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message 1: by Sherry (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:57PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sherry Let's discuss this book starting the 15th of October, 2007.

message 2: by Dottie (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:05PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dottie Checked it out of the library this afternoon and read a couple of chapters before we moved on to trying out a little Mexican place off the plaza in Orange and then on to the Starbucks formerly known as Diedrich's for coffee.

I think this one has already got me hooked -- we shall see if it can be finished in three days or if I'm still reading when the discussion gets underway.

message 3: by Dottie (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:07PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dottie Half way through it -- guess there's no problem being ready for the discussion at that rate.

message 4: by Dottie (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:08PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dottie Still a very few chapters shy of finishing but this one has had me by the throat for a while. Like Barb, I'm enjoying a great deal of the description. At the same time, the state of life in which these main characters play out is tearing at my heart and creating a great sense of gathering doom which is not contained only in the story -- it speaks loudly to me of where many of the nations of our world are living already and where our own nation may indeed be heading. Dottie

message 5: by Barbara (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:08PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Barbara I nominated Lost City Radio by Daniel Alarcon for our list after reading a story from his collection, War By Candlelight and being knocked out by his writing. I am about 139 pages into the novel, but I'm going to write the introductory note so that we can all start talking. Keeping that in mind though, please post a spoiler alert if you reference the ending in your discussion.

So far, I love the language and description in this novel. Such phrases as "clouds spread like muslin across the sky", "hair the color of a used cigarette filter" and "furiously expanding slum" are so evocative and yet don't feel self-conscious to me. The jumping back and forth across time is a little difficult for me to track but I'm getting used to it.

What most impresses me is Alarcon's ability to put me in the middle of a situation that I've never experienced and make me feel the mindset. There's the passive nature that some people adopt when they live always at the whim of illogical circumstances. And, then the moment when a person puts him or herself in danger. What makes the person cross that line?

I emailed Alarcon after reading his short story and he gave me some background information and I've been on his email list since. He's doing some very interesting things in support of other South American writers. I emailed him again yesterday to let him know that we are starting discussion on his novel. He had some trouble getting into goodreads without a password. I told him he could set up his own account, but that I could also email him questions that we had and just cut and paste.

The following is a good interview I found with him online:


message 6: by Ruth (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:08PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ruth I read this one some months ago. Completely forgot that I had and started it over for this discussion. However, I bailed about halfway through. It just wasn't holding my interest again. Maybe I'm just not in the right mood.

message 7: by Dottie (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:08PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dottie Ruth -- I wonder if this would stand up to rereading even if after a long period or if its effect would just simply not be the same. What did you think of it aside from it not grabbing you the second time around?

message 8: by Jim (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:09PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim To me the novel had the appeal of good science fiction, a completely imagined alien world. I liked the concept of the tadek and the concept of villages with numbers.

The characters didn't interest me as much. And sometimes the imagery felt a little heavy handed like having the war produce an orphan named Victor. Coincidentally, I have just seen Pan's Labyrinth on DVD so I may be a little less receptive to the guerilla in the hills setting than I would be at another time.

-- Jim

message 9: by Dottie (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:09PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dottie The setting does seem “other worldly” and reminds me of some of the old Twilight Zone episodes. It just strikes me that while I was a total TZ addict back when it first came around, I am not a science fiction fan to any extent though I’ve been dragged into the genre from time to time – maybe it’s a matter of staying in a comfort zone so I should try to stretch it a bit.

As to Victor – that ironic bit escaped me but even that doesn’t seem to balance the sense of inevitability of repeating these cycles of self-destruction which humanity calls history. Which leads my mind back to Capra’s The Tuning Point and the related reading which title I’ve lost long ago and the three cyclical factors in the forming and dissolving of societies through time. Slaughterhouse Five’s “and so it goes” mantra sums it up. Isn’t that somewhat the feeling one gets reading this book – the spirals up or down – the renewal and destruction – all wrapped neatly or not so neatly around what we see as our unique lives – no matter that we close our eyes, ears, minds to much of what is playing out :behind the scenes or right in front of us. We hear and see things so repeatedly that it numbs our senses and so we ignore steps which we might otherwise protest?

Just thinking out loud a bit here.

message 10: by Ruth (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:09PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ruth I, too, had that otherworldly feel of science fiction. I'm not generally a SF reader, so maybe that's what did me in. I felt as if I were reading in a dream, and I never felt very connected to the characters.


message 11: by Barbara (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:09PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Barbara I'm not a science fiction reader either and hadn't thought of that in connection with this book. The dreamlike quality seemed more connected to how disconnected people must become when blows are as random as these were.


message 12: by Barbara (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:12PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Barbara Another little writing gem: Even then anyone paying attention should have known what was coming. But they stepped together into this chaos, the insurgency and the government, arm in arm, and for nine violent years, they danced.


message 13: by Dottie (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:13PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dottie Barb -- I think you are onto something with the "feel" of the disconnection resulting from the repeated yet random violence done to the people/society.

I also loved the passage you quoted. there is a lot of beautiful use of language in this definitely.

Everyone else still reading? Can't wait for more comments and insights on this.

message 14: by Sherry (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:13PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sherry I'm still reading. I'm a little over halfway through. It's interesting to me that there's no hint that the "government" is either fascist or communist. I guess the idea is that totalitarianism is bad in any form.

message 15: by Barbara (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:14PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Barbara And, it seems to me that though these totalitarian governments may start out espousing a political philosophy, the result is still the same. So many times when I read a leader's history, the important moments come when he decides that, for the good of the country, he is going to do things that are against his original beliefs. That is assuming that they actually are idealistic in the first place, but I think that many are.


message 16: by Barbara (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:14PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Barbara On the above subject, I thought that this quote from the interview with Alarcon that I linked in my first note was important:

When I was on tour last, for War by Candlelight, I always found myself saying, “If Peru was an invented country, and Lima an invented city, many people would still recognize it,” and I guess I sort of followed my own advice. I invented a country, a city, drew upon my experiences in Lima, upon my travels in West Africa, upon texts I read about Chechnya (the incomparable Anna Politkovskaya, RIP), or Beirut, or Mumbai. I was influenced and deeply inspired by the work of Joe Sacco as well, whose books on Palestine and Bosnia are truly masterful.

He's referencing these places for information on terrorism and totalitarianism and they all have their own histories. However, they are also frighteningly alike.


message 17: by Sherry (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:14PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sherry I just clicked on that link in your first note here, and it said "Not found." Then I went over to the CR group and clicked on it on your copy of this note and it worked. There must have been a glitch somewhere when you transferred the note. I was wondering if you could edit the link here to make it work. Thanks.

message 18: by Barbara (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:14PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Barbara Thanks for the heads up on that, Sherry. It never occurred to me that it would just copy the abbreviated version of the link. I fixed it.


message 19: by Jane (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:15PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jane Barb,

I finished this book a few days ago and I have been pondering it. It brings up all of the problems that we hear about in South America, liked the "disappeared people". The book is very sad but also very interesting. I was wondering about Rey's double, or should I say triple, life. He had his life with Norma, his life in the village as a researcher and his life in the resistance. I don't know if I should say too much right now, since many of you haven't finished the book.

One of the very saddest things is how the government has taken away all of the city and village names and given each place a number. In addition, they have destroyed everything that was beautiful in the city, which is place number 1, if I remember correctly. Isn't that a great fear of modern society, to be seen as a number and not as a person?


message 20: by Sherry (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:16PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sherry For a split second when they talked about village 1757 (or whatever) I thought it was a date. Then it made sense. Yes, that part adds to the otherworldliness of the book, and why I imagine it's been compared to books like 1984 and Brave New World. I still haven't finished yet, but getting there.

message 21: by Kim (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:16PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kim I enjoyed Alarcon’s crisp, descriptive writing and the way the narrative is woven between the past and the present.

In the first chapter, I thought there was an Orwell/Huxley Sci-Fi feel but quickly abandoned that notion. Sci-fi seems more tangible, easier to identify with because trying to understand the devastating effects of war is too hard.

Even though I was enjoying reading the book, I was disappointed with the characters. I wanted Norma to be more. She was suppose to be a journalist – why wasn’t she more curious about Rey or anything else for that matter. But then, she was exactly what Alarcon wanted her to be, a voice. A voice that read the lists that gave the people a reason for hope.

The story may have been set in some South American jungled country but it really is a fable for any war torn people, victims of circumstance. People caught up in violence: running with it; secret partnerships in it; hiding from it; doing what’s necessary to “survive” it; and ultimately their inability to escape from it.

Midway through the book I began to think that ill-fated hope was the protagonist of the story. After the chaos and senselessness of war, the soul of the country is lost. The struggle to re-gain their lives and sense of place remains. I like how nature was woven into the story – the colors of the sky, the jungle/forest, mountains and river – a constant in a world with too many out of control variables. Ironically, people can’t control nature either but surrender to it. Had people surrendered to the remains of war as well?

And then, there’s Victor, a by-product of the war, this is all he knows. His experiences are still shaping how he sees his world. He has experienced loss – tragedies of war and nature – and still plays happily at the ocean’s edge (“It’s pretty.”) At the end, his voice reads the list and there’s hope that “they won’t do anything to him.”

message 22: by Dottie (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:16PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dottie Very well stated, Kim. Much to mull over as well. I liked the thought that the sci-fi sensation entered into our response as a way NOT to deal with the war effect it truly was describing. Something about avoidance there on the part of us a people who have relatively little first hand experience of war on our soil -- though we do have a bit of that lingering in our subconscious after Oklahoma City, the Olympic bombing at Atlanta and of course, 9/11?

And welcome aboard this CR ship.

message 23: by Barbara (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:17PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Barbara S


I finished this last night and found myself feeling very sad. Even though, as Jim said, I didn't think that the character development in this book was as complete as I usually like, I must've connected with these people more than I knew, especially Rey. I felt very sad about his death. In some part of my head, I wanted him to be found alive though that would have been a sappy, unrealistic ending.

You make a good point about his almost shizophrenic life, Jane. But, all of this seems to be a casuality of the war. He is turned out of his little village at a crucial point in his life over a teenager's prank because they think it is connected to revolutionary activity. Then, his experiences in the prison, where he shouldn't have been in the first place, lead him eventually to his death. I started the novel thinking that Norma was the main character but, actually, it was Rey. And, he feel very much like a symbol for his country, now that I have time to ponder him.


message 24: by Barbara (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:17PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Barbara Kim, I didn't see your note before I posted mine.
Regarding Norma, didn't you feel that she too in some ways had lost her soul, much like the country? She was a news person who wasn't allowed to tell the news. What does that do to people when they are not allowed to talk about what is happening all around them?

And, I love your statement about ill-fated hope being the protagonist of the story.


message 25: by Sherry (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:21PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sherry What struck me after I finished the book yesterday, is that Alarcon manages to subtly pinpoint how the horrors of this generic war relate to wider issues. The example that resonated with me is the death of the five-year-old being used as a political statement and a way to further war. Alarcon shows how this five-year-old was poor and unnoticed until she became a poster child for war. Doesn't that remind you of today's brand of news coverage, of today's brand of political campaigning?

message 26: by Dottie (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:21PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dottie This one is settling in more as I get further from it. As I give further thought to the other-worldly/sci-fi feeling which I had at first -- the more I've been comparing this to Slaughterhouse Five -- and Billy's (is that right?) periods of return to the horrors he experienced in the war with the descriptions which seemed just as other-worldly and just as sci-fi as the scenes here. I think if one would compare LCR to another book SF might well be the better fit.

I'm glad you brought up the five year old who became theposter child for war -- and I do agree that there seems to be much broader use of such images to emotionalize issues and mobilize taking sides. But when I read that passage myself -- two images came immediately to my mind's eye -- first the little girl fleeing burning from the napalm (I think it was napalm) in the Vietnam War days and another equally etched in many of our minds -- Allison Krause kneeling over one of the shooting victims at Kent State in the same time period and basically over the same causes -- and in some way didn't those images tip the scales and hasten the end of the US participation in that "war"? Interesting that that ""war" was not officially a war and the war presently is perhaps officially a war but somehow equates with Vietnam to some degree in many minds.

I have more thinking to do.

message 27: by Sherry (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:21PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sherry Very good point, Dottie. Images are indeed powerful things.

message 28: by Barbara (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:21PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Barbara It's also very interesting to me how much these conflicts have in common. The cultures can seem so different and yet, in this sense, so much the same.

I subscribed to the Smithsonian magazine this summer and they just did a special issue called 37 Under 36: America's Young Innovators in the Arts and Sciences. It was a nice surprise to find Daniel Alarcon among them. His picture is also on the cover, interesting article and good photos.


message 29: by Jane (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:32PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jane My husband and I recently viewed a film on Netflix called INNOCENT VOICES. It is the true story of a young boy who is caught in the Civil War in El Salvador which raged in that country from 1980 to 1992. The film starts in 1980 when the main character is 11. Everyone fears his 12th birthday, because that is when the government soldiers come and take the boys away to serve in the army. There is a scene that reminded so much of this book. In this book, the mothers would take their sons to the forest to hide them from the army. In the film, they hide them elsewhere. You will have to see it to find out what happens.


message 30: by Barbara (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:32PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Barbara That's chilling, isn't it, Jane? I thought one of Alarcon's successes in this book was how universal he made the story. It could have been almost any country in revolution in which victory is more important than humanity.


message 31: by Rob (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:50PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rob McMonigal Finally finished this one off--got myself into a bit of a library jam, had a lot of things due. Liked it quite a bit, figured I'd go through

(A quote feature would be very helpful right about now.) Dottie commented: "At the same time, the state of life in which these main characters play out is tearing at my heart and creating a great sense of gathering doom which is not contained only in the story -- it speaks loudly to me of where many of the nations of our world are living already and where our own nation may indeed be heading."

I think that's what makes me like this one so much--Alarcon builds this country without ever naming it, and it could easily be any country in the Southern Hemisphere. It's absolutely brilliant in that way.

message 32: by Rob (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:50PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rob McMonigal Ruth: We tend to be fairly similar in taste from what I've seen of your reading list, so I think it's odd that we had a different take on this. What was it that didn't grab you?


message 33: by Rob (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:50PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rob McMonigal I noticed quite a few of you mention this book having a "sci fi" feel. I honestly didn't get that at all, but maybe that's because I try to keep an eye on Latin American politics, dating back to when I took a college class in it. I don't want to start down a strongly political path with this one, but I will say that I don't think the idea of a South American country having a 10-year Civil War that results in the things we see in this book as being science fiction at all. After all, censorship is alive and well, all over the world.

For me this was more of a political fiction, which might be part of why it appealed to me so much.

still reading through comments

message 34: by Rob (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:50PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rob McMonigal Jane: I thought the idea of using numbers for names was brilliant. It not only gives you just a hint of Orwell, it's the fake-nationalist movements' wet dream: wipe out all vestiges of differing culture and replace it with a system that easily controlled.

We fear being all alike, and yet everywhere we look, difference is shunned, from restaurants to city neighborhoods (Pgh is taking all their local communities and seemingly trying to make them all look alike) to the narrowing difference between political parties. In my opinion, it's one of life's great paradoxes, one that sits at the edge of Lost City Radio, to help all the other stuff going on. And, as those who've finished it know, there's quite a bit going on! :)


message 35: by Rob (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:50PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rob McMonigal Kim: I think that Norma was deceived by her love for Rey and that's why she didn't probe further. Plus, once he disappeared, there really wasn't any way for her to look, since doing so would obviously get her killed.

I don't think she was just a voice, I think she was reacting just like a person who wants to deny anything that's bad about their partner. If the spouse of an alcoholic really looks into how much time their partner is at the bar, they can't deny the problem. Norma probably knew that if she tried to find out what Rey was up to that her whole life would be a lie, not just her professional one. Sometimes, not knowing is better, at least until the ugly truth comes out. I think that was Norma's perspective.

message 36: by Rob (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:50PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rob McMonigal Sherry wrote: "Alarcon shows how this five-year-old was poor and unnoticed until she became a poster child for war. Doesn't that remind you of today's brand of news coverage, of today's brand of political campaigning?"

I think that and his off-handed reference to the US making up the story of the IL were the most subtle touches in the book. Those two are great examples of how Alarcon paints a very typical picture for us without using any "facts" or "real" places.


message 37: by Ruth (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:50PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ruth I wish I knew, Rob. All I can think of is that I felt at a remove from it all.


message 38: by Sherry (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:50PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sherry Thanks, Rob, for all your thoughtful comments. I agree that it didn't feel "sci-fi-ish" to me, but there was so much 1984 there, that I can understand how that might apply. I think using the numbers for the names of villages was a brilliant touch, too. Anything to wipe out that damned individuality they all hated so much. Messy stuff.

message 39: by Jim (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:50PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim What felt like science fiction to me was that the emphasis in the story was in creating the world in which the characters existed rather than in creating the characters themselves. Looking back a month later what I remember most is the situations rather than how the characters reacted to them.

message 40: by Ruth (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:50PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ruth I think you hit the nail on the head, Jim. I was trying to articulate something along those lines last night and gave up.


message 41: by Barbara (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:51PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Barbara There was a certain fuzziness to the characters which I believe was actually the detachment that they developed in a society in which they never knew where the next blow was coming from and why. It's a quality I recognize from physically abused children. It felt absolutely right to me.


message 42: by Rob (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:51PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rob McMonigal Jim/Ruth: I disagree that this book was more about creating the world than creating the characters. I felt that he did a good job of giving us a full picture of Norma, who's reduced herself to a voice because to think is too hard, Victor, whose still too young to know all that's going around him but is learning fast, Rey's uncle, who tries to work with the system and then it works him, and Rey himself, who we come to know without really seeing him that much. I don't think they were vague at all.


message 43: by Jane (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:53PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jane Rob,

I agree with you about the characters. To me, they were very well drawn, and I remember them still even though it has been about six weeks since I finished the book.


message 44: by Barbara (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:54PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Barbara I love it when books generate this kind of discussion, when everyone doesn't agree. And, Jane, this book, both characters and plot, will stick with me for a long time. I remember it when I am reading news stories and in a surprising variety of situations. And, what the situation did to the people was the factor that sticks with me most.


message 45: by Mary Anne (last edited Aug 25, 2016 02:01PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mary Anne Sorry to be so late to this discussion.

There are many, many things I liked about this book. One is that we heard the story told from so many different perspectives. At first, the voices were separated by chapter, but later in the book the voice could vary several times on the same page. It felt to me as though each of these characters had something to say and they were each pushing forward on the page.

Some of the writing really struck me. For example, this passage in Rey's voice describes Rey's reaction when he meets Norma again after he had been to the Moon:
"It was true. It was always true: you could believe one thing and its oposite simultaneously, be afaid and reckless all at once. You could write dangerous articles under an assumed name and believe yourself to be an impartial scholar. You could become a messenger for the IL and fall in love with a woman who believed you were not. You could pretend that the nation at war was a tragedy and not the work of your own hand. You could proclaim yourself a humanist and hate with steely resolve."
That paragraph is amazing to me, ranking up there with Dickens opening paragraph of Tale of Two Cities for cadence.

Norma's radio show is centered around the names of the missing. Victor gives her a list of names to read on the show. And yet, do we know any full names of the characters other that Elijah Manau? I could be wrong about this. We know that Rey has another name but we are not told what it is. This lack of full names added to all of the other depersonalization aspects already mentioned, enhances the isolation aura of the book.

message 46: by Sherry (last edited Aug 25, 2016 02:01PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sherry Very good points, MAP. I remember that paragraph well. It resonated with me, also. I think you are right about the names, or lack thereof.

message 47: by Kim (last edited Aug 25, 2016 02:02PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kim I really enjoyed catching up with the comments.

MAP - I liked that passage and remembered thinking how one can hold different truths at the same time especially when stressed by war. It did seem odd that Elijah was the only one with a full name and I thought it interesting when Alarcon wrote "Manau carried with him the shame of an exposed man who had imagined his mediocrity to be a secret." So many of the character held secrets.

Rob - I understand how someone can be deceived my love and not want to know (Rey's secret) but Norma "stopped" being the person she was. "The person Norma missed most of all in Rey's absence was not Rey but the person she had been when she was with him."

message 48: by Barbara (last edited Aug 25, 2016 02:10PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Barbara Somehow, I missed the new comments here. Loved seeing that you had read this, Mary Anne. Those seemingly contradictory beliefs and practices are true of humanity, period. But, how much more true must they be in a state of revolution and dictatorship? I keep meaning to pick up Alarcon's book of short stories, War By Candlelight. It was a story from that collection about a blind beggar, nominated for our short story list by Dale Short, that brought me to him in the first place.


Ann D I read this book after seeing it listed on several Constant Readers' best reads list for 2007. Now I have also caught up with the notes here, which were very interesting, as usual.

At first I wasn't sure I was going to like this book because of the vagueness of the setting and its almost surreal quality. However, as the novel progressed, I found the characters very compelling and the descriptions of the human consequences of civil war horrifying, but very believable.

I'm not usually a romantic, but I have to say that for me one of the most appealing parts of the book was the tragic love story at its core.

Thanks for nominating this one, Barb.

Sherry I'm glad you read this, Ann. I thought you would like it. Did the feeling of being surreal make it seem less believable to you?

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