Sergio de la Pava – Lost Empress

American mass-incarceration is the most overt object of the ‘protest’ of this novel’s subtitle. The author, Sergio De La Pava, works as a public defender in New York City, and calls on an intimate secondhand knowledge of the many different sorrows to be found in the ripples of a single criminal case. But Lost Empress is also about other kinds of losses and limitations to human freedom. One minor character, a Colombian immigrant striving on behalf of his children, endures labour that ‘felt like a prison sentence’ or an ‘abyss’, opened up by ‘the desaturation of meaning’. He is killed in an accident early on; for his son, the grief is ‘a form of imprisonment’. The 911 switchboard operator and paramedic who respond, and the doctor who tries to save the man, in turn discover the limits of empathy as well as mortality…

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