[Saman Booker 2019] Intro + LOST CHILDREN ARCHIVE

Ever since I’d discovered the existence of the Man Booker Prize, I’ve wanted to read all the longlisted titles and devise my own shortlist and winner. Life, of course, has the tendency to get in the way of that particular ambition – until this year! I prepared my calendar, list, book purchases, pre-orders, and so on – and I’m pleased to present the Saman(tha) Booker 2019!

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I’m giving myself a 15-minute timer to convert all my scribbled notes into semi-structured reviews for each book. The first one is Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive!

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This is the first of the shortlisted books I’ve read as part of my ‘Saman Booker 2019’ project, and I think it was a pretty good introduction to what will come.

Start date: 28 July
End date: 2 August
Total reading time: 3 hours 47 minutes (over 6 days)

Initial impressions:
The premise drew me in, as well as the novel’s structure. I began the book quite invested in the journeys of the narrator, her family, and Manuela’s lost girls. However, I began to lose interest quickly because the voice resembled an essayist’s rather than a storyteller’s.

What I liked:
– The themes of family and identity
– Displacement and powerlessness against the current and past governments
– Interwoven narratives with the Apache, the narrator’s family, and the refugees
– The second half of the novel from the boy’s POV, and especially the recording the boy leaves for the girl
– The epistolary boxes belonging to the boy and the girl

What I disliked:
– Essentially the first half of the novel
– The adult narrator’s voice and characterisation – I found most of it bland and tedious
– The pacing of the first half

Overall:
The novel feels distinctly separated into two halves, which I found unpleasantly jarring. I really struggled through the first half, but powered through the second half in the last day or two. While I liked the themes and how they were explored, I was significantly put off by the adult narrator’s voice. The boy’s narration, however, was a highlight for me: I enjoyed every bit of it, even the one-sentenced stream-of-consciousness passage spanning over a dozen pages.

Regardless of my personal response, I suspect this novel will gain a lot of traction due to its subject matter and bold style – it’ll very likely be included in the shortlist.

Personal rating: 3.5/5
Personal shortlist: Unlikely
Personal winner: Nope

Professional rating: 4.5/5
Booker shortlist: Very likely
Booker winner: Likely

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