Stones for Ibarra (1984)

by Harriet Doerr

Stones for Ibarra, winner of the National Book Award for First Fiction, defies expectations of a novel and might as easily be considered a series of vignettes or even a travelogue. Readers are offered scant insight into the main characters, Richard and Sara Everton, and the decision-making process that led them to move to the remote Mexican village of Ibarra to reopen a copper mine Richard's grandfather had abandoned during the Revolution of 1910. The chapters are as much about the inhabitants of Ibarra as about the Evertons. What Stones for Ibarra lacks in development of the central characters, it more than makes up for in the colorful array of these native Mexicans. Sara Everton describes some of them in a letter: 

"Jose Reyés killed two men in a cantina and soon after was stoned into submission on the hill of the Santa Cruz. . . . A helpless boy, an idiot, drowned in the tailings dump of the Malagueña mine. An intern of the government clinic committed suicide one Christmas Day. Basilion García, who had enrolled his brother in the state university, shot him to death by mistake. Paz  Acosta, the most beautiful girl in Ibarra, is a prostitute."

Transplanted from California, the rational and agnostic Evertons are puzzled by what they see as superstition, immoderate religion, and belief in magical cures from herbs and signs in the morning sky. For their part, the Mexicans are curious about the only foreigners living among them, peering through the windows of the "rich and foolish" Americans to spy and report back to the village. Yet in the recognition of difference that will not be bridged, there isn't really mutual hostility. When Richard dies young from leukemia six years after arriving in Ibarra, and Sara packs up to return to the United States, the villagers leave stones near her gate to remind passersby to remember what happened there.


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