A powerful and searing novel of three lives fractured by a civil war
For ten years, Norma has been the voice of consolation for a people broken by violence. She hosts Lost City Radio, the most popular program in their nameless South American country, gripped in the aftermath of war. Every week, the Indians in the mountains and the poor from the barrios listen as she reads the names of those who have gone missing, those whom the furiously expanding city has swallowed. Loved ones are reunited and the lost are found. Each week, she returns to the airwaves while hiding her own personal loss: her husband disappeared at the end of the war.
But the life she has become accustomed to is forever changed when a young boy arrives from the jungle and provides a clue to the fate of her long-missing husband.
Stunning, timely, and absolutely mesmerizing, Lost City Radio probes the deepest questions of war and its meaning: from its devastating impact on a society transformed by violence to the emotional scarring each participant, observer, and survivor carries for years after. This tender debut marks Alarcon's emergence as a major new voice in American fiction.
Set in a fictional South American nation where guerrillas have long clashed with the government, Alarcon's ambitious first novel (after the story collection War by Candlelight) follows a trio of characters upended by civil strife. Norma, whose husband, Rey, disappeared 10 years ago after the end of a civil war, hosts popular radio show Lost City Radio, which reconnects callers with their missing loved ones. (She quietly entertains the notion that the job will also reunite her with her missing husband.) So when an 11-year-old orphan, Victor, shows up at the radio station with a list of his distant village's "lost people," the station plans a special show dedicated to his case and cranks up its promotional machine. Norma, meanwhile, notices a name on the list that's an alias her husband used to use, prompting her to resume her quest to find him. She and Victor travel to Victor's home village, where local teacher Manau reveals to Norma what she's long feared--and more. Though the mystery Alarcon makes of the identity of Victor's father isn't particularly mysterious, this misstep is overshadowed by Alarcon's successful and nimbly handled portrayal of war's lingering consequences. (Feb.) Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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January 31, 2007
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Excerpt from Lost City Radio by Daniel Alarcon
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 to meet 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,