Patrick McCoy's Reviews > Lost City Radio

Lost City Radio by Daniel Alarcón
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's review
May 01, 2012

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bookshelves: contemporary-fiction
Read from May 01 to 17, 2012

I first encountered the writing of Daniel Alarcon in the Dave Eggers edited The Best American Nonrequired Reading series. The stories “City of Clowns” in the 2004 edition and “Second Lives” in the 2011 edition are the writings I read and enjoyed. He was also named one of the top 20 writers under 40 by The New Yorker in 2010. This year I am planning to travel to Peru and when I found out he was Peruvian American, I thought his novel Lost Radio City (2007) might give some insight into the culture. And I suppose it does. But, in an abstract manner since the novel is a dystopian story taking place in an unnamed Latin America country. There are obvious parallels to Peru and its struggles with the separtist Shining Path group and the brutal repressive regime of Fujimori. But there are aspects that are true of any number of Latin America countries where there are conflicts between totalitarian government and radical oppositional groups. The unnamed country resembles Peru in that the large capital city near the ocean and the jungle and mountain communities of the poor and disenfranchised. There’s something in the novel called tadek, which is described as a primitive form of justice carried out in jungle villages after, say, a theft. This is where the village elders choose a young boy, stupefy him with an intoxicating tea, and let him wander the village until he picks out a culprit, then the ‘culprit’ has his or her hands cut off. It turns out, according to Alarcon this practice actually comes from an Anna Kapuscinski book on Ethiopia (The Emperor). Norma is a popular radio host who has a show that tries to track down missing people and reunite them with families and friends. It also turns out that her husband, Rey, is a suspected member of the opposition group IL and missing as well. It was an interesting story told with intermittent flashbacks and a certain amount of grace. But, to be honest I didn’t find the novel as compelling as his short fiction and look forward to reading his collection of short stories, War By Candlelight. I am a big fan of the Harper Perennial P.S. additions to books. This one includes an interview with Alarcon, an article about the book “The Undead” in which Alarcon reveals that he has an uncle who “disappeared” in Peru, and a great list: “Ten Powerful Books from the Latin American Canon.”

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