Lost Children Archive

by Valeria Luiselli
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Part I: Missing–Removals Summary

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1005

Part I: Family Soundscape

Missing

Manuela finally calls the narrator and tells her their petition for asylum was denied, which means the girls will be shipped off to another detention center in Arizona. From there, they will be deported back home. However, Manuela reveals that the day before the girls were transferred, they disappeared. Border Patrol says the girls are probably at the detention center, but Manuela thinks they ran away. The narrator asks what she can do to help, and Manuela says to look for the girls if the family makes it to New Mexico or Arizona.

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The family reaches Arkansas and travels to a small motel on the edge of the state to stop for the night. After a brief fight with her husband, the narrator leaves the motel room while everyone sleeps. She grabs a book and seeks out a local bar. She orders a drink and finds herself entranced by a lone man writing in a notebook. They discuss the depth of their lives and make out during a cigarette break. The narrator thinks about her sexual feelings for this man but chooses to return to her own motel room.

The family continues on to a town called Geronimo to see the eponymous Apache leader’s grave and take soundscapes of the land. As they approach the border, questions are asked and passports are shown. The narrator becomes uncomfortable because she was not born in the United States, and the strangers around her notice this difference.

After entering a small town, the family is questioned by a liquor store owner. Frantic to keep the peace, they lie and say they are going to direct a spaghetti Western, after which the man changes his tone from rude to welcoming. The narrator remembers the title of one spaghetti Western and wins the man over, but he wants the family to stay and watch the film together. Thankfully, the boy is stung by a bee, which offers them a quick way out of the hellish reality they’ve created. They race off and drive until it’s dark, stopping at a motel that revives some love between the narrator and her husband.

The following day, the family arrives at Fort Sill, and the husband is giddy at the prospect of seeing the Apache graves. When they get back on the road, the narrator seems to finally understand what her husband is trying to capture. It’s not that he’s chasing the ghosts of the Apaches; he’s capturing the sounds of the present moment in the landscapes that once held the Apaches’ greatness.

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Latest answer posted April 9, 2020, 7:09 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The narrator realizes her job is not to tell the stories of the survivors. Her job is to tell the stories of the lost children, the stories with no ending. She equates this unknowing to that of her husband and decides she needs to start looking elsewhere for answers.

Box IV

Box IV is her husband’s final box, and it contains the majority of his items. Inside are notebooks, eight books, one brochure for National Parks, four maps, one tape, one CD, and a folder with copied papers.

Removals

The narrator hears a rumor about the government deporting “alien kids” at an airport nearby. She begs her husband to go, and the boy supports this choice because the airport is, ironically, near the UFO museum in Roswell.

They stop a desolate motel, one that reminds them of the Bates Motel in the movie Psycho. The kids have their own room this time around, but they are afraid to be alone. The husband, immediately falling asleep, leaves the narrator to fend for herself. As she reads Lord of the Flies to the kids, the girl falls asleep, but the boy is kept awake by even more fears, adult fears that mirror the narrator’s. The narrator, also struck with existential woes, comforts the boy and begins to read from Elegies for Lost Children, a book she is using for her research. Leaning into the fear gives them both comfort and concern.

With everyone asleep, the narrator heads outside to read. The elegy she selects talks about the kids being abandoned at a train station with throngs of vendors and psychics looking to take their money. It seems to mirror the questions the boy was asking her about what would happen if he and the girl were suddenly lost. She heads to bed, facing another rejection from her husband.

The next morning, the narrator reflects on her childhood. Her mother left her family when she was ten to join the guerrilla movement in southern Mexico, and her father dragged her and her sister to Nigeria for work. On her twelfth birthday, her mother flew the girls to Greece as a gift. The narrator reflects on the fact that her mother chose to leave their father because “she had been following him around all her life, always putting her own projects aside.” She recognizes what her mother did and why and hopes her children will one day make these same acknowledgments for her and her husband.

They continue to drive, listening to updates on the situation at the unknown airport. The narrator tries contacting a lawyer but decides to piece together the location herself. They head toward a small airport near Roswell and hope for the best.

They arrive in time to watch children being marched onto the tarmac and into a private plane. The narrator grabs binoculars from the boy and searches for Manuela’s daughters, two girls in matching dresses. She sees nothing and proceeds to violently yell and kick the fence. Her husband restrains her as the boy proceeds to look through the binoculars. 

Rearranging her anger, she plays the game the kids were playing in the car. She pretends to be an astronaut asking Ground Control for information as they listen to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” on repeat. The section ends with the narrator recognizing the gift children give their parents, that of undying youth and curiosity.

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Part I: Box II–Box III Summary

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Part II: Deportations–Box V Summary