Set in an unnamed South American country in the aftermath of a civil conflict that has displaced thousands, Daniel Alarcon's first novel, Lost City Radio (HarperCollins), is like a cross between Goya's "The Disasters of War" and a modern telenovela. Norma is the honey-voiced host of a call-in show aimed at reuniting families and intimates lost during the long uprising. She herself is a virtual widow--it's been ten years since her husband, Rey, disappeared. Then a young boy turns up at the station with a list of those missing from his tiny village, Rey among them. From there the story travels back and forth in time, and if you can see the major plot developments from so far off you might as well be gazing through a telescope, that does nothing to lessen the vividness of the world Alarcon creates. Born in Peru, he was raised and educated in the U.S.; in 2001 he received a Fulbright to write an anthropological study of a Lima barrio. War by Candlelight (2005), his debut collection of stories, gave glimpses of the themes explored here--double lives, attachment and disenchantment, the futility of violence. But the collection doesn't prepare you for the narrative momentum and reach of this multilayered work, which ranges convincingly from mountain jungle to city slum to the Moon, the prison camp setting of its most harrowing scenes. a Tue 2/13, 7:30 PM, Barbara's Bookstore, 1100 Lake, Oak Park, 708-848-9140.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Matthieu Bourgois.