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Lost City Radio

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A powerful and searing novel of three lives fractured by a civil war

For ten years, Norma has been the voice of consolation for a people broken by violence. She hosts Lost City Radio, the most popular program in their nameless South American country, gripped in the aftermath of war. Every week, the Indians in the mountains and the poor from the barrios listen as she reads the names of those who have gone missing, those whom the furiously expanding city has swallowed. Loved ones ...

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Overview

A powerful and searing novel of three lives fractured by a civil war

For ten years, Norma has been the voice of consolation for a people broken by violence. She hosts Lost City Radio, the most popular program in their nameless South American country, gripped in the aftermath of war. Every week, the Indians in the mountains and the poor from the barrios listen as she reads the names of those who have gone missing, those whom the furiously expanding city has swallowed. Loved ones are reunited and the lost are found. Each week, she returns to the airwaves while hiding her own personal loss: her husband disappeared at the end of the war.

But the life she has become accustomed to is forever changed when a young boy arrives from the jungle and provides a clue to the fate of her long-missing husband.

Stunning, timely, and absolutely mesmerizing, Lost City Radio probes the deepest questions of war and its meaning: from its devastating impact on a society transformed by violence to the emotional scarring each participant, observer, and survivor carries for years after. This tender debut marks Alarcón's emergence as a major new voice in American fiction.

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Editorial Reviews

Jonathan Yardley
Lost City Radio is a fable for an entire continent, and is no less pertinent in other parts of the world where different languages are spoken in different climates but where the same ruinous dance is played out.
— The Washington Post
Sarah Fay
… there’s enough here to confirm that Alarcón is talented — and wise — beyond his years, that he remains intent on challenging himself and his readers.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Set in a fictional South American nation where guerrillas have long clashed with the government, Alarc n's ambitious first novel (after the story collection War by Candlelight) follows a trio of characters upended by civil strife. Norma, whose husband, Rey, disappeared 10 years ago after the end of a civil war, hosts popular radio show Lost City Radio, which reconnects callers with their missing loved ones. (She quietly entertains the notion that the job will also reunite her with her missing husband.) So when an 11-year-old orphan, Victor, shows up at the radio station with a list of his distant village's "lost people," the station plans a special show dedicated to his case and cranks up its promotional machine. Norma, meanwhile, notices a name on the list that's an alias her husband used to use, prompting her to resume her quest to find him. She and Victor travel to Victor's home village, where local teacher Manau reveals to Norma what she's long feared-and more. Though the mystery Alarc n makes of the identity of Victor's father isn't particularly mysterious, this misstep is overshadowed by Alarc n's successful and nimbly handled portrayal of war's lingering consequences. (Feb.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In his first novel, Alarc n reexamines poignant issues found in his critically acclaimed short story collection, War by Candlelight, a finalist for the 2006 PEN/Hemingway Foundation Award. As war escalates between the government of a South American country and the guerrilla factions challenging it, people seek a better or at least different life by fleeing into the city, leaving their loved ones behind. But radio-show host Norma brings hope to people looking for the lost by reading their names on air, reuniting those who are willing. When a boy from a jungle village shows up at the station, it becomes clear that Norma is also searching for a loved one, and the visit helps her regain forgotten hope. Alarc n digs deep into the collective history of international conflict and current strife to bring us the harsh reality shown here, engaging us both as readers and as global citizens. Like Orwell, he poses difficult social questions that often go unvoiced, and he effectively explores an exhaustive range of emotion in just over 250 pages, rendering his insights in beautiful, painstakingly precise language. Literature is fortunate to have such a promising, thought-provoking young writer. Recommended for all public and academic libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/5/06.]-Stephen Morrow, Columbus, OH Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The host of a radio show finds herself increasingly tangled in the legacy of her country's wearying history of war. Like the dystopian settings of Brave New World and 1984, the nation that Alarc-n describes in his jarring and deeply imagined first novel feels at once anonymous and very familiar. Norma lives in the capital city of a South American nation that has spent ten years recovering from a long civil war that pitted the army against a failed cadre of rebels called the Illegitimate Legion. The reasons for the fighting are obscure, but Norma has become a national folk hero by helping to pick up the pieces; as the host of "Lost City Radio," she reunites listeners with family members who were among the "disappeared" during the war. She's not wholly dispassionate about her work: Among the missing is her husband, Rey, a plant scholar who paid dearly, perhaps even fatally, for his freethinking attitude. A young boy named Victor visits the station from the jungle village of 1797 (all towns were renamed with numbers under the new regime), bearing a list of people its residents are searching for; through Victor, Norma is forced to intimately contemplate the war, and how she and Rey were connected to it. There's little plot in the present-day sections-the story mainly sparks remembrances of the past, which allows Alarc-n to render this unnamed country in remarkable detail. In reportorial prose, he describes the folkways of the jungle village where Victor was born, and the lives of its residents; the horrors of the Moon, the concentration camp where Rey suffered various indignities; and the shape of the secretive underground movement in the city. Alarc-n (stories: War by Candlelight, 2005)makes increasingly strong connections between city and jungle, the army and the rebels, and Norma and Victor, sending a powerful message about how war has a way of implicating everybody. Alarc-n has mapped a whole nation and given its war-torn history real depth-an impressive feat.
Entertainment Weekly
“…Alarcón’s novel eloquently fuses passion, violence, and societal trepidation at offending the ruling party. Grade: A-”
Daily News
“The idea of remembering - and its dangers - permeates the book...powerful and ambitious.”
Washington Post Book World
“[A] thoughtful, engaging first novel ...With the publication of Lost City Radio, Alarcón is off and running.”
Colm Toibin
“...one of the most exciting and ambitious writers to emerge in recent years.”
Washington Post Book World - Jonathan Yardley
"[A] thoughtful, engaging first novel ...With the publication of Lost City Radio, Alarcón is off and running."
Ann Patchett
“Alarcon writes about subterfuge, lies, and the arbitrary recreation of history with a masterful clarity.”
Jonathan Yardley for the Washington Post Book World
“[A] thoughtful, engaging first novel ...With the publication of Lost City Radio, Alarcón is off and running.”
Uzodinma Iweala
“Alarcon’s prose is quick and beautiful. This is a first novel that needs to be read.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060594794
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/30/2007
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Daniel Alarcon's debut story collection, War by Candlelight, was a finalist for the 2006 PEN/Hemingway Award. He has received a Lannan Literary Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Award, and has been named by Granta magazine one of the Best American Novelists under thirty-five. He is the associate editor of Etiqueta Negra, an award-winning monthly magazine published in his native Lima, Peru. He lives in Oakland, California.

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Read an Excerpt

Lost City Radio


By Daniel Alarcon

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2007 Daniel Alarcon
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780060594794

Chapter One

They took Norma off the air that Tuesday morning because a boy was dropped off at the station. He was quiet and thin and had a note. The receptionists let him through. A meeting was called.

The conference room was full of light and had an expansive view of the city, looking east toward the mountains. When Norma walked in, Elmer was seated at the head of the table, rubbing his face as if he'd been woken from a restless, unsatisfying sleep. He nodded as she sat, then yawned and fiddled with the top of a pill bottle he'd taken from his pocket. "Go for some water," he groaned to his assistant. "And empty these ashtrays, Len. Jesus."

The boy sat across from Elmer, in a stiff wooden chair, staring down at his feet. He was slender and fragile, and his eyes were too small for his face. His head had been shaved--to kill lice, Norma supposed. There were the faint beginnings of a mustache above his lips. His shirt was threadbare, and his unhemmed pants were knotted around his waist with a shoestring.

Norma sat closest to him, her back to the door, facing the white city.

Len reappeared with a pitcher of water. It was choked with bubbles, tinged gray. Elmer poured himself a glass and swallowed two pills. He coughed into his hand. "Let's get right to it," Elmer said when Len had sat. "We're sorry to interrupt the news, Norma, but we wanted you tomeet Victor."

"Tell her how old you are, boy," Len said.

"I'm eleven," the child said, his voice barely audible. "And a half."

Len cleared his throat, glanced at Elmer, as if for permission to speak. With a nod from his boss, he began. "That's a terrific age," Len said. "Now, you came looking for Norma, isn't that right?"

"Yes," Victor said.

"Do you know him?"

Norma didn't.

"He says he came from the jungle," Len continued. "We thought you'd want to meet him. For the show."

"Great," she said. "Thank you."

Elmer stood and walked to the window. He was a silhouette against the hazy brightness. Norma knew that panorama: the city below, stretching to the horizon and still farther. With your forehead to the glass, you could see down to the street, to that broad avenue choked with traffic and people, with buses and moto-taxis and vegetable carts. Or life on the city's rooftops: clothes hanging on a line next to rusting chicken coops, old men playing cards on a milk crate, dogs barking angrily, teeth bared at the heavy sea air. She'd even seen a man once, sitting on his yellow hard hat, sobbing.

If Elmer saw anything now, he didn't seem interested. He turned back to them. "Not just from the jungle, Norma. From 1797."

Norma sat up straight. "What are you telling me, Elmer?"

It was one of the rumors they knew to be true: mass graves, anonymous villagers, murdered and tossed into ditches. They'd never reported it, of course. No one had. They hadn't spoken of this in years. She felt something heavy in her chest.

"It's probably nothing," Elmer said. "Let's show her the note."

From his pocket, Victor produced a piece of paper, presumably the same one he had shown the receptionist. He passed it to Elmer, who put on his reading glasses and cleared his throat. He read aloud:

Dear Miss Norma:

This child is named Victor. He is from Village 1797 in the eastern jungle. We, the residents of 1797, have pooled our monies together and sent him to the city. We want a better life for Victor. There is no future for him here. Please help us. Attached find our list of lost people. Perhaps one of these individuals will be able to care for the boy. We listen to Lost City Radio every week. We love your show.

Your biggest fans,
Village 1797

"Norma," Elmer said, "I'm sorry. We wanted to tell you ourselves. He'd be great for the show, but we wanted to warn you first."

"I'm fine." She rubbed her eyes and took a deep breath. "I'm fine."

Norma hated the numbers. Before, every town had a name; an unwieldy, millenarian name inherited from God-knows-which extinct people, names with hard consonants that sounded like stone grinding against stone. But everything was being modernized, even the recondite corners of the nation. This was all postconflict, a new government policy. They said people were forgetting the old systems. Norma wondered. "Do you know what they used to call your village?" she asked the boy.

Victor shook his head.

Norma closed her eyes for a second. He'd probably been taught to say that. When the war ended, the government confiscated the old maps. They were taken off the shelves at the National Library, turned in by private citizens, cut out of school textbooks, and burned. Norma had covered it for the radio, had mingled with the excited crowd that gathered at Newtown Plaza to watch. Once, Victor's village had a name, but it was lost now. Her husband, Rey, had vanished near there, just before the Illegitimate Legion was defeated. This was at the end of the insurrection, ten years before. She was still waiting for him.

"Are you all right, Miss Norma?" the boy asked in a small, reedy voice.

She opened her eyes.

"What a polite young man," Len said. He leaned forward, rested his elbows on the table, and patted the boy on his bald head.

Norma waited for a moment, counting to ten. She picked up the paper and read it again. The script was steady and deliberate. She pictured it: a town council gathering to decide whose penmanship was best. How folkloric. On the back was a list of names. "Our Missing," it said, the end of the g curling upward in an optimistic flourish. She couldn't bear to read them. Each was a cipher, soulless, faceless, sometime humans, a harvest of names to be read on the air. She passed the note back to Elmer. The idea of it made her inexplicably sleepy.



Continues...

Excerpted from Lost City Radio by Daniel Alarcon Copyright © 2007 by Daniel Alarcon. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2007

    Gripping War Story hits Home

    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. Then 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 passage home.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 11, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Lost City Radio was just okay. It was good that the author didn'

    Lost City Radio was just okay. It was good that the author didn't name the town in South America where the war took place. I think that was because he wanted to convey that war can, and does happen anywhere. The story had some highlights. I loved the beach description. I felt as if I was there because Alarcon wrote very vivid decriptions of the war. Also. I liked the parts dealing with the radio station itself. However, the flashes back and forth in the story were confusing. Plus, the characters weren't interesting. i didn't root for any of them. In short, Lost City Radio left me a bit lost.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2009

    Lost City Radio - Eric Clark

    Lost City Radio tells the story of a society that has felt the extreme effects from a Civil War. Taking place in South America, villages have been stripped of their languages and names, being replaced by numbers. The protagonist of the story, Norma, is a radio personality who hosts a show called "Lost City Radio" (hence the name of the novel). As the host of the show, her main responsibility is to help families recover their long lost loved ones, and eventually reunite and patch families back together.
    Norma is extremely invested in her show, as she too has felt the pain of the Civil War. Her husband, Rey, disappeared in the midst of a trip to the village called 1797. Ironically, a boy from 1797 arrives at Norma's studio with a list of names his village would like her to read. As Norma spends time and acts as a guardian for Victor, she tells him the story of her loss and her pain. Victor realizes that he may know the whereabouts of Norma's husband, and provides a ray of hope into Norma's otherwise melancholic state of mind.
    During Lost City, the main theme is not implicit, nor does it hide itself beneath the details of the story. War destroys not only buildings, homes and businesses, but it rips apart families, friends, and the willingness to live among a village's people. Although this is the main theme, there is an underlying theme of hope, a theme of hopefulness in a time of tragedy. Victor carries this theme into Norma's life, and brings not only hope to a village, but hope to the entire country.
    The novel is told in a third person selective multiple point of view. This style helps the reader understand the thoughts of the characters, develop emotions, and establish connections to the characters and the novel.
    Alarcon's style is not only unique, but it fits this particular type of novel like a glove. As he switches his points of view from character to character, the reader becomes much more invested in the story, and can make a particular connection with the thoughts and feelings of a specific character. Alarcon divides the book into three separate parts, which also gives the reader an idea of what details are most important to the story, as he divides the book nearly perfectly into specific time frames.
    Although the novel's setting takes place in a post-civil war stricken country, Alarcon shows the reader that it is society as a whole, not individuals, who make villages, towns, and country's what they truly are. Whether it is a militant group, (in this novel, the IL), political activists, or simply nay-sayers who try to destroy a country, the resiliency of a people can always rebuild, reunite, and become strong once again.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 21, 2008

    Lost City Radio- Eric Michael

    Lost City Radio by Daniel Alarcorn has the original feeling of a basic post-war story, being told by the citizens back at home. The fiction story takes place in Latin America, and the country's specific name is not given. A large civil war has just taken place, and now, naturally, the country is run by a soulless government. The main character in Lost City Radio is Norma. She lives in the capital city of her country and is perhaps the most well-known person in her country, even though none of her have seen her because she is a radio host.<BR/> Norma's fame is in her voice, which is praised all over the country and recognized by anyone. She is the star and host of the Lost City Radio show, a program intended to reunite listeners with lost loved ones separated from the war. Norma is not allowed to mention the war on air but she is encouraged to spur the hope and longing of her listeners as much as she possibly can. It is quite ironic that Norma's show is intended to hook up long and lost loved ones, because it is Norma herself whose husband has been both long and lost for an extended period of time.<BR/> The story really starts off when Norma is visited at the studio by a boy who calls himself Victor. The purpose of Victor's journey is to bring Norma a list of the names of those missing from his town. It turned out that the town Victor comes from is the same that Norma's husband frequently used to visit. The story winds as Norma travels through many villages on a quest to find her husband. The main message portrayed seems to be the extent of the damage of the civil war on every citizen. People recall how wonderful their country was before the war, and how it seems to have drained all life from the people of the country.<BR/> The characters of this novel seem to be a little two sided. Norma's husband and his father worked both for the standing government and also the IL, the legion attempting to overthrow the current government. There are instances when both of those men recall the fact of one minute working for the government and the next minute being punished by the same people they worked for. Norma herself will cooperate with the government, the same people who she despises for destroying her beloved country.<BR/> There does not seem to be a right side to the civil war, revolution or novel in general. The story holds a different meaning, the worry and shortcomings of the human mind. People on both sides of the war were angry at the other side about nothing in particular, and this seemed to somehow spark a war that tore a country apart. This novel forces a person to look at themselves and the grudges they hold, examining that hatred and trying to find a reason.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2007

    A reviewer

    I saw Alarcon in the PEN World Voices Festival and I was really impressed. The logical next step was reading his novel that didn't let me down. Lost City Radio shows the broken nature of South American countries: the country side about to disappear in the middle of the jungle and the cities becoming more dustier and poor because the migration. In this imaginary country, tainted for the war (any Latin american country war), we are witness of this nations scars, the weight of their mistakes making even darker every child or river or voice.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 21, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted April 9, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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