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The Stone World

The son of acclaimed writer James Agee tells a fictionalized version of his 1940s boyhood, when his mother fled America for Mexico, and raised him amid a circle including expat European communists, Mexican labor activists, and even Frida Kahlo . . .

Set in the mid-late 1940s, this book tells the story of a six-year-old boy named Peter, who finds himself in a strange new world — a small town in Mexico. His mother, a classical musician, has left his father — also a famous musician — and married a German writer Peter calls his “second father.”

His parents are part of a community that always seems nervous, up to something — he stumbles on meetings where they suddenly hush themselves, there are parties that break up into political arguments (Frida Kahlo attends one and makes quite an impression of the boy). His “second father” yearns for news from Germany, and seems distracted from their project of writing a poem together. There is the sense of tragedy, just off-stage …

But Peter spends his days absorbed with the exotic world around him — with the Mexican woman who runs the house for his mother, and teaches him Spanish, with a local boy he slowly learns is impoverished; when he tries to give his friend one of his marbles, the boy’s mother beats him and accuses him of stealing it. But they roam the town and countryside together, and find it is filled with fascinating and wondrous things.

And so Peter falls in love with the place and the people in his life, even as his parents and their friends seem increasingly stressed, and they slowly break the idea to him that things may be about to change soon ….

Joel Agee is a writer and translator. He has been awarded a Gugenheim fellowship and numerous prizes for his translation work, including the Berlin Prize of the American Academy in Berlin in 2008; the Helen and Kurt Wolff Prize for his translation of Heinrich von Kleist’s verse play Penthesilea; and the ALTA National Translation Award for his translation of Selected Writings of Friedrich Dürrenmatt. He is the author of two memoirs—Twelve Years: An American Boyhood in East Germany and, more recently, In the House of My Fear. His translation of Prometheus Bound was produced at the Getty Villa in 2013. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.