Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Daniel Alarcón's Lost City Radio

I read Daniel Alarcón’s Lost City Radio, a really good novel, based loosely on Peru (where the author was born) and the war with Sendero Luminoso.

The narrative really brings to life the shadowy nature of internal war. The rebel group—the “Illegitimate Legion” or IL—is rarely seen, and even a sympathazer who carries messages for them doesn’t know anything about their ultimate goals or their leadership (it is so decentralized, in fact, that there is no leadership). Rumors fly that they don’t even exist, that they were invented by the government, though the story makes clear—tragically—that they exist and are incredibly vicious.

The government is no better, routinely arresting people and torturing/killing them at “the Moon,” a desolate, cratered part of the country, and forbidding mention of the war. The government also renamed all the towns and cities of the country, making them numbers—much of the story takes place in “1797.”

The main character is a women with a radio show that reads the names of the disappeared. A young boy from the remote jungle comes into her life, which sparks memories and sets in motion a number of revelations that are gradually brought out through the course of the novel. I found the following quote nicely summed up the confusion and ambiguity of the war:

“The question was posed by the owner of the radio, and there was an innocence to it that Rey appreciated, a genuine need to know, without a hint of malice. “Tell us, sir,” Zahir asked, already speaking of the war in the past tense, “who was right in all of this?” (p. 236).


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