Stranger by David Bergen

Review published on July 16, 2017.

I have not come across this author before but he is obviously well known and respected in his home country of Canada, as he has won several literary awards there. After reading this novel Stranger, I will definitely look out for his seven previous books.

On the surface it is a very simple plot line, which is described on the back cover of the book so I’m not giving away any spoilers. Iso is a young Guatemalan woman who meets and falls in love with an American doctor, Eric. They both work at a clinic in Iso’s home town which mainly caters for infertile American women. Iso becomes pregnant. Eric has an accident and returns to America. Iso’s baby is then abducted/bought by Eric’s wife. Iso enters the USA illegally to get her baby back.

One of the strengths of the novel is its clear flowing prose, which captures the contrast between Iso’s beautiful rural village near a lake and Eric’s grey urban gated community in America. It also clearly shows the contrasts between rich and poor, white and non-white, power and vulnerability. It highlights the tensions between Latin America and the US as well as how the latter exploits the former. It is a timely view of the immigration issue, although that is not its main theme.

To me, the theme is encapsulated in the one word title Stranger. Two phrases sprang to mind as I was reading this novel – ‘the kindness of strangers’ and ‘I was a stranger and you took me in’. Iso meets many strangers on her journey to retrieve her daughter and although she is often in a dangerous situation, she is also shown a lot of help and kindness. There is also the other side of this in the behaviour of some of the white people who come to Guatemala and don’t bother to get to know the local people, but continue to view them as strangers and are half blind to their culture.

Iso is a fully developed character. She is determined, calm and strong, despite the heartache and problems she encounters. She comes from a family used to resistance, as several them were involved (and died) in the civil war.

David Bergen writes with authority and we are pulled in from the first page. In the character of Iso, he shows a fine understanding of human emotions. I would definitely recommend this to reading groups as a novel that raises a lot of interesting questions.

Maddy Broome 5/5

Stranger by David Bergen
Gerald Duckworth & Co Ltd 9780715652411 hbk Sep 2017

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