Lost City Radio by Daniel Alarcon
|Lost City Radio by Daniel Alarcon|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: In an unnamed southern American country, a civil war with undefined cause has led to mass human population movement, and many people disappearing for political reasons. A radio show host finds her show helps reunite her listeners with the missing, but she is seeking someone herself. The premise remains interesting, but is let down slightly by the writing.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 336||Date: April 2007|
|Publisher: Fourth Estate|
Norma, it seems, is ideal for broadcasting on the radio. Her voice has a unique quality that is perfect for reading the news on the country's sole surviving radio station. And when the channel is not broadcasting, by orders of the state, lists of all the teachers' qualifying exam results for hours on end, her new show, Lost City Radio, proves most inspirational.
Ten years of civil unrest, that started no-one knows how, has left the city swollen, and the outlying areas of the country decimated. People have been taken from their homes for political reasons, for press-ganging into the army, or have just sought the success the city brings. Thousands of people are missing, and thousands are missing them. They have the lifeline of ringing Norma's chat show, and appealing for information, for reunion, if possible.
Which country is this? I cannot tell you. It is a fully realised country, with the capital, mountains, jungle. The city thinks it cannot know what jungle life is like, and it's right. Those in the jungle think they can predict fortunes in the city, and they're wrong. But the exodus mostly goes one way - the only time a village gains a person - especially a male one of fighting age - is through exile.
Which city is this? I can only tell you that after the wartime decree, it is merely called ONE. Smaller towns have larger numerical names, and the village we're most concerned with here, 1797, is smaller still. While the events in the civil unrest smack of Argentina, the city has an essence of Lima that didn't leave me throughout reading this book.
Rey is rare in that he can easily pass from city to jungle. His marriage to Norma has to form around the times he vanishes for imprisonment, but seems successful and happy. He's lucky in that, like Norma, his family unit is small, and the unrest has not left him searching for someone - he knows why his mother died. Forced after the family name got blackened to leave for the city, he had his father and uncle to look after him, before he became a scientist, researching medicinal jungle plants.
But the black mark beside his name has survived it seems much longer than he has. Missing for ten years, Norma would normally be reading his name out on her programme, but she's been told his name is something unmentionable - the enemy should not be worried about.
Norma, then, is stuck with life as a saviour to a nation - sometimes crowded with pestering plagues of fans, or simply, quietly told "I'm so happy you're real", with no-one to patch up the hole in her own life.
That someone couldn't possibly be Victor, could it? The boy, eleven, is brought from the jungle to appear on the Lost City Radio show, carrying a list from his village of their missing - village 1797. It's a village that has great significance to Norma.
I can't fault the premise of this book; using years of research Daniel Alarcon has provided himself with a very interesting thrillerish launch for his first novel. The locations are used very well, from the all-seeing heights of the radio station's skyscraper, to the villages where the little boys are unaware of just what 'tall buildings' means. It's a fully developed city, flooded by too many nameless people - the slum areas, some demolished during the war, spreading to the foothills of nearby mountains and beyond.
Unfortunately, I found myself wanting a different approach from Alarcon in the telling. Somehow the book left a continuously grey after-image. The radio station equipment must be grey, the city is clouded by a climate that always appears to want to rain but very rarely does (definitely Lima, again), and even the colour of the jungle is absent. Also, the style leaves a grey impression. Past and present collide in the subtlest of ways, as information relevant to the mystery is withheld, and the flashbacks demand a high level of concentration. At the same time the major revelations are just dripped onto the page with no fanfare, they're easily passed over and thought unnecessary.
That's not to say the book is a difficult read, and not worthwhile. It's certainly not as dreary as a book of people seeking other people, during and after a vague civil unrest, could be. It could have been a lot worse - showing us the story of the protagonists while bombastically telling us this is all down to the horrors of war - a war where the newborn males are thought of as on loan from the military, a war where nobody can decide who is on the right side
The book could force us to make parallels to other wars we may think we know, but thankfully doesn't, and from this remove the south American setting is interesting, and the style that Alarcon uses to keep the country un-specified great.
I liked the characters (I won't say anything about the dangers of naming a boy Victor - unless I'm double-bluffing), I appreciated the setting, I enjoyed the plot. It was just not quite satisfying enough in the style, which left me a little disappointed, but hoping you'll enjoy finding me wrong.
I would like to thank the publishers for sending this novel to the Bookbag.
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