Monday, February 26, 2007

Book Review: Lost City Radio by Daniel Alarcón

Two new reviews of Daniel Alarcón's Lost City Radio.

Daniel Alarcon's compelling debut novel, "Lost City Radio," opens with a visitor to a radio station: Victor, an 11-year-old boy from the jungle sent as an envoy by his village to the city bearing a list of names to Norma, host of the weekly program "Lost City Radio." On the list of names is one Norma recognizes, one she is forbidden to pronounce.
Ten years have passed since the war ended. The tanks have stopped, the government-approved battle reports have given way to government-scrubbed news bulletins, members of the "Illegitimate Legion" (echoes of Peru's Shining Path insurgency) dispersed, jailed or killed. But disappearances continue. Most who were lost during the decade of war are not found. The old towns' names are replaced by a numbering system, the history books amended, the citizens made diligent informants.
In this "nation at the edge of the world, a make-believe country outside history," only Norma's voice speaks to those displaced or left behind. Listeners call with names of loved ones not heard from, and her voice becomes theirs. With a microphone at the only national radio station, Norma dreams of the day when she can call out a name of her own -- "Rey," or even his nom de guerre that now appears on a list in the boy Victor's hand -- calling to her husband, gone these 10 years since the war, and calling him home.
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With the publication two years ago of his short-story collection "War by Candlelight" (HarperCollins), Daniel Alarcón received critical acclaim that included comparisons to Mario Vargas Llosa, Flannery O'Connor and Ernest Hemingway.
Born in Peru and living in northern California, Alarcón unflinchingly portrays people battered by civil strife, natural disasters and governmental abuses. He now brings us his first novel, "Lost City Radio" (HarperCollins, hardcover $24.95), a potent, disturbing, but, in the end, hopeful portrait of a nation torn by years of war and betrayal.
Set in an unnamed South American country, Alarcón's novel centers on Norma, the host of a popular program, "Lost City Radio," in which she reads the names of missing persons and lends an understanding ear to callers who hope she can help them reunite with lost loved ones. Norma has become a celebrity, a voice everyone knows, the apolitical salve for a nation that has lost too much.
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