So the last two weeks have been insanely hectic at work and otherwise and I haven’t had time to read much, let alone write a review. But I’ve finally managed to finish La fiesta del chivo, so keep your eyes peeled for the review which is coming up next week!
In the meantime, here are a few words on a book I read a while ago: Lost City Radio by Daniel Alarcón. I found it for… erm, well, very cheap in the ‘cheap English books’ box of one of my favourite bookshops in Berlin, the Buchbox on Danziger Straße. When I saw it, I vaguely remembered a review I’d read about it in the Guardian ages ago, and I also remembered thinking ‘I’ll have to read that at some point’. The opportunity had finally arrived.
This is one of the books where you can’t say too much about the plot in the review, because it would take the all fun out of reading it. So heres an as-vague-as-possible description of what goes on. Lost City Radio begins with the arrival of a young boy, Victor, in an unnamed Latin American capital in an unnamed Latin American country that has been haunted by guerrilla warfare and is suffering under a repressive regime.
Victor ends up with Norma, who hosts a popular radio show that helps families find and reconnect with their relatives who have disappeared as a result of the country’s internal strife. With her soothing voice, she captures the entire country’s attention and gives its despaired people hope. Victor is looking for his father and wants Norma to help find him.
Norma, on the other hand, has a disappearance of her own to deal with. Her own vanished person is Rey, her boyfriend, who was involved in the resistance movement, and had kept disappearing throughout their relationship. Once to ‘The Moon’, a totalitarian facility for political and other prisoners alike, other times to the jungle for obscure activities he likes to keep quiet about. Until, finally, he did not come back.
Alarcón weaves Victor’s and Norma’s story together in a masterful way, and as the novel unfolds, you discover how closely connected they really are. Through his simple, concise language he also captures the bleak mood that holds the entire country captive.
I have a geeky penchant for Latin America and Latin American literature that made my ears perk up straight away when I first heard about Lost City Radio. And I wasn’t disappointed. Although Alarcón lives in the US and writes in English, there’s no denying his Peruvian roots here, as Lost City Radio, despite deliberately not naming any country, does seem to allude to Peru’s own guerrilla troubles.
But Lost City Radio isn’t just for lovers of Latin American literature. It’s also for those who enjoy dystopian or political fiction more generally. Though I have to warn you, while very, very good, it doesn’t quite reach the level of what, at least to me, are The Gods of Dystopia – Huxley and Orwell, of course – but it does get rather close.
German title: Lost City Radio
Spanish title: Radio Ciudad Perdida