What’s it all about?:
Íso Perdido, a young Guatemalan woman, works at a fertility clinic at Ixchel, named for the Mayan goddess of creation and destruction. Íso tends to the rich women who visit the clinic for the supposed conception-enhancing properties of the local lake. She is also the lover of Dr. Mann, the American doctor in residence. When an accident forces the doctor to leave Guatemala abruptly, Íso is abandoned, pregnant. After the birth, tended to by the manager of the clinic, the baby disappears.
Determined to reclaim her daughter, Íso follows a trail north, eventually crossing illegally into a United States where the rich live in safe zones, walled away from the indigent masses. Travelling without documentation, and with little money, Íso must penetrate this world, and in this place of menace and shifting boundaries, she must determine who she can trust and how much, aware that she might lose her daughter forever.
In David Bergen’s Stranger, with its uncanny lake, human monsters, and a stolen child, an ageless story is freshly recast in a modern setting, where themes of dislocation and disruption, exploitation and vulnerability, rich and poor collide. Intense and beautifully rendered, Stranger is a powerful and affecting novel for our times.
What did I think?:
First of all, a huge thank you to Duckworth Overlook Publishers for allowing me to read a copy of this touching novel in return for an honest review. This book is fairly short at 272 pages but manages to pack in a great deal within its pages and at times, I was extremely moved by what I read. It’s quite a hard book to classify genre wise – there is a contemporary edge, a vague mysterious undertone and it even read like a thriller in parts but overall I found it to be a very positive reading experience and I instantly felt a connection with the main character and the plight that she suffers.
Our protagonist for the journey is Íso Perdido, a young woman working in a fertility clinic in Guatemala who embarks on an affair with one of the American doctors working there, Dr Mann. Awkwardly, she ends up treating his wife who confides in her that her and Dr Mann have been trying to conceive a child for many years unsuccessfully. It is not long before Dr Mann returns to America in the company of his wife and leaves Íso in a difficult situation as she finds out that she is pregnant. However, things take a turn for the worse when Íso gives birth and shortly afterwards her baby disappears. Once she is told what has happened, she is determined to retrieve her child by any means necessary even if that involves illegal border crossings, homelessness, hunger and precarious situations. These are all things she must suffer if she is to have any chance of bringing her baby back home where she belongs.
I really didn’t know what to expect from this novel but on reading the synopsis my interest was certainly piqued. Parts of it made for incredibly tough reading on a personal level as it deals with some issues that I have had the bad luck to suffer with myself, but I do love books that manage to speak to my emotions and that was certainly the case with Stranger. I loved Íso as a character – not at the start, I have to admit, I was internally screaming at her not to get involved with a married man but when she goes through the unbearable loss of her child, I almost wept for her. She became at this time a character I could definitely get on board with. Determined, ruthless and hell-bent on getting her daughter back regardless of any danger to herself, are all admirable qualities to read about and only served to make me more interested in how her story would end. There were points of the narrative I almost had to suspend my disbelief to be perfectly honest but generally, this was a great story that explored some important issues of fertility, culture, immigration and the extreme lengths a mother would go to for her child.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):