Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Midnight Cactus

Every once in a while, I stumble onto a novel that unexpectedly connects with real life for me in a significant way

Well, I’ve just finished one of those novels, Midnight Cactus by Bella Pollen. A few months ago, I encountered a Bella Pollen novel called Hunting Unicorns. I’d never heard of it or the author, but from the cover flap the story sounded interesting, so I dove in. And I loved it. That novel told the story of an American journalist trying to research a story on the demise of the upper classes in Britain. It was well-written and charming and funny in a poignant sort of way.

So, based on that, I got online and put a hold on the other Bella Pollen novel my library had. And that’s how Midnight Cactus ended up in my library basket this week.

In this novel, Pollen tells the story of a woman escaping the despair of an unhappy marriage by moving to the Arizona desert. Gradually, she starts to see the complexity of border life – the Mexicans desperate to cross the border and earn money to send home, the Americans who want to keep them out. Themes of escape and hope and human suffering are explored so delicately in this book.

Timing wise, I’ve been reading this while hearing and reading so much news about the Immigration Reform bill that is heating up Congress these days. This novel puts some of the issues into a very human perspective, and I'm very glad I read it.


  1. Anonymous6:04 AM

    Looking forward to reading that! I felt the same way too regarding immigration and the human perspective when I saw the movie Fast Food nation. They did a wonderful job of portraying the struggles of the Mexicans and how some companies take advantage of that. Tough to watch. We have it so good here, why is it so hard to share it? Thanks!

  2. My parents had several very interesting experiences during their trip to NM this spring. They visited several activists along the border and were shocked to discover some of the complicated details involved in the issue.

    Have you read Water for Elephants?

  3. I'll definitely read this one. You can't live as close to the border as we do and not feel the human perspective. I am troubled by some of the near hysteria surrounding the issue. Jen

  4. Anonymous4:23 PM

    I've never heard of her either. I live in a border town, and I'm looking forward to reading her take. Thanks for the review/recommendation!

  5. Anonymous4:33 PM

    interesting comments...
    a friend was reading Bella Pollen's book (Midnight Cactus) and I tried to read it. My first impression was that the author insults the readers intelligence by beginning the book with a very violent and graphic robbery/rape/murder of an undocumented crosser. while robbery, rape and even murder are sadly common on the AZ-Sonora border, scenes such as this are more typically born of a Hollywood imagination. When the author describes towering saguaro cactuses in "northern Arizona", it reveals her lack of familiarity with my part of the world. Then Ms Pollen relates the futile attempt of a dehydrated campesino who attempts to intercede and prevent the rape - he shouts "Oye, parada!" - which translates as "Hey, bus stop!" While I know the author must have attempted to look in a dictionary to find the word for "stop", I was amazed to think Ms Pollen would not note that "parada" is a noun, and not the command form of the verb she sought. even more amazed wa I that a person would publish a novel with foreign phrases without at least asking someone who speaks the language to take a look at it.

    The novel may be captivating, but I could not get past the author's literary "challenges" nor her obvious ignorance of the part of the world she chose to write about.

    Sorry to have a negative comment but I care deeply about the horrendous suffering which grows worse every day here in southern arizona, and I really want folks across the rest of my country to understand and stop this madness.

    I strongly urge folks who want to know about the issues to contact "Borderlinks" or one of the many other non-biased NGOs working to address the terrible human suffering caused by US business/immigration policies.
    Even Borderwatch or "Derechos Humanos" are informative sources, but dont read fiction, bad fiction, to raise your awareness, OK?

  6. i came across your blogpost via google. i just finished the book and think i'll make a post too.

    i was interested to read the comment you received from anonymous. there would be no way for me to pick up these inaccuracies, but one would hope the author would have someone reading the book to vet these...i guess its a good lesson.

    overall, i think any way attention is raised about the issue the better. overall, i liked the book too.

  7. dear all,
    a friend of mine recently drew my attention to your blogs and i wanted to thank those of you who enjoyed the book, but also give an explanation to those of you who quite rightly picked up the horrendous mistakes in the spanish translation.
    In the first draft of Midnight Cactus, I jotted down a pigeon version of the spanish i wanted to use which was then later translated into the correct spanish by the u.k publishers. Unfortunately , when the book was published in the U.S, a year following its initial publication, the WRONG electronic disc was sent by the U.K publishers to Grove Atlantic the U.S publishers ( ah, the perils of the electronic age) This disc was of an uncorrected early draft, and it was several mistakes even apart from the Spanish. Because Grove Atlantic were not the original publishers, they did not copy edit this disc - which is normal practice when you are a secondary publisher and the book was therefore printed off this incorrect draft. No one was any the wiser until the book started getting reviews and blogs such as these with the mistakes pointed out. This is about the worst thing that can happen to an author - these are not minor spelling mistakes we're talking about , but dreadful innacuracies which throw into question the validity of the whole story. Believe me, no-one has lost more sleep about it than myself , except perhaps for Grove Atlantic who were equally upset. Midnight Cactus was carefully researched. The rape scene at the beginning of the book is, sadly, a true story. the child in question was never found. I have spoken to many coyotes who have admitted that the rape and sometimes murder of the women in their charge is commonplace. I have spent time with vigilantes on the border and been profoundly shocked by the attitude of many of them. Since writing the book however, I have also spent time with the Border Patrol and their medical wing, Borstar and i have been encouraged by their humane attitude towards Mexicans who have run into trouble on their crossings. as those of you who live close to the line are only too aware, there are no easy solutions to the question of illegal immigration. It's a complicated, emotive , seemingly insoluble issue and I believe the more attention that's drawn to it , the better. Since Grove Atlantic discovered the mistake with the electronic disc on Midnight Cactus, the copy has been corrected and a new print will soon be run. We will be happy to send anyone a new copy should they like one. Meanwhile, if anyone who's interested lets me have names and addresses, we will send you a copy of Hunting Unicorns.
    best wishes
    bella pollen