Stones for Ibarra

Doerr, Harriet

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Annotated by:
Taylor, Nancy
  • Date of entry: Feb-27-1997
  • Last revised: Dec-12-2006


Californians Sara and Richard Everton move to Ibarra, a village in central Mexico, where Richard plans to reopen the copper mine his grandfather had worked before the Revolution of 1910. Six months after arriving, Richard learns he has leukemia. Their Ibarra neighbors offer home remedies, for they have a "companionship with death": "daily and without surprise," the people of Ibarra meet "their individual dooms . . . [and accept] as inevitable the hail on the ripe corn, the vultures at the heart of the starved cow, the stillborn child." Creating stories about the villagers, Sara gives them happy endings, the kind she wants for Richard's story. After his death, in a California hospital, Sara returns to Ibarra, and the villagers bring stones to mark their remembrance of Richard.


Doerr's novel is written in beautiful, spare, understated prose. Language and learning a language become metaphors: "She had denied a whole vocabulary of words: radiation, transfusion, hemorrhage." Richard's death becomes one among many in the village, no more "important" and with no more meaning than any other's. Sara's stories parallel physicians' need to fill in the blanks of their patients' lives.

How Sara comes to terms with her husband's impending death; how, for families of patients who are dying, the patient is at the center, others (including the physician) on the periphery; how seriously patients and family want to believe physicians can cure the sick; how and why the poor disregard physicians' advice; how no death is merely a statistic; how religion and fate affect individual lives and illnesses; how accepting and learning from a different culture rewards and enriches; how cultures can come together without one being labeled "inferior," without all differences between them needing to be resolved--all these are subjects students will want to discuss.


Stones for Ibarra won the National Book Award (called the American Book Award from 1980-1986).



Place Published

New York