four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
28-May-June-2007
user_rating: 
0

A-Lost City RadioIn an unnamed South American country still reeling from a bloody civil war, Norma gently prods the late-night listeners of her radio show, "Call us now, and tell us who you’re looking for. … We’re listening, I’m listening." Though closely monitored by the new regime, Norma’s broadcasts offer a glimmer of hope to the war’s survivors as she reunites refugees with their loved ones. But Norma is haunted by her own loss: her husband Rey disappeared during the final days of the revolution. When a mysterious young boy visits Norma’s studio, she must confront the past and the thorny legacy left to her by her husband and her country.
HarperCollins. 272 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0060594799

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Few first-time novelists skillfully pursue so many separate intentions—history, mystery, cautionary tale—or manage to coordinate their simultaneous unfolding. Lost City Radio is a bravura performance." Ariel Swartley

Philadelphia Inquirer 4 of 5 Stars
"The observations this book makes aren’t limited to Latin America, especially when it comes to the siren call of violence. … This novel would feel like a political tract were it not so skillful at portraying the moral insanity of war." John Freeman

Rocky Mountain News 4 of 5 Stars
"Alarcón has succeeded in delivering a wise look at the ravages of war and political strife through the lens of a quietly heartbroken woman, portraying the affected country and its citizenry with both sympathy and a critical eye." Gary Williams

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"As Alarcón develops his story—and he works quite subtly, sometimes dangerously close to obscurity—his own empathy for the existential suffering of Third World political misery, and the ordinary dangers of middle-class life under a system in which values float without notice from democracy to autocracy and back again, makes for quite powerful reading." Alan Cheuse

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Alarcón means the novel to be a fable about civil wars and their repercussions, rather than an account of a specific war within a specific place to which we bring all the baggage of familiarity. … These are all interesting and appealing characters who emerge as discrete human beings rather than mere cardboard representations of certain inescapable Latin American social and political realities." Jonathan Yardley

Minneapolis Star-Tribune 3.5 of 5 Stars
"There are too many scenes in which people talk for pages in unrevealing banter that dissipates the suspense. … Still, there is so much to love in the details of Alarcón’s work." Cherie Parker

Critical Summary

Daniel Alarcón, a native of Peru, has personally witnessed the devastation he describes in his first full-length novel. Critics were full of praise for Alarcón’s vivid descriptions, compelling characters, and refusal to side with any one political faction, though he obviously sympathizes with the country’s dispossessed. While the Rocky Mountain News was distracted by the country’s lack of identity, most critics agreed that a specific name or place was unnecessary, given the fablelike nature of the story. Often compared to the work of William Faulkner and Gabriel García Márquez, Alarcón’s harrowing tale of the breakdown of a society and the emotional price paid by its survivors will undoubtedly haunt you long after you’ve turned the last page.

Also by the Author

War by Candlelight (2005): This collection of nine short stories takes an unflinching look at Alarcón’s native Peru. It evokes its lush beauty while simultaneously revealing the harsh realities of war and its aftermath.