Until a month or so ago I had never heard of Daniel Alarcón, or of Lost City Radio. It just so happened that I stumbled upon Daniel Alarcón’s name whilst researching a favourite author of mine. It turned out to be a very happy accident…
Following a decade long guerrilla war in an unidentified South American country, the government has claimed victory against the rebels. But it is not without cost – every week thousands tune into Norma’s radio show hoping to be reunited with their loved ones; families who have lost sons to the army, sons who are searching for home. For the masses Norma’s voice is the voice of hope and stability. But her life is thrown into turmoil upon the arrival of a boy from village 1797, the village in the jungle where her own husband is believed to have disappeared several years before. In the boy’s possession is a list of names, and Norma is forced to reflect on her husbands fate and their life together prior to his disappearance.
Now if you are expecting a thriller, let me stop you right there – a thriller it most certainly is not! The pace is rather more ambling as Alarcón shifts between the past and the present, often at the drop of a hat and without warning. Lost City Radio is however, intensely brooding and captures a country out of touch with itself beautifully. The inhabitants are acutely aware that everything they say or do carries risk and so life goes on as quietly and inconspicuously as possible. Indeed normal daily life seems to be broken only by news that someone is travelling to the city; an orderly line forms as people relate the names of loved ones to be committed to paper, and (hopefully) delivered to Norma herself.
As for characters, I won’t lie and say that I was especially invested in Norma, Victor or even Rey for that matter, but perhaps that is quite the point…the country is anonymous for a reason, their story could be found in any number of places around the world where freedom is a privilege and not a right.