Iso is a young woman living in the Guatemalan highlands. She works as an attendant in an alternative fertility clinic for wealthy white American women who come to soak in the supposedly magical, impregnating waters.
Iso has no such fertility issues herself. She falls pregnant to an American doctor working at the clinic, and months after he returns home she gives birth to a perfect baby girl. A day later her baby is stolen – and so starts Iso's epic journey to find her child.
Bergen's spare yet elegant writing suits the story beautifully as Iso faces myriad dangers, crossing illegally into Mexico and then again, much more dangerously, through the staunchly-patrolled desert wasteland on the Mexican-US border.
It's an odyssey not so different to the Underground Railroad used by escaped slaves in the American South in the 1800s. Every choice Iso makes will either take her closer to her child or lead her to disaster.
At its heart, this is a mesmerising and suspenseful adventure story but it also presents a damning picture of inequality. Bergen draws a stark world where the wealthy take what they want from the powerless – even a newborn child.
A place where the haves hide themselves away in gated communities while the have-nots riot in the streets. It would be less depressing if it were not for the most part true.
While Bergen's America has a dystopian edge, Iso herself is an antidote. She's brave, smart, vulnerable, resilient, quietly determined and more real than any overblown superhero that Hollywood could dream up.
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