Hector viewed America as The Great Opportunity. Lilia saw it as The Unknown.
In The Iguana Tree by Michel Stone, HÃ©ctor and Lilia are a young married couple with a baby girl. HÃ©ctor is determined to go to America to live a life he can only dream of in Puerto Isadore. Lilia, on the other hand, loves her home with its beautiful ocean views, familiar tastes and scents, and friends and family. HÃ©ctor crosses the border, fitted into a compartment on the underside of a semi, along with at least a dozen other men, some moaning and crying out during the trip. He meets Miguel on the crossing and follows him to South Carolina where Miguel has family and connections. An injured farmer, Lucas, hires HÃ©ctor, and HÃ©ctor learns the satisfaction of making a living on American soil.
Lilia, on the other hand, is lonely. After her grandmother dies, Lilia has no one but her tiny daughter Alejandra. She decides she cannot wait to join HÃ©ctor, so an old boyfriend arranges a coyote (smuggler) for her and her daughter. But Lilia’s transport is even more dangerous than HÃ©ctor’s, and her passage is one full of rape, fear, murder, and loss.
Reunited, HÃ©ctor and Lilia are no longer a happy young family. Broken by their experiences, the two must continue to fight for their place in America while trying to find a way back to one another.
Told mainly from HÃ©ctor’s point of view, The Iguana Tree shows the interior life of an immigrant, one who is learning English and marveling at the change he encounters in El Norte. This, to me, was the most successful aspect of this novel. HÃ©ctor is so intelligent and so observant, and I particularly enjoyed his observations about his employer Lucas, a proud man who lost his leg in a chainsaw accident. The two men come from such completely different backgrounds, yet their love of the land and hard work bind them, and the relationship is one that grounds the novel. Stone also does an excellent job of showing HÃ©ctor’s introverted and extroverted lives, emphasizing that an immigrant is not unintelligent in the least, but highly capable of adapting and communicating.
On the other hand, I also felt an intense disconnect with this novel. Lilia makes an extremely poor decision, and the consequences of that decision drive the last 75 pages at a breakneck pace. The action of the novel seems condensed, the novel rushing to a hurried conclusion that felt much different than the novel that preceded it. Specifically, the last three pages were incredibly heavy handed and felt out of place. In some ways, The Iguana Tree felt wholly unfinished, and though this could have been intentional, I think a story with such import needed more development for readers to fully understand the motivations of its main characters and the inevitable end to which each arrived.
I have seen several references to this novel as reminiscent of John Steinbeck (one of my all-time favorite authors), and while IÂ don’t think it is quite that caliber, my favorite parts of the novel are in the same vein as East of Eden in that these men understand the value of land beyond monetary gain and have a connection to it that isn’t often emphasized in contemporary literature.
All in all, though this wasn’t completely successful for me, many bloggers are raving about this book, and it’s one I think most people would enjoy, particularly if you are interested in the undocumented immigrant experience.