Valeria Luiselli Questions the Nature of Borders in a Novel Without Boundaries

By
Photography Ronan McKenzie
Stylist Tess Herbert

Published February 27, 2019

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If you were to chart Valeria Luiselli’s trajectory, you’d need a world map. The path would begin in — and frequently return to — the 35-year-old author’s hometown of Mexico City. Then it would follow her parents’ political work, through the United States, Costa Rica, South Korea, and South Africa (her father was the Mexican ambassador to the latter two countries). As a young adult, Luiselli lived in India, Mexico, Spain, and France before finally settling in New York City a decade ago. No wonder her incisive writing raises so many questions about the nature of borders: What makes them hard-lined or porous? How do they form in the first place? And when should they be trespassed?

Her new novel, this spring’s Lost Children Archive [Knopf], follows a family of four as they road-trip from Manhattan to the U.S.-Mexican border, passing through semi-abandoned towns, stopping in diners and motels, and listening to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” as well as radio broadcasts about child refugees. The narrator, a sharp, young journalist, and her husband are both recording documentary sound projects along the way — hers on children lost while crossing the border; his on the last Chiricahua Apache tribe — while their kids, in the backseat, watch their parents grow apart.

Lost Children Archive began when Luiselli took her own family trip to the Southwest in 2014, just as the “so-called ‘immigration crisis,’ or refugee crisis, really,” was beginning to boil. While Luiselli’s road north has been different than her characters’, she certainly knows what it means to be a newcomer. “I think the themes of my writing, but also perhaps just the texture of it, are a reflection of observing from a kind of distance,” she says, “almost like eavesdropping on my own life.”

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