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Wednesday, April 04, 2012

The Iguana Tree

In the interest of full disclosure, I want to begin by stating that I hold firm opinions pertaining to the impact that the millions of people who have entered the United States illegally are having - particularly as to how my hometown, Houston, is affected by the thousands of them who now call this city home. For that reason, I do not come into a book like Michel Stone’s The Iguana Tree with an entirely open mind. I admit that. I do, however, try to see both sides of the issue, so Stone’s novel is not my first exposure to sympathetic fiction on the subject (most novels about illegal immigration are, in fact, written from the point-of-view of the illegal aliens). I will tell you, too, that The Iguana Tree is probably the best of the novels I have read on the subject.

As the novel begins, Hector lives in a tiny Mexican village called Puerto Isadore with his wife and new baby daughter, but he knows he can do better for them. Precisely because he loves his family so much, Hector is eager to risk his life and to pay his life savings to the coyote who promises to get him safely into the United States where he can prepare a new home for Lilia and tiny Alejandro. Hector, after surviving a trip across the border that would have driven a claustrophobic insane, decides to travel with his new friend Miguel to Edisto Island, South Carolina, where a promise of work awaits them.

Hector has the immediate good fortune to be hired on by Lucas and Elizabeth, operators of a family tree farm they can no longer handle on their own because of a crippling injury Lucas has recently suffered. Eager to learn English and to please his new boss, Hector impresses the pair with the competency of his hard work and an almost familial bond forms between him and the American couple. Things go well until Lilia decides she does not want to wait for Hector to save the money needed to get her and Alejandra across the border to join him. She wants to come now.

Michel Stone
Lilia believes that, by finding a way to join him sooner than they thought possible, she is proving how much she loves her husband. She knows that Hector does not want her to make her own arrangements, but she is certain that when he sees her and Alejandra he will agree that she has done the right thing. Hector, however, believes that Lilia’s decision indicates only that she does not respect or trust him enough to believe that he can get them there. When Lilia’s harrowing entry into the U.S. turns violent, it has tragic consequences that she never considered possible – consequences that will almost destroy her, Hector, and their marriage.

The Iguana Tree tells a story that is guaranteed to touch the heart of even the staunchest opponent of illegal immigration. It compels the reader to see the illegals as people rather than mere statistics and helps to explain why so many are willing to gamble everything to get out of Mexico and Central America and into the United States. I particularly applaud the realistic ending that Stone chose for The Iguana Tree because a softer approach would have greatly lessened the impact of the story she tells so well.

Rated at: 4.0

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