struck too by their protuberant and intelligent-seeming shiny black eyes, expressive of social resignation tinged with the incurable shame of their plight, avatars of an ancient race, being herded ignominiously along a country road by a snot-nosed brat with a stick.”

This reader is glad Banville has decided to expand his literary efforts to this new form of “entertainment”.  Benjamin Black’s novels are much more than simple mysteries providing terrific language about not only the characters but their physical and social environment.  Banville has upped the ante even more with this entry and this reader looks forward to more. 

Tony Hillerman—Great Mysteries and Interesting Characters

Coyote Waits

By Tony Hillerman

Published 1990

Read March 2021

Skeleton Man

By Tony Hillerman

Published 2004

Read April 2021

This reader has encountered Tony Hillerman and his characters Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, Navajo Tribal Police officers, in the past.  Then, as now, this reader read two this series (of eighteen) nearly back to back.  Joe is the older and wiser officer and Jim Chee the younger officer trying to find his way in his world that straddles the Navajo and white world.  He straddles as well his draw to be a traditional healer and his pursuit of being a good investigative officer.   

The stories are set in and around the Navajo Nation and include either a mystery to be solved by Leaphorn and Chee (in cooperation or in parallel) or some kind of suspense story (as in Skeleton Man.  Over the course of the series, the stories of Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee are revealed.  As with the Massie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear, the reader is treated to an interesting mystery/suspense story set in a different culture and/or time and the story provides some insights into that culture/time.  In both series, the story of the main character(s) is slowly metered out but in a way that doesn’t dominate the mystery/suspense plot .  Both the character(s)’ story and the mystery engage and propel the reader into both stories.   It’s not critical to read either series in chronological order of the story(ies) of the main character(s) as there is sufficient background provided to enable you to participate in their story(ies) as told in a particular  book.  Interestingly, all three characters, Massie Dobbs, Joe Leaphorn, and Jim Chee, have entries in Wikipedia that are fairly detailed regarding their life stories. 

Unfortunately the world lost Tony Hillerman so the eighteen books are all the world will get describing the lives of Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee and the mysteries they solve.  Lucky for this reader, there are a good number of Hillerman’s book left to read.  

The Great Santini–A difficult story the author lived

The Great Santini

By Pat Conroy

Published 1976

Read March 2021

Pat Conroy wrote a fictionalized account of his childhood and published it 14 years after the 1962 setting for the story. The main character, Ben, based on Pat, is the oldest child of Lt Col Wilbur “Bull” Meecham (who calls himself “The Great Santini”).  Bull Meecham is a Marine fighter pilot who fought battles in his plane in WWII and the Korean Conflict and now finds himself in a command position for which he was far from the first choice.  He has been assigned to lead a group of Marine fighter pilots.  He intends to make the best of the best and prove he should be promoted despite the reports in his record that suggest he is not leadership material.

Bull Meecham, a Chicago native, met his wife while stationed in the south.  She was 18 when they married.  He was considered quite a catch.  She converted to Catholicism for him, sends their children to Catholic school when there is one in town, and sets up a small alter in each house they occupy—-they move frequently from base to base. 

Bull Meecham was an amazingly abusive father and husband, expecting complete obedience and respect from all members and beating any of them who don’t live up to his expectations.  He pays little attention to his daughters who he expects to be “great tail” for their future husbands—-Marines of course–and he expects his sons to become Marine fighter pilots too.  The scene in which he and Ben are playing a game of backyard basketball was extremely telling.  Bull is going to be beaten by his high school son and he can’t stand it.  He can’t lose to anyone ever.  After being struck in the head with the ball repeatedly by his father, Ben goes inside while his father remains outside practicing basketball so he won’t ever lose again.

This was actually a difficult book for this reader to endure.   Being aware that it was based on the author’s life made it even more difficult.  No family member can possibly be left undamaged by the environment Bull creates in the household.  The only semblance of peace they get is when Bull is on assignment overseas and the family returns to the mother’s childhood home and stays with the grandparents.  These readers hoped that Ben would at some point get beyond the constant bickering he does with his sister and actually hear her pleas for help.  The two of them are each other’s dates for a school prom.  She tries to seriously talk with him and tells him that she isn’t sure she wants to live but he doesn’t hear it.  The stories of the abusive treatment by Bull of his family and squad continue for 536 pages.  This reader wondered how it could ever end.  Fortunately it does.  

One hopes that military life has changed during the nearly 50 years since the setting of this story.  One hopes that women have real avenues to break out of abusive relationships.  One hopes that children are never raised in this kind of environment so they aren’t permanently damaged by it. Obviously changes are incomplete on all accounts. 

By writing what he lived, Conroy left a canon of writing that never feels inauthentic—-he lived most of it himself.    Hopefully this writing helped him heal and hopefully this writing will help others recognize that there is much healing needed by too many people.

Raisin In the Sun– Still a Must Read and/or See

Raisin in the Sun

By Lorraine Hansberry

This is another example of a piece of literature that some encounter when in high school or college that this reader is only encountering as a person retired from a corporate job.

This play was remarkable when it was first produced.  Like other plays that reach Broadway, it had “try-outs” in other venues such as Philadelphia or New Haven, CT.  But it was remarkable that the play was even picked up for production at all.  After all, the playwright was a young black woman with no previous history in playwriting.  And the play was about the everyday real experiences of a black family of the current time and all the characters were black except one.  “Why would anyone want to see that” was a question that Phil Rose, the producer, was ready to get past.  Fortunately for us he believed in the play and the playwright and Raisin in the Sun was produced on Broadway, was made into a film (with the original Broadway cast and Lorraine Hansberry’s screenplay), and has been redone on the stage and film and for television as well. 

A discussion of this drama that this reader attended brought up the same question that the original critics had and likely many who watch or read this play consider—-are the themes in this play universal or is it a play about racism.  The working family has been struggling to get ahead and the grown son has not been able to bring home enough money, even with a working wife, to enable moving out of the apartment his parents started renting decades earlier.  A check from the life insurance company following the death of the father could make a difference for the family—but how to use it is the central question the family wrestles with in these scenes.  The son wants to start a business, the daughter wants to go to medical school, the mother wants to buy a home of their own—all things previously unattainable. 

Yes those sorts of situations are fairly universal.  But the drivers for the family’s dilemmas aren’t wholly universal.  Rental prices for housing in all-black neighborhoods have generally been higher than for comparable housing in white neighborhoods basically forever in the US.  The kinds of jobs available for the family members were limited then and perhaps as well now although the specifics have changed somewhat.  Then and now the jobs are often limited to service jobs, especially for those of limited education and other training.  The women in the play were relegated to domestic help and the son was a chauffeur.   Now the jobs remain in minimum wage to low paying jobs in food service and retail.  Then as now, small business loans are difficult to get without any capital. 

A huge aspect of the play is not universal.  The mother has made a down payment on a house in a currently all-white neighborhood.  A “concerned neighbor” visits the family with an offer to buy them out.  At the time, domestic terrorist actions against black families trying to move into a white neighborhood were not uncommon.  What this family will face when they move is unclear but it could be devastating to them.

Interestingly, Hansberry’s family took a case as far as the Supreme Court about a racially restrictive covenant barring blacks from buying or leasing land in a particular neighborhood.  They lost the case.  Although this type of covenant was eventually found unconstitutional, the impact of blacks moving into “white neighborhoods” led to “white flight” and many cities emptying out in the 1960’s and 70’s and beyond.  Integration of neighborhoods remains a charged situation in many cases.  So this aspect of the story is far from universal and cannot be dismissed. 

The world lost this promising playwright when she was only 34, a victim of pancreatic cancer.  Her work lives on, however, and should be read and discussed by young people as well as their parents and grandparents.  Many of the issues raised in the play remain unresolved in our society today and the inability of some to see a major theme of this play being about racism indicates we have much work to do to solve these issues. 

Brave New World—still very relevant

Brave New World

By Aldous Huxley

Published 1932

Read Feb 2021

Unlike many others, this reader didn’t read this book in high school or college but rather this reader’s first reading of this book is as a retired person who spent decades in a life science business.  

The first part of the book was riveting for this reader.  The development and utilization of biochemical and biological techniques to drive different levels of intelligence and to generate multiple copies of the same clone is discussed by the Director to a group of new students.  He then shows them the psychological conditioning techniques being used, some during sleep and some using rather harsh approaches, to influence ways of thinking, preferences, and aversions.  The only possible give-away that this wasn’t written in 2020 is the need to use only red-light on embryos of a certain age as they can’t withstand other types of light—as, the book indicates,  is the case with photographic film. 

We eventually meet Bernard Marx, an A+(levels given grades A through F indicating level of intelligence)  who has helped develop the sleep conditioning techniques.  His intellect is A+ level but he’s shorter than most and some of his thinking isn’t fully aligned with the World State’s policies. His colleagues suggest these defects are due to unplanned exposure to ethanol during this development.  He wishes to date Lenina, a B-level woman.  She’s been exclusively dating someone, which is not within policy, and her roommate has counseled her to stop doing this and adhere to the policy that “we all belong to everyone” and spread herself around a little more.  So she accepts Bernard’s invitation for a date which isn’t entirely satisfactory for either but that doesn’t preclude them from deciding to go on a holiday together.  Interestingly, all the male level A/A+ characters are interested in dating only level B/B+ women…. 

Their holiday to the Savage Land in Arizona and the direction that takes the plot provides a new set of characters and enables the author’s ability to dive deeply into the consideration of the World State’s set of policies regarding fidelity (no need—everyone belongs to everyone), parenthood (no longer considered useful but actually damaging to development of citizens), leisure (the best part of life but only so much time can be spent here so that people don’t think too much), finding bliss through soma, a potent drug readily available (why not?), happiness (it is better to be happy because of lies than be unhappy), literature (no need for it—books banished because they cause people to think too much), aging (no longer relevant—biology has done away with that).  Even the scientific questions considered are limited in the New World order so that the equilibrium of the current society isn’t disrupted. 

Brave New World came out in 1932 when the relevancy of the innovation of Ford’s Model T and Ford’s production line technology was much more apparent than it might be today.  The references to Mr. T and the “sign of the T” will likely become lost on readers less familiar with Henry Ford, his impact on manufacturing, and the Model T.  The “sexual revolution” happened between the book’s publication and today so the concept of sex outside of marriage and outside of any kind of commitment is taken as a matter of course now, a very different situation than when the book was published.  However, today’s society views regarding parenthood and the role of fathers in raising children are very different than when the book was published—-much higher expectations for deep physical and emotional involvement vs only bringing home a paycheck. 

Regardless of the differences in the views on society brought by readers today vs the readers when the book was first published, the questions the book raises regarding engineering people biologically and psychologically remain very relevant and perhaps even more so now.   In-vitro fertilization has certainly become a reality although driven by the parents of the to-be child and not The Director.   However, who owns the un-implanted embryos is a question that remains incompletely settled.   CRISPER technology has the potential for changing a person and has been used to create a set of twins that lack a receptor required for infection by HIV.  The question(s) of whether and how to use this technology is only in its infancy.  Who has the right to decide these questions?  Is it a right of all or in one or few based on their power and authority.. 

Brave New World doesn’t describe the road society travelled to reach the Brave New World state but rather it focuses on the state that’s been created.  This reader anticipates the author chose the Bernard Marx character and his story of wrestling with the Brave New World state and his place in it to provide the reader some hope that we don’t need to take the same course.  However we do need to think about how we decide what path(s) society takes as technologies are created and developed that could alter our course significantly.

This reader applauds high schools and colleges that include this book in their curriculum.  However, this reader also recommends that adults of all ages should read or re-read this book as well since they are the ones in positions of decision making that should be informed by thinking about these critical topics now.