The Stone World by Joel Agee - review by Kate Webb

Kate Webb

Twice an Exile

The Stone World


Melville House 232pp £25 order from our bookshop

The story of European intellectuals and artists who fled from fascism in the prewar years, settling in America, often in Hollywood alongside other expatriates, is a familiar one. Less well known is the tale of those who, having escaped to the ‘land of the free’, found it not quite as advertised. With the arrival of immigrants radicalised by the struggle against fascism, the country was soon gripped by a ‘red scare’, causing many communist sympathisers to flee once more, this time to Latin America.

Joel Agee’s autobiographical novel The Stone World portrays one such doubly exiled community, with its passionate beliefs and complex allegiances, from the perspective of a six-year-old boy, Pira. The novel is set in an unnamed Mexican city in the late 1940s. Pira’s world is largely confined to his parents’ house and its walled garden. He spends his days sitting in the zapote tree among the chattering parrots or playing on the patio, pressing his cheek to the cool stone, listening to sounds he imagines underground. This ‘stone world’ of childhood invention, filled with fairy-tale and folkloric figures, acts as a mirror to the adult world, suggesting meanings hidden beneath the surface of everyday existence. The

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