Contemporary, Fiction

Stranger by David Bergen

I’ve never read anything by David Bergen but apparently, he’s a big deal. He’s won the Giller Prize, as well as numerous awards for his novels, all of which have been heavily praised. After reading this novel, I can definitely see why he is so acclaimed!

Íso is a young Guatemalan woman who works at a fertility clinic at Ixchel. Many rich northern women visit the clinic in the hopes that the waters of the nearby lake will make them more fertile. It is Íso’s task to take care of them and help them through this process, regardless of the outcome. When she meets the resident American doctor, Eric Mann, she cannot help but fall for his charm. Soon Íso is his secret lover, and she enjoys the stolen moments they spend together. However, their tryst cannot last. Dr. Mann has to return to the US. When a freak accident befalls Dr. Mann, the couple’s time is cut even shorter. Before Íso can tell Dr. Mann that she is pregnant, he is gone. After she gives birth, Íso’s baby is taken away from her. All she knows is that her child has been taken to America. Determined to get her child back,  Íso makes the journey to illegally cross into the United States, which has been divided into military zones. Now, Íso must descend into a dangerous world, with the possibility that she will lose her daughter forever.

This was such a mesmerizing story, told with such simple and delicate language. I think that is what really captured my attention and kept me interested in this story. We read this story through Íso, and we watch how she simply, yet aptly, portrays the world around her. She makes no excuses, she doesn’t blame the world for her problems. She simply is. And as such, she enjoys what time she has, and assumes responsibility for the risks that come along with it. When she makes the decision to go for her daughter, it is with that same simple strength that she has kept with her throughout the story. That is what entranced me and left me in awe. How did this author manage to create such a simple character, and yet bring all of this complexity to the forefront? Somehow, he did, and the story is better for it. The summary that is provided here, as well as any summary you find of this novel, will tell you everything about the plot of the story; there are no surprises here. It is more about the journey that Íso (and you, as the reader) will go through in this quest. I was surprised that the author decided to make America a military environment, and I really don’t think it added much to the story, but that is really my only criticism here. This novel introduces many complex issues, things like infidelity and the bond between a mother and her child, as well as the desperation that comes with infertility. Everything was given its due importance and it was all seen through a unique perspective. The situation that Íso finds herself in is not a unique one; it happens to women from poor countries all the time. Reading about this situation from the perspective of someone like Íso was fascinating; I always knew that losing a child in this way is terrible but actually reading about it with this depth of emotion brought a whole new meaning to it all. As you can probably tell from this review, I loved this book. It was insightful, powerful, and mesmerizing. I would highly recommend this novel to anyone looking for a story that revolves around an emotionally-charged journey that will change how you think and feel.

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