Cover of Skinner’s Drift


Lost City Radio



In an unnamed South American country, a woman on the radio reads the names of the disappeared and the lost. Hers is a voice of quiet but implacable defiance; it is calibrated to meet the surge of hope in impossible circumstance. Soon, her husband is one of the lost, and a young boy sent from the jungle to meet her brings news of more than war. This is the beginning of an eloquent novel in which the real and unreal intersect as easily as past and present. Daniel Alarcon has created a memorable contribution to the refusal to glamorize war, even when it is in a “good cause.”

“Consider the improbablilty of it: that the multiple complaints of a people could somehow coalesce and find expression in an act—in any act—of violence. What does a car bomb say about poverty, or the execution of a rural mayor explain about disenfranchisement?”

And later:

“Which grievance was it and when?... Someone was angry about something. This someone convinced many hundreds and then many thousands more that their collective anger meant something.” It is a country of people who, ultimately, “don’t look for their missing, they ARE the missing.”

Alarcon’s insistence on removing “cause” from violence carries a striking message, a brave message , one promoted by Norma — the voice of Lost City Radio - when she takes in the young boy and opens her life to him, thereby enacting a huge gesture of forgiveness…

The lasting impact of this novel comes, in part, from using gorgeous language to describe cruel acts, and describing tender human acts in almost reportorial prose. The contrasts highlight the extremes of behavior, the private mourning of public loss, in a country soiled by war and lies.

—Amy Hempel, 2008 finalist judge

2008 Fiction Runner-Up

(Click play to hear judge's remarks at awards dinner.)

Daniel Alarcón
Lost City Radio

Daniel Alarcón was born in Lima, Peru and raised in Birmingham, Alabama. After graduating from Columbia University, he worked for two years in New York City public schools, as a counselor and a teacher. He earned an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His fiction has been published in The New Yorker, Harper’s, Virginia Quarterly Review and elsewhere, and anthologized in Best American Non-Required Reading 2004 and 2005. His non-fiction has appeared in Salon and Eyeshot, and he is Associate Editor of the Lima-based magazine Etiqueta Negra.

A former Fulbright Scholar to Peru and the recipient of a Whiting Award for 2004, he lives in Oakland, California, where he is the Distinguished Visiting Writer at Mills College. Daniel is the author of the acclaimed short story collection War By Candlelight. Lost City Radio is his first novel.

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“It's a real honor just to be considered for an award like this, one with such an important mission. And to be mentioned among this distinguished group of nominees is even more exciting. My congratulations go to the winners, and my thanks to the judges.”

—Daniel Alarcón                        


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