Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Stones for Ibarra is based on an episodic structure and a Mexican setting. It 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. Unlike the Mexico portrayed in novels by such authors as Graham Greene, Malcolm Lowry, and D. H. Lawrence, Doerr’s Mexico is a friendlier, more humane place where the Mexicans are just as perplexed about the Americans as the Americans are about the Mexicans. It is a no less tragic Mexico, but tragedy is quotidian, a normal part of life for natives and expatriates. Despite their differences, despite the clash of cultures in the conflict zone of cultural interaction, their shared sense of tragedy and search for saving grace unites Mexican and American. Stones for Ibarra is about the search for that saving grace amid the relentless currents of destiny, and the lessons that each culture has to teach the other.