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Stones for Ibarra (1984)

by Harriet Doerr

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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8931519,251 (4.04)142
Winner of the National Book Award for First Work of Fiction "A very good novel indeed, with echoes of Gabriel García Márquez, Katherine Anne Porter, and even Graham Greene."--The New York Times Richard and Sara Everton, just over and just under forty, have come to the small Mexican village of Ibarra to reopen a copper mine abandoned by Richard's grandfather fifty years before. They have mortgaged, sold, borrowed, left friends and country, to settle in this remote spot; their plan is to live out their lives here, connected to the place and to each other. The two Americans, the only foreigners in Ibarra, live among people who both respect and misunderstand them. And gradually the villagers--at first enigmas to the Evertons--come to teach them much about life and the relentless tide of fate.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
3.5***

At the outset of the novel Richard and Sara Everton arrive in the remote mountain of Ibarra, Mexico. The state is never specified but I believe this fictitious town is in the state of Michoacan. They have sold their home in California and most of their belongings to move to Ibarra so that they can reopen the Malaguena mine that Richard’s grandfather abandoned some fifty years previously.

What were they thinking? This is not a quaint, lovely town, it’s a dusty, dying village with impoverished and little-educated residents, and little to no infrastructure. Yes, they have plumbing and electricity, such as it is. But they must travel several hours to a larger city to place a phone call. At least they speak Spanish … sort of.

But the Evertons are committed to this plan. They work hard to re-establish the mine, hire a housekeeper, cook, gardener, and security for the front gate. Begin to hire and train workers for the mine, buy local furnishings for the house, and make a life here. They don’t really understand the local culture, but they are at least open to learning.

I found this very atmospheric. I loved the descriptions of the various festivals and local traditions, the unique blend of native religious beliefs with Catholicism, and of herbal medicine administered by a curandera vs “modern” treatments by a university-educated physician.

There are several subplots involving the residents of the town, including a love-triangle between two brothers and a fetching young girl, a procession of young priests brought in to assist the resident pastor, and a series of doctors, mostly fresh out of school, whose life’s ambitions were clearly NOT to live in remote Ibarra.

The book was made into a TV movie in 1988, starring Glenn Close and Keith Carradine as Sarah and Richard Everton. I’ve never seen it. ( )
  BookConcierge | Aug 29, 2021 |
Stones for Ibarra originated as a group of short stories about an American couple in a small Mexican village. The vignettes that constitute the eighteen chapters of the novel are set in the 1960's and chronicle episodes that focus on the interactions of the couple with the denizens of Ibarra, connected by the passage of time between the arrival of Richard and Sara Everton and Sara’s departure six years later. The author claimed that only a small part of Stones for Ibarra was autobiographical, but the framework of the novel recalls the Doerr family’s forays to Mexico.

In the first chapter, “The Evertons Out of Their Minds,” the couple go to Mexico from San Francisco, California, to reclaim their family estate and reopen a copper mine abandoned since the Mexican Revolution of 1910. Not long after their arrival at the unexpectedly dilapidated house, which fails to match the faded family photos or the Evertons’s dreams, Richard is diagnosed with leukemia and given six years to live. Despite the brevity of the second chapter, “A Clear Understanding,” several months pass in which the Evertons are observed by the townspeople, who find the Americans peculiar. Interestingly the Evertons never really shed their outsider status in spite of their interest in the culture of the small community.

Richard seems emboldened by his medical diagnosis and works hard to make the mine operable, hiring many locals and becoming something of hero in a strange way. The stories that comprise the short chapters drift backward and forward in time, though when a native is asked about specifics of an incident he replies: "Senora, it is as difficult to recapture the past as it is to prefigure the future." The author meanwhile is successful in portraying the landscape, and gradually providing evidence of the kind of culture that exists in this out of the way place.

The town priest is a frequent visitor to the Everton home, and he figures in many of the vignettes of the novel. He has a variety of assistant priests, who build basketball courts, are beloved of dogs, and impregnate a woman from a neighboring village. He sponsors a town picnic and solicits donations from the nonbelieving Evertons. Other vignettes relate the sad tale of brother killing brother, the use of native remedies to protect the Everton house, Sara’s Spanish lessons with Madre Petra, and the visit of a Canadian geologist and his Lebanese engineer.

The novel is written in a thoroughly crafted prose in which each sentence is pared down and polished until only the essential remains. As a consequence, the reader seems to somehow create the text while reading it, to discover in Doerr’s spare phrases the meaning and emotion the characters themselves hesitate to reveal. The novel reveals as much about the “lost” American expatriates as it does about the Mexican natives, by shifting perspectives and allowing the reader to see each group or individual through the eyes of the other. ( )
  jwhenderson | Jan 8, 2018 |
11. Stones for Ibarra by Harriet Doerr
published: 1984
format: 214 page paperback
acquired: inherited from my neighbor upon his move
read: Feb 20-24
rating: 4

Doerr's claim to fame seems to be that she published her first book, this one here, at the ripe young age of 74. She outlived her husband, who died of leukemia, and then went back to school to complete her unfinished BA and that led to here.

Gentle and atmospheric are two things I struck me initially on starting this. Richard Everton abandons his career in the US to re-open a family owned mine in the middle of nowhere desert of Mexico. He brings his wife, Sara, and they move into an old run-down mansion in a tiny town, find plenty of locals willing to work the mine. Shortly afterward he is diagnosed with leukemia. Most of this is autobiographical.

The novel isn't like a novel. It has the feel of linked short stories, with each chapter focusing on one character or oddity of the region. Several were published prior to the book. First Sara is generally amused. She struggles to learn Spanish well enough to have clear communication, but wonders and is charmed by the passionate and brutal Catholic community she now lives within. But these stories seems to get darker, and Richard gets sicker, and husband and wife remain non-religious outsiders (called North Americans), wealthy benevolent respected and necessary heathens. Eventually the stories settle more on Sara and her mental and emotional struggles with her husband's sickness, and somewhat with her grief after his passing. There is a cumulative gravitas. And there is a lot of Mexico. Still thinking about it.

2017
https://www.librarything.com/topic/244568#5950618 ( )
1 vote dchaikin | Feb 25, 2017 |
A favorite. Lyrical. ( )
  reesetee | Sep 18, 2014 |
Harriet Door captured the perfect balance of complexity and simplicity with her first novel, [Stones for Ibarra]. Her effortless and lyrical story cuts deep, matching the precarious landscape where her characters reside.

Richard and Sara Riverton abandon their comfortable life in San Franciso for an abandoned copper mine in the mountains of Mexico. Their American habits and beliefs don’t fit into the traditional, Catholic culture of Ibarra. But, largely because they have given the town an economic boost, they are cautiously adopted. Doerr recounts the Riverton’s six year stay in Ibarra, focusing largely on the town’s other eccentric inhabitants and the nature of life in the perilous desert mountain town.

Doerr’s connection to the people and land in such a forgotten and hard place is the real wonder of [Stones for Ibarra]. The description of the harsh, gritty land of Ibarra resonated for me, a desert dweller myself.

“…witness a recurring Mexican phenomenon: the abrupt appearance of human life in an empty landscape.”

“This air is affecting us all … everything is too intense, too quick, and too perilous.”

“(houses) dissolving with the rain and scattering with the rain.”

But what really captured me was Doerr’s simple writing. There is nothing expansive about Doerr’s prose, allowing its plainness to take root and flower. She infuses each of her characters and stories with such complexity with such spare language that you don’t notice you’re reading. It’s like a fireside chat with a lover about the day’s events.

Bottom Line: Plain and melodic story; a simple tale with its roots in a harsh landscape.

5 bones!!!!!
An All-Time Favorite ( )
3 vote blackdogbooks | Apr 13, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
Being in Mexico and recognizing in Ms. Doerr’s stories the same fantastical combination of brightest sunlight, mangy village dogs, blazing bougainvillea, and sugar skulls atop frosted cakes made reading a kind of real-time experience. However, the book would have been equally enjoyable had I read it in back Rhode Island, perhaps on the cooling seashore, so captivated was I with this author who could write such spare, evocative prose and add a twist, as if to keep things from becoming too writerly.
 

» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Doerr, HarrietAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Winkler, DoraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Winner of the National Book Award for First Work of Fiction "A very good novel indeed, with echoes of Gabriel García Márquez, Katherine Anne Porter, and even Graham Greene."--The New York Times Richard and Sara Everton, just over and just under forty, have come to the small Mexican village of Ibarra to reopen a copper mine abandoned by Richard's grandfather fifty years before. They have mortgaged, sold, borrowed, left friends and country, to settle in this remote spot; their plan is to live out their lives here, connected to the place and to each other. The two Americans, the only foreigners in Ibarra, live among people who both respect and misunderstand them. And gradually the villagers--at first enigmas to the Evertons--come to teach them much about life and the relentless tide of fate.

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