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 40 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 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...
(The entire section is 558 words.)