Lost Children Archive

by Valeria Luiselli

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Lost Children Archive Summary

Lost Children Archive is a 2019 novel by Mexican author Valeria Luiselli.

  • An unnamed narrator (a journalist) and her husband (a soundscape artist) take a road trip from New York to Arizona with their two children.
  • The children are lost and found in the desert, searching for the migrant children their parents have told them about.
  • The narrator and her husband decide to separate to pursue their own work.


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Last Updated on September 1, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 562

Published in 2019, Lost Children Archive is a novel by Mexican-American author Valeria Luiselli that examines immigration, family dynamics, and the politics of art. The novel was strongly influenced by Luiselli's work as an interpreter for undocumented detained children and is strongly connected to Luiselli's 2017 non-fiction work Tell Me How It Ends, a collection of forty essays based on her experiences working with refugee children.

However, Luiselli states that Lost Children Archive is not a novel about immigration but rather a novel with immigration. The story is a twist on the classic American family road trip: it follows a family of four traveling from New York City to the Mexican border. The novel is narrated primarily by the mother, a journalist who is traveling to document the stories about missing migrant children. "Papa," her husband, is a soundscape artist looking to record a history of the last free Native Americans before their surrender in 1886. They are traveling with their blended family, Papa's ten-year-old son and Mama's five-year-old daughter, both from previous relationships. The tension in the journey is immediate; while the mother plans a short trip and a quick return to New York City after finishing her project, the father's work is indefinite. Their son worries that this conflict will drive a wedge in his newly formed family, causing the mother to wonder if she will lose her own children by chasing the stories of others.

Their physical journey is as tense as the emotional one; they drive through desolate American towns with at times unforgiving and unfriendly people. In these towns, the family finds that they themselves are aliens, as foreign as the undocumented immigrants they are traveling to study. The children are exposed to situations and people that they are not old enough to truly understand, along the way learning empathy but also struggling to understand the intricacies of society and culture. They explore a book found in one of the seven boxes the parents have brought with them, a journal collection about migrant children. In this complex web of the truly lost (the undocumented children) and the emotionally lost (the narrator's children), Luiselli explores the concepts of alienation and belonging, as well as how we process political violence. The experiences and feelings of the narrator's children parallel that of the undocumented children, and the violence of the US government towards the immigrants is a parallel to the emotional violence the family inflicts on one another during their own journey.

A unique aspect of Lost Children Archive is Luiselli's incorporation of actual photographs, journal articles, maps, and literary works into the boxes that the family travels with. She provides a catalogue of each work at the end of each chapter, a literary technique that encourages the reader to examine how stories and histories are preserved and re-told and how the materials that we use to do this may alter our understanding of events. These texts are juxtaposed against the mother's own debate over the ethical implications of her work—she is making art based on someone else's suffering. Ultimately, this adds a final layer to Luiselli's work; it challenges the reader to look at how we may sensationalize violence rather than emphasize with the victims, to look at how biases may influence our interpretation, and to reflect on the fissures within both our individual families and the country as a whole.

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