For ten years, Norma has been the on-air voice of consolation and hope for the Indians in the mountains and the poor from the barrios—a people broken by war's violence. As the host of Lost City Radio, she reads the names of those who have disappeared—those whom the furiously expanding city has swallowed. Through her efforts lovers are reunited and the lost are found. But in the aftermath of the decadelong bloody civil conflict, her own life is about to forever change—thanks to the arrival of a young boy from the jungle who provides a cryptic clue to the fate of Norma's vanished husband.
About the Author
Daniel Alarcon's debut story collection, War by Candlelight, was a finalist for the 2006 PEN/Hemingway Award. He has received a Lannan Literary Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Award, and has been named by Granta magazine one of the Best American Novelists under thirty-five. He is the associate editor of Etiqueta Negra, an award-winning monthly magazine published in his native Lima, Peru. He lives in Oakland, California.
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Lost City Radio
By Daniel Alarcon
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Daniel Alarcon
All right reserved.
They took Norma off the air that Tuesday morning because a boy was dropped off at the station. He was quiet and thin and had a note. The receptionists let him through. A meeting was called.
The conference room was full of light and had an expansive view of the city, looking east toward the mountains. When Norma walked in, Elmer was seated at the head of the table, rubbing his face as if he'd been woken from a restless, unsatisfying sleep. He nodded as she sat, then yawned and fiddled with the top of a pill bottle he'd taken from his pocket. "Go for some water," he groaned to his assistant. "And empty these ashtrays, Len. Jesus."
The boy sat across from Elmer, in a stiff wooden chair, staring down at his feet. He was slender and fragile, and his eyes were too small for his face. His head had been shaved--to kill lice, Norma supposed. There were the faint beginnings of a mustache above his lips. His shirt was threadbare, and his unhemmed pants were knotted around his waist with a shoestring.
Norma sat closest to him, her back to the door, facing the white city.
Len reappeared with a pitcher of water. It was choked with bubbles, tinged gray. Elmer poured himself a glass and swallowed two pills. He coughed into his hand. "Let's get right to it," Elmer said when Len had sat. "We're sorry to interrupt the news, Norma, but we wanted you tomeet Victor."
"Tell her how old you are, boy," Len said.
"I'm eleven," the child said, his voice barely audible. "And a half."
Len cleared his throat, glanced at Elmer, as if for permission to speak. With a nod from his boss, he began. "That's a terrific age," Len said. "Now, you came looking for Norma, isn't that right?"
"Yes," Victor said.
"Do you know him?"
"He says he came from the jungle," Len continued. "We thought you'd want to meet him. For the show."
"Great," she said. "Thank you."
Elmer stood and walked to the window. He was a silhouette against the hazy brightness. Norma knew that panorama: the city below, stretching to the horizon and still farther. With your forehead to the glass, you could see down to the street, to that broad avenue choked with traffic and people, with buses and moto-taxis and vegetable carts. Or life on the city's rooftops: clothes hanging on a line next to rusting chicken coops, old men playing cards on a milk crate, dogs barking angrily, teeth bared at the heavy sea air. She'd even seen a man once, sitting on his yellow hard hat, sobbing.
If Elmer saw anything now, he didn't seem interested. He turned back to them. "Not just from the jungle, Norma. From 1797."
Norma sat up straight. "What are you telling me, Elmer?"
It was one of the rumors they knew to be true: mass graves, anonymous villagers, murdered and tossed into ditches. They'd never reported it, of course. No one had. They hadn't spoken of this in years. She felt something heavy in her chest.
"It's probably nothing," Elmer said. "Let's show her the note."
From his pocket, Victor produced a piece of paper, presumably the same one he had shown the receptionist. He passed it to Elmer, who put on his reading glasses and cleared his throat. He read aloud:
Dear Miss Norma:
This child is named Victor. He is from Village 1797 in the eastern jungle. We, the residents of 1797, have pooled our monies together and sent him to the city. We want a better life for Victor. There is no future for him here. Please help us. Attached find our list of lost people. Perhaps one of these individuals will be able to care for the boy. We listen to Lost City Radio every week. We love your show.
Your biggest fans,
"Norma," Elmer said, "I'm sorry. We wanted to tell you ourselves. He'd be great for the show, but we wanted to warn you first."
"I'm fine." She rubbed her eyes and took a deep breath. "I'm fine."
Norma hated the numbers. Before, every town had a name; an unwieldy, millenarian name inherited from God-knows-which extinct people, names with hard consonants that sounded like stone grinding against stone. But everything was being modernized, even the recondite corners of the nation. This was all postconflict, a new government policy. They said people were forgetting the old systems. Norma wondered. "Do you know what they used to call your village?" she asked the boy.
Victor shook his head.
Norma closed her eyes for a second. He'd probably been taught to say that. When the war ended, the government confiscated the old maps. They were taken off the shelves at the National Library, turned in by private citizens, cut out of school textbooks, and burned. Norma had covered it for the radio, had mingled with the excited crowd that gathered at Newtown Plaza to watch. Once, Victor's village had a name, but it was lost now. Her husband, Rey, had vanished near there, just before the Illegitimate Legion was defeated. This was at the end of the insurrection, ten years before. She was still waiting for him.
"Are you all right, Miss Norma?" the boy asked in a small, reedy voice.
She opened her eyes.
"What a polite young man," Len said. He leaned forward, rested his elbows on the table, and patted the boy on his bald head.
Norma waited for a moment, counting to ten. She picked up the paper and read it again. The script was steady and deliberate. She pictured it: a town council gathering to decide whose penmanship was best. How folkloric. On the back was a list of names. "Our Missing," it said, the end of the g curling upward in an optimistic flourish. She couldn't bear to read them. Each was a cipher, soulless, faceless, sometime humans, a harvest of names to be read on the air. She passed the note back to Elmer. The idea of it made her inexplicably sleepy.
Excerpted from Lost City Radio by Daniel Alarcon Copyright © 2007 by Daniel Alarcon. Excerpted by permission.
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What People are Saying About This
“...one of the most exciting and ambitious writers to emerge in recent years.”
“Alarcon’s prose is quick and beautiful. This is a first novel that needs to be read.”
“Alarcon writes about subterfuge, lies, and the arbitrary recreation of history with a masterful clarity.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In the late 1980s, I served as a Marine Corps recruiter in South Texas where it was my goal to enlist three recruits a month into the armed forces. At the time, 'making mission' was all that mattered to me since I knew the Corps would take good care of my enlistees once they entered boot camp. Then came the first Gulf War, and I started getting phone calls from parents worried about their sons and daughters. Questions such as 'Have you heard from Anthony?' 'Do you think Maria will have to spend nights in a foxhole?' And the question 'Will they all come back home safe?' assaulted me during the day and haunted me at night. The calls brought back carefree images of teenagers, eager to serve their country, who now faced the possibility of coming home in body bags. These names, and many more, crept back into my consciousness as I read Daniel Alarcón's mesmerizing debut novel, 'Lost City Radio.' Alarcón, a Peruvian native who lives in Oakland, where he teaches at Mills College, weaves a harrowing tale of guerrilla warfare in an unnamed South American country that focuses on the devastation inflicted on the lives of family members who are left behind to wonder, worry and weep about loved ones fighting in a conflict in which no one really knows who's right or wrong, or worse yet, how it will all end, if ever. While the war is the epicenter of the novel, we view it through the lives of three principles who try to make sense of the turmoil the insurgency has dumped upon their lives. Each tries to find answers in the chaos the fighting has brought to their town and village, but with the fog of war prevalent, they seemingly settle on adapting, surviving, and praying for any kind of closure to the mayhem. Norma, the central character, is the host of a national radio program, 'Lost City Radio.' For years, her voice, which her producer once described as 'gold that stank of empathy,' is the sole source of consolation to a country seeking to find loved ones who left, or were abducted, from their homes to fight, only to never be seen again. Unbeknownst to her audience, her husband is one of the missing. 'Welcome to Lost City Radio ... To all the listeners, a warm greeting this evening, my name is Norma ... Call us now, and tell us who you're looking for. Who can we help you find? Is it a brother you're missing? A lover? A mother or father, an uncle or a childhood friend? We're listening, I'm listening ... Call now, tell us your story.' And then, night after night, she reads lists of names sent in by callers hoping to find the missing the war has claimed. Such is the life Norma leads for a decade until one day, a 10-year-old boy from a jungle village now called 1797 shows up at the radio station with a list of names that contains one she has longed to read on the air but can't due to governmental oversight ¿ the one that belongs to her long absent spouse. Who, Norma wonders, put that name on the list and what other clues does the boy and the man who accompanied him out of the jungle have that can lead to a reunion with her husband? Alarcón, a Whiting Award winner and PEN/Hemingway Award finalist for his 2005 short story collection 'War By Candlelight,' eloquently probes the ramifications of war on the home front from a perspective that can be overlooked if one doesn't have a family member in arms. He tenderly reveals the impact of war on society and the emotional wounds on humanity that sometimes never heal. Alarcón painstakingly reminds us that soldiers don't go into skirmishes alone they take with them loved ones who yearn for an embrace and the chance to utter their names upon safe passage home.
Hurray for wonderful book club members that create interesting lists and select good books.I enjoyed Lost City Radio. I didn't really adore it, but I read it quickly and found very little fault with it. It struck me as a novel that junior high or high school teachers might encourage their students to read as a means of introducing them to certain historical events, and it would be an excellent way to do this. And I don't mean that as a slight that some people intend when they assign books to a certain age group or something. I'm not saying that only eighth-graders should read this, but it made me somewhat feel like I was back in school and about to study a South American civil war.On top of that, I often find a certain similarity in the tone of stories that focus on missing loved ones, particularly when we're talking about situations like this where a Latin/South American country suffers civil war and many disappear. It's horrific and sad and so very upsetting to live with the knowledge that there will never be closure to the feeling of loss... It's one of those things that I cannot possibly comprehend and I hope I never will.So, the story. This novel focuses on three characters in an unnamed country, weaving back and forth through time as we eventually learn about what (predictably) links them together. While our focus remains on these and a handful of others, the two main locations are the jungle and the city. The circumstances of the civil war and the country are vague, which means we bring in our own vague knowledge of many Latin/South American countries that have experienced civil wars, dictators, rebel armies, and mass disappearances that foster a culture of fear. And because of that, we automatically have ourselves a scenario and we're free to focus on what this means to our characters and what it does to change their lives.First and foremost, we have Norma. Norma hosts "Lost City Radio," a Sunday radio program where callers phone with names and descriptions of missing loved ones. While her face might not be known to the country, it's practically impossible for her to speak outside of the radio without being identified. The people love her. She is repeatedly stopped and handed lists of names to be read on her show. Lost City Radio is often the site for staged reunions and everyone in the country seems to tune in, desperate to locate their own missing family, friends, and loved ones.Norma's own husband is one of the missing, though she cannot speak his name on the air without fear of some action being taken. Possibly a member of the rebel group, the IL, Rey was a man who was taken into custody and imprisoned on the very night that he met Norma. He was released and met her once more a year later, so Norma returns to this fact constantly as an excuse for why she cannot quite let go. His ability to disappear and reappear in her life became so ingrained with their relationship that even now, ten years later, she cannot help but hope. She does not know how involved he was with a rebel movement and deluded herself into believing that her husband was a man who kept no secrets.The third character that we have is young Victor, an eleven-year-old boy who is sent by his village to see Norma and bring her the list of their village's missing. His mother has just died, he never knew his father, and his teacher (who accompanied him to the city) appears to have abandoned him at the radio station, so Norma takes charge of him and it is at that point where we begin our story.Overall, I enjoyed the book, though most everything came as a given in the plot. A weaving storyline will do that, as you assume certain things to fill in the gaps and then, when you double-back, your assumptions are confirmed. Thus, you're thankful that Alacron is a good storyteller and you're compelled to finish the novel based on that alone, because you know what's going to happen. I found this to be one of those books where you don't shed tears, and yet you still
I am not a subscriber. Alarcon has talent and I sympathize with his politics; but something was missing from "Lost City Radio." Perhaps the characters were just a bit too similar; perhaps the all-pervasive traumatized vacancy offered too little traction or perhaps everything was knit together just a bit too tightly. The novel needed to surge somehow, in some direction or around something; but it lingered and reminisced; at most, it brooded."The war had bred a general exhaustion. It was a city of sleepwalkers now, a place where another bomb hardly registered, where the Great Blackouts were now monthly occurrences, announced in vitriolic pamphlets slipped beneath windshield wipers like shopping circulars." Fair enough. Alarcon communicates that successfully. But in his world of characters about whom a reader should care very much, Alarcon gives his readers too many reasons to disengage. However, on a syllabus about fascism, totalitarianism, and the psychological impact of terrorism and government surveillance, maybe alongside some Hannah Arendt, this book would certainly have its place: very teachable.
I loved this book. It was beautiful and haunting. The writing was heartbreaking, poignant and will stay with me for a very long time.
Dense, tight writing both highlight and hold this book down. The story of a radio host in a nameless South American city changes places and time frames, and it is rather difficult to get a grip on it all, but I eventually was coping with the style. Emotional and complex, but at times slow.
Lost City Radio was just okay. It was good that the author didn't name the town in South America where the war took place. I think that was because he wanted to convey that war can, and does happen anywhere. The story had some highlights. I loved the beach description. I felt as if I was there because Alarcon wrote very vivid decriptions of the war. Also. I liked the parts dealing with the radio station itself. However, the flashes back and forth in the story were confusing. Plus, the characters weren't interesting. i didn't root for any of them. In short, Lost City Radio left me a bit lost.
Lost City Radio tells the story of a society that has felt the extreme effects from a Civil War. Taking place in South America, villages have been stripped of their languages and names, being replaced by numbers. The protagonist of the story, Norma, is a radio personality who hosts a show called "Lost City Radio" (hence the name of the novel). As the host of the show, her main responsibility is to help families recover their long lost loved ones, and eventually reunite and patch families back together. Norma is extremely invested in her show, as she too has felt the pain of the Civil War. Her husband, Rey, disappeared in the midst of a trip to the village called 1797. Ironically, a boy from 1797 arrives at Norma's studio with a list of names his village would like her to read. As Norma spends time and acts as a guardian for Victor, she tells him the story of her loss and her pain. Victor realizes that he may know the whereabouts of Norma's husband, and provides a ray of hope into Norma's otherwise melancholic state of mind. During Lost City, the main theme is not implicit, nor does it hide itself beneath the details of the story. War destroys not only buildings, homes and businesses, but it rips apart families, friends, and the willingness to live among a village's people. Although this is the main theme, there is an underlying theme of hope, a theme of hopefulness in a time of tragedy. Victor carries this theme into Norma's life, and brings not only hope to a village, but hope to the entire country. The novel is told in a third person selective multiple point of view. This style helps the reader understand the thoughts of the characters, develop emotions, and establish connections to the characters and the novel. Alarcon's style is not only unique, but it fits this particular type of novel like a glove. As he switches his points of view from character to character, the reader becomes much more invested in the story, and can make a particular connection with the thoughts and feelings of a specific character. Alarcon divides the book into three separate parts, which also gives the reader an idea of what details are most important to the story, as he divides the book nearly perfectly into specific time frames. Although the novel's setting takes place in a post-civil war stricken country, Alarcon shows the reader that it is society as a whole, not individuals, who make villages, towns, and country's what they truly are. Whether it is a militant group, (in this novel, the IL), political activists, or simply nay-sayers who try to destroy a country, the resiliency of a people can always rebuild, reunite, and become strong once again.
Lost City Radio by Daniel Alarcorn has the original feeling of a basic post-war story, being told by the citizens back at home. The fiction story takes place in Latin America, and the country's specific name is not given. A large civil war has just taken place, and now, naturally, the country is run by a soulless government. The main character in Lost City Radio is Norma. She lives in the capital city of her country and is perhaps the most well-known person in her country, even though none of her have seen her because she is a radio host.
Norma's fame is in her voice, which is praised all over the country and recognized by anyone. She is the star and host of the Lost City Radio show, a program intended to reunite listeners with lost loved ones separated from the war. Norma is not allowed to mention the war on air but she is encouraged to spur the hope and longing of her listeners as much as she possibly can. It is quite ironic that Norma's show is intended to hook up long and lost loved ones, because it is Norma herself whose husband has been both long and lost for an extended period of time.
The story really starts off when Norma is visited at the studio by a boy who calls himself Victor. The purpose of Victor's journey is to bring Norma a list of the names of those missing from his town. It turned out that the town Victor comes from is the same that Norma's husband frequently used to visit. The story winds as Norma travels through many villages on a quest to find her husband. The main message portrayed seems to be the extent of the damage of the civil war on every citizen. People recall how wonderful their country was before the war, and how it seems to have drained all life from the people of the country.
The characters of this novel seem to be a little two sided. Norma's husband and his father worked both for the standing government and also the IL, the legion attempting to overthrow the current government. There are instances when both of those men recall the fact of one minute working for the government and the next minute being punished by the same people they worked for. Norma herself will cooperate with the government, the same people who she despises for destroying her beloved country.
There does not seem to be a right side to the civil war, revolution or novel in general. The story holds a different meaning, the worry and shortcomings of the human mind. People on both sides of the war were angry at the other side about nothing in particular, and this seemed to somehow spark a war that tore a country apart. This novel forces a person to look at themselves and the grudges they hold, examining that hatred and trying to find a reason.
I saw Alarcon in the PEN World Voices Festival and I was really impressed. The logical next step was reading his novel that didn't let me down. Lost City Radio shows the broken nature of South American countries: the country side about to disappear in the middle of the jungle and the cities becoming more dustier and poor because the migration. In this imaginary country, tainted for the war (any Latin american country war), we are witness of this nations scars, the weight of their mistakes making even darker every child or river or voice.