The scenes described in Daniel Alarcon’s Lost City Radio are familiar because though they are based on Peruvian history, they not only echo Latin American but also Philippine realities in general. After all, like most other developing countries, we all had our share of poverty, dictatorship, insurgency, and today a glaring indifference among the people (the conscious desire for a better society having been sublimated into a deafening silence and acceptance of business-as-usual and broken only by the occasional occurrence of the sensational).
Lost City Radio is a radio program for missing people started at the end of a decade-long civil war. Once every week, the names of the missing – the disappeared, victims of government-sponsored violence, the displaced, refugees escaping the violence in the countrysides, the dead, sons, loved ones – are read during the show. Some are found and reunited with their families. Most, however, like Rey, the husband of the show’s host Norma, are lost forever.
I do have problems with some things in the novel. Most of the expectations I formed of what could proceed from the book’s first half did happen by the time I came through the last page. Rey’s childhood, for example, seemed too contrived. It was tailor-fitted to presage his later involvement in the rebel movement. Like a cliché. And the same goes for Norma’s character who tends to be bland. Some of the novel’s sentimentality are misplaced.
Then there’s the matter of the insurgent group’s name which goes by the initials IL, the Illegitimate Legion. There’s the Farabundo Marti para la Liberacion Nacional in El Salvador and the Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional in Nicaragua. We have the Movimiento de Liberación Nacional or Tupamaros of Bolivia, among others. Their names sound patriotic and believable. But the Illegitimate Legion, in my opinion, is plain crappy.
Moving on, however – of course such trifles are always commonplace with this reader so do forgive me, I have to applaud the idea behind the book: the presentation of the senselessness of war, the penchant of repressive regimes to control truth and revise history for their own ends, and among the people hope, always hope.
Despite my misgivings, I am glad to have found this hardbound book hidden among the other titles in National Bookstore’s below P99 shelves earlier this month. ■