Lost City Radio
By Daniel Alarcon
ISBN -10: 0060594799
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.
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
retired with the rank of captain from the U.S. Marine Corps after 23
years of service and is president of the Society of
Latino and Hispanic Writers of San Antonio.