Book Review: 10 Things I Loved About Stranger by David Bergen

StrangerCoverAbout the Book

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.

Format: Hardback (272 pp.)   Publisher: Duckworth Overlook
Published: 7th Sep 2017           Genre: Literary Fiction

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10 Things I Loved About Stranger

  1. First of all can we talk about that gorgeous cover? As soon as I received the book from the lovely people at Duckworth, I knew this was a book I was going to pick up and read straightaway. There’s something about that face, those eyes and the rich colours that enticed me.
  2. The writing is beautiful: simple, concise, elegant and, at times, magical. ‘Thursday evening, alone, she walked and walked. At one point, crowds of people were walking against her, moving towards the stadium. She put her head down and pushed forward into the commotion, banging shoulders with the passersby, hearing them speak, and their bodies and their voices were like scraps of wood that she received, and with those scraps she fashioned a raft upon which she floated, and she turned the raft and moved downstream with the crowd.’
  3. I loved the insight into the culture and people of Guatemala: the food they eat, how they travel, their houses and shops, the music they listen to. I was enchanted by the picture the author creates of Íso’s lakeside village. ‘The sun had set. The houses were lit. Young boys walked hand in hand in the streets, and a child squatted near to her family’s tienda. Nearby, an old woman sat before her fruit press, her clean glasses stacked beside the basket of oranges. Íso greeted everyone she met, and they greeted her in return.
  4. I fell in love with Íso. She’s brave, clever, thoughtful, resilient and utterly determined to reclaim her child whatever obstacles are placed in her path. ‘She inspected her heart. The hatred had been exhilarating. And welcome. And crippling. And exhausting. And very dangerous. For passion, anguish, jealousy, and anger would produce nothing but mistakes, and false steps, and failure. A cold heart was necessary.’
  5. I adored Íso’s mother. She has such insight about humanity, with all its flaws. ‘There was something about living in a country where the language was not yours. You appeared to be stupid, and you weren’t noticed. Or if you were noticed, if was for your body, or to clean someone’s toilet, or to look after someone’s child. You turned into someone to chase or to scorn or to look down on. It was necessary, wherever you lived, to have the poor so that everyone else felt better.’ Senora Perdido’s own story is heartbreaking but the wisdom she takes from her experiences to pass on to her daughter is incredible: ‘You are smarter, and you are better inside, and you will not make the same mistakes I made. Do you see?
  6. Throughout Íso’s perilous journey in search of her child, the people who help her most are those who have least. The book creates an incredible picture of the generosity of spirit of people who possess little themselves but what they do have, they share.
  7. Stranger presents an eloquent but depressing picture of inequality in our world. There is the world of people sleeping in doorways, or in makeshift encampments or living in squats and scavenging for food in dumpsters behind supermarkets. And then there is the world of gated communities where Íso eventually finds work, patrolled by security guards with security cameras inside and out and where the occupants throw lavish dinner parties. ‘She learned that her employers…were fearful, not so much of the day to day, but of the possibility that what they had might be taken from them – their advantage, their security – and this being so, they celebrated their fragile security by living extravagantly, by throwing large parties, and by spending large amounts of money on objects they would never use.’
  8. Stranger depicts the brutal reality of the dangers faced by desperate people trying to enter the United States illegally via a kind of modern day Underground Railway, which operates by virtue of bribes and officials who look the other way, but whose organisers have no regard for the safety of the people they transport.
  9. I loved how the book explored the incredible bond between mother and child, whether it’s the touching relationship between Íso and her mother, or the maternal force so strong that it sustains Íso half way across America, through untold dangers, to recover her child.
  10. It made me think. About inequality, about the desperation that drives people to leave their homes in search of a better life and about how people see the world in different ways. Íso’s story will stay with me for a long time.

There you have it: my 10 reasons to read this book. I cannot recommend it too highly.

I received an advance reading copy courtesy of publishers, Duckworth Overlook, in return for an honest review.

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DavidBergenAbout the Author

David Bergen is the award-winning author of eight previous novels and a collection of short stories. A Year of Lesser was a New York Times Notable Book, and The Case of Lena S. was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award for Fiction. In 2005, Bergen won the Giller Prize for The Time in Between. The Matter with Morris was shortlisted for the Giller Prize in 2010, won the Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award and the Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction, and was shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Bergen currently resides in Winnipeg, Manitoba with his family.

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5 thoughts on “Book Review: 10 Things I Loved About Stranger by David Bergen

  1. I read this book a couple of months ago as an ARC and thoroughly enjoyed it, although I thought the end was a little ambiguous. I love your list style review! ☺

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, the list style was an experiment but I actually found it much easier to write than an essay type review. Not sure I’ll switch permanently but it seemed right for this book as I found so much to love about it. I know what you mean about the ending but in this case it didn’t bother me (although it often does in other books).

      Liked by 1 person

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