Lost City Radio

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 feel sadness pervading every page. It's a constant emotion in the book, despite small bursts of anxiety, fear and even some joy, as we're looking back on events that cannot be changed, and it's only once we reach the end that we look forward to what can be done.

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