Stranger by David Bergen

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Stranger by David Bergen

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Em Richardson
Reviewed by Em Richardson
Summary: Stranger tells the incredibly moving story of the journey one young Guatemalan woman undertakes to rescue her child- a truly moving account of the lengths a Mother would go to for her baby, which also raises important questions about whether the treatment given to immigrants is always fair.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: September 2017
Publisher: Gerald Duckworth & Co Ltd
ISBN: 978-0715652411

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Stranger tells the story of Íso, a young Guatemalan woman, and her affair with an American doctor. When an accident forces him to return to the States, she is left pregnant and lonely. Her anguish becomes even more profound when her daughter is abducted, and taken to live with the doctor and his wife. What followed - tales of the journey Íso embarked upon in the hope of finding her baby - was an amazing story of the lengths a mother will go to in order to save her child.

I'd like to start by discussing the most horrifying thing about this novel: it doesn't seem all that unrealistic. In a world where immigrants are frequently vilified and their plight ignored, the hardships Íso suffers on her quest to the States seem far from impossible. Bergen's novel provides an insight into how real immigrants might suffer, as his character suffers through everything from poverty to having to fend off some very unpleasant sexual advances. By showing how she is forced to enter the country illegally, and that she cannot afford a lawyer to fight for custody of her own child, the author highlights the poverty faced by many women in Íso's position. The fact the authorities would always side with the doctor and his wife, and the very fact that the law is exploited so Íso's own child can be taken from her in the first place, further highlight the inequality immigrants can face. Stranger really is the perfect title for the work, as it shows how many in the States view Íso.

In terms of Bergen's writing, I loved its simplicity. He had an unusually simple, but effective, way of writing, perhaps intended to show how Íso views the world around her, given that English isn't her first language and she encounters so many new experiences in North America. I loved experiencing America from Íso's perspective, as she expressed her bemusement at this big, loud and extremely foreign new world.

As a character, Íso is fairly unremarkable, but I couldn't help but admire her sheer determination to be reunited with her daughter, posing many questions about how far a Mother would go to save her child. The characters that really make this novel are actually the ones she meets on the road - good, bad or indifferent, each one helps shape her journey. Once again, the various attitudes she encounters show how some are more accommodating to immigrants than others.

The only thing I disliked about this novel would have to be the last few pages. Without giving too much away, I will say that I felt the novel had reached its natural conclusion, yet Bergen felt the need to add in an extra few pages, which simply gave the book a rather ambiguous ending and made me question the need to throw a final, unnecessary twist into a novel that already contains more than enough changes of tone.

However, I'd like to finish on a positive note, by drawing attention back to the most remarkable thing about this novel: the journey Íso goes on. The reader follows her across two countries in her desperate bid to reach the States, then observes the dangerous and degrading things she must do to avoid being deported after entering the country illegally. Aside from showing the lengths a Mother will go to in order to be reunited with her child, this journey once again highlights the plight of an immigrant. It also showcases America, just not in the positive light readers will be used to, as Íso often encounters coldness and abuse rather than sympathy. I'd urge anyone who struggles to sympathise with immigrants to read this book, both to understand what some of them have gone through, and to understand that some have genuine reasons for wanting to enter America.

I'd suggest anyone who enjoyed this book might also like A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, another story about motherly love and strong women.

Buy Stranger by David Bergen at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Stranger by David Bergen at

Buy Stranger by David Bergen at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Stranger by David Bergen at


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