Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Lost City Radio, Daniel Alarcon, HarperCollins Publishers, 2007, 257 pp

I was attracted to this book by the reviews and by the idea that a radio show called "Lost City Radio" brought separated people and families back together after a decade of civil war in an unnamed South American country. As it turned out, while the story is centered on the radio announcer Norma and her missing husband, it is not really about the show or its results.

The story is about war, displacement of peoples, oppressive government versus rebels and most deeply, about the effects of all this on a marriage and the great love between Norma and Rey. Since this is a novel about South America, the story goes in a South American trajectory, which is so different from the North American story telling tradition. I like this sort of story and after reading much of other such writers, I am beginning to see the influences of it in contemporary North American fiction.

Some readers I know get annoyed by a story that goes back and forth in time, circling round and round itself until all is told. It doesn't bother me. I could say that not a lot happens in Lost City Radio in terms of events, yet much occurs in the lives of the characters. The degree of uncertainty and upheaval portrayed here would most likely do me in and books like this make me realize how stable life is in the United States, how predictable, at least for the middle class. Alarcon writes about all these factors in wonderful prose. I felt the city and the jungle, the terrible fear and instability in these people's lives, the complete unreliability of the government and the news.

Somehow he has written a powerful story in a quiet way. I won't forget it soon.

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