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The Border
Marina Fitch
Ace Books, 307 pages

Art: Diane Fenster
The Border
Marina Fitch
Marina Fitch's first novel is The Seventh Heart.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by S. Kay Elmore

The Border, Marina Fitch's second novel, is a contemporary fantasy revolving around the dirty streets of Tijuana, the strawberry fields of California, and sheltered suburbia. It is the story of a family desperate to escape persecution and the poverty of Mexico.

Alone in the red-light district of Tijuana, a young woman seeks out a coyote, a man who can lead her past customs and police officials to cross the Mexican/American border. Rosa hopes to rejoin her papa and sister -- who were successful in crossing over -- somewhere in California. Accompanying Rosa is Luz, a guardian spirit left to her by her father when they were ripped apart at the border years before. She's shadowed by her uncle Hector, who loves her dearly and holds himself responsible for her well-being despite past family turmoil.

Rosa's father, Sean Devlin, fled Ireland in the midst of terrorist troubles. He found a new home, new name and a new family in Mexico, but it's not long before two gringos with strange accents were asking too many questions about him in town. He ran with his family to the border, hoping to blend in with the American tourists and start a new life in California. But his pursuers were more cunning than he thought, and he was forced to leave his Mexican wife and dark-skinned daughter at the border, hoping that he can send for them when he is safe.

Sixteen years later, Rosa is pregnant, and even more desperate to leave Mexico. Her strange ways and odd conversations with the spirit, Luz, have convinced most of her family that she is a bruja -- a witch -- and since her mother's death she has no one to turn to. Rosa and her uncle Hector manage to get to the border, but something terrible happens and Hector fears he'll never see her again. Adrift in California, Hector turns to the only work available for undocumented workers -- farm labor. He goes in search of his lost brother-in-law and niece, hoping that if he finds them, he can discover Rosa's fate.

The Border is not just a road story about a family trying to get to California, and the Mexican/American border may or may not be the border of the title. Marina Fitch explores many borders with this novel. She shows us a border between nations, between cultures, between class, and between reality and the concrete world. The book is a skillfully-written page turner; Fitch does an admirable job of teasing the reader with enough mystery to keep you reading on to the next chapter.

The Border has a lot going for it. The characters are multi-faceted and interesting and she avoids the usual stereotypes of Mexicans and migrant workers. The story is rooted in the day-to-day miracle culture of Latin America, where every silver milagro charm will answer prayers and terrible monsters roam the goat-pens at night. However, I found that some of the aspects of the spiritual and mythological were presented in such a mundane and ho-hum fashion that the entire sense of wonder was lost. Since the plot involves a great deal of mystery, I found it another annoyance that some of the extraordinary events were never fully explained, leaving me wondering just who that person was, or why that event happened at all. I expected a full explanation that wrapped up all the loose ends, but the novel concludes leaving many unanswered questions.

Copyright © 1999 S. Kay Elmore

S. Kay Elmore is a graphic artist, writer and corporate wage slave. She edits The Orphic Chronicle, an online magazine, and tries to make ends meet by writing and developing corporate newsletters and web sites.

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