Readers Get ‘Lost’ in Writers Week Novel by Daniel Alarcón

Every once in a while, a book comes that truly sucks readers in, converting them into zombies who walk from class to class focused on nothing but the novel’s plot, characters and setting. Although it is hard to determine what exactly makes such a novel so compelling, it is easy enough to recognize that Daniel Alarcón, keynote speaker for this year’s Writers Week, has achieved such writing excellence in “Lost City Radio.”
The story itself revolves around a fictional, unnamed country in South America, where a totalitarian government has finally suppressed the last fragments of a rebellion. All radio programs have been banned, except for one: Lost City Radio, hosted by a woman named Norma who attempts to reunite families with their missing loved ones.
It turns out that Norma herself lost her husband in a jungle during the rebellion. She has forced herself to live without him, until one day a boy named Victor appears from the village where her husband disappeared, causing her to once again wonder what could have happened to him.
Alarcón is known for eloquent prose, and “Lost City Radio” does not disappoint. There is something hauntingly beautiful in the writing that forces even the speediest of readers to slow down. Although the novel is not fast-paced in that a reader cannot quickly devour it in a day, it is still a compelling read. Simple descriptions of a village or even reflections on the status of the nation read like poetry. When the plot slows down to ponder the horrors of war or the heartbreak of its protagonists, Alarcón’s elegant style picks up the story, keeping the reader intrigued.
Throughout the novel, narration switches between perspectives and time periods, encompassing life before, during and after the war. Although such a technique can easily cause the novel to become hopelessly confusing, “Lost City Radio” avoids this trap. Rather, Alarcón transitions through time and space cleanly and smoothly, leaving little room for misunderstanding.
Alarcón’s characters are nothing short of fascinating. Norma blends loneliness and disillusion, aching to find her lost husband even while she forcefully isolates herself from those around her. Meanwhile, Victor is simultaneously innocent and hardened, hiding secrets he knows could endanger him. And even if some of these mysterious secrets and plot twists are actually fairly easy to guess, they in no way detract from the novel’s intrigue.
It is easy to call “Lost City Radio” a fable about the dangers of totalitarian government. However, it is in fact much more than that. It is a story of war and the devastation it can wreak on individual lives in any country, and Alarcón has crafted a world thick with tension and tragedy. The result is a masterpiece, the likes of which are extremely hard to come by.
“Lost City Radio” can be found at most bookstores or libraries. Those interested can also attend the community reading featuring Alarcón in the Eagle Theatre on Wednesday, February 11 at 7:00 p.m.