The Border, The Divide: Stranger by David Bergen

It’s February, Black Heritage Month. The book that I want to share with you today is not directly related to the black heritage, but it’s relevant – I want to explore a stigma that we hope to break down in this society .

Book cover of Stranger by David Bergen

In my role as the Literacy and Readers Advisory Librarian, I have been trying to keep up with our Canadian literature, but sometimes I regrettably missed some really good titles. When I found Stranger by David Bergen, the 2005 Giller winner with many other subsequent awards, I was astonished by the profundity that his clean, short prose had offered.

The story started with a passionate love story between Dr. Eric Mann and Iso, the “keeper” of the same fertility clinic that the doctor worked for in Guatemala, with Iso thinking that Eric and his wife had been living separate lives. But one day, Eric’s wife, Susan, suddenly appeared at the clinic to take the fertility treatment. While Eric almost completely vanished from Iso during Susan’s presence, he continued to promise that he didn’t want Susan in town. When Susan left, Eric resumed his ritual with Iso, taking her on trips in his motorcycle, making love with her, enjoying the freedom without any need for responsibilities. Until one day, he hit a little boy on a country road, and at the same time, Iso found out she had had a baby growing inside her; you would think now there should be some consequence imposed on the doctor, but insanely, not quite …

I don’t want to spoil the rest of the intricate plot. But I suspect, at this point, part of the world might be questioning why Iso is so naïve, then the conversation might be steered into a very subtle and grey territory and put  women in such situations at disadvantage.

To help me articulate my point, I want to borrow Jordan Peterson’s thoughts. The psychology professor has explored the concept of love and discrimination in his books and lectures, and I stumbled upon one of his lectures’ YouTube videos (uploaded by a third party): “Falling in love is discrimination”. I recognize the title of the video can be shocking to some people. I have no intention in interpreting Peterson’s full lecture and have no ambition in igniting a debate with anyone. But I want to borrow part of his speech in this lecture “… Why is that (discriminatively choosing a partner) justifiable? … you get to say no to me if I get to say no to you … if everybody discriminates on the same basis, then it’s ok … if everybody can do it, then it’s fair.”

So, if we are transparent in our personal preference when it comes to dating or having a relationship, then that’s fair, I suppose. Again, I am not directly responding to the professor’s lecture; I am only saying, if some people want to use his/her personal preference to get away from their lies and the problems that they have created in such a grey zone, please don’t.

But Dr. Mann had done everything so subtly. How can you even criticize him? After Susan’s departure, Iso told Eric, “You come here and think you know about us. You talk about men and patriarchy and tubes tied. And you talk about poverty. You don’t know half of it.” But Eric dully corrected her English: “You don’t know the half of it.” Then, he remained “half-blind to the other cultures” (The Globe and Mail).

Yet, Bergen hasn’t just tangled up here. He has much more to say. In the subsequent story development, Iso, no longer just a passionate lover, had become an archetypal hero, venturing into the American land with no paper. With his unique, poised pace of storytelling, Bergen magically transformed the love story into a thriller about running away from police cars, sexual predators and racial prejudice. In this part of the story, Bergen “engages with complicated political issues and exposes class, gender, and racial oppression, while also highlighting the inhumane and shocking sense of entitlement on the part of wealthy white Americans” (Quill and Quire).

I applaud Bergen’s insight. Again, I want to share this book to bring awareness to: in our almost equitable society, unfortunately, there are still many visible or invisible walls  to break down. Thanks for reading.


About Heather

Heather is the Librarian II, Literacy and Readers' Advisory, with the Vaughan Public Libraries. Her job is to connect leisure readers and aspiring writers with the endless space of imagination and creation through words in all forms.