Lost Children Archives
By Valerie Lusisella
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”.