Rain Mountain Press
paperback, 236 pages
A review copy of this book was provided through TLC Book Tours
Rain Mountain Press
Deborah Clearman has a beautiful, engrossing, and enlightening collection of stories in Concepcion and the Baby Brokers. Set primarily in Guatemala, this collection allows the reader to glimpse the daily lives of Todosanteros--the inhabitants of the community of Todos Santos. The opening novella, A Cup of Tears, tells the story of a third-world baby farm, a kidnapping, and a New Jersey couple who come to Guatemala to adopt a toddler. What the couple doesn't know is that the toddler is one of two twin boys who were kidnapped by their wet nurse, Concepcion. In just under one hundred pages, Clearman illuminates the lives of Concepcion, Prudencia, who is complicit in the kidnapping, and who works for a wealthy baby broker, Lala, the inconsolable mother of the kidnapped toddlers, and Sunshine, the New Jersey woman who believes she is offering an orphan a better life. Clearman imbues each of these characters with compassion. The novella is gripping in its depiction of the forces that drive each of the characters--gangs, drugs, poverty, and abuse--but ultimately it is optimistic about the human capacity for love and sacrifice.
Although each of the stories in this collection stands on its own, I loved the fact that place holds them all together. Whether transplanted to Guatemala City, Washington, D.C., or Michigan, the characters remain Todosanteros, and the connections between the characters and their community bind the stories together. While reading this collection, I learned quite a bit about the customs and daily life of the people of Guatemala--a life that was totally unknown to me. As a reader, I look first and foremost for believable characters, for story, and for that ineffable magic that gifted writers create. But if the story transports me to, and lets me understand, a world previously unknown to me, that's something special. These stories do all of that.
In "The Race," a young man returns from Michigan to Todos Santos and spends his earnings to impress his father, his community, and the village girls while participating in an annual horse race. The story intertwines the story of the race and the whole history of the young man's life in the village--his victimization by a childhood bully, his abandonment by his father, and his love for a village girl. Clearman is able to do more in the pages of a story than some writers are able to accomplish in a novel.
The stories in this collection often focus on the interaction between Guatemalans and Americans, whether the Americans are tourists, or those who have come to stay. In "English Lessons" Jorge is married to an American college instructor--but he becomes George in his English lessons, as he navigates living in two worlds, one in which he is happy to speak Spanish and work as a landscaper, and one in which he tries to make his American wife happy by learning English and visiting a fertility clinic. In another story, a transplanted American has become an almost saintly figure, offering advice to people of the village as he recovers from a nearly fatal illness. In this story, "Saints and Sinners," innocence and guilt are not so easily assigned.
The stories in Concepcion and the Baby Brokers offer no easy solutions to the deeply difficult problems of their characters--but the author offers insight, compassion, and the dignity of beautifully observed and truthful portrayals of the lives and loves of her characters.