The Iguana Killer: 12 Stories of the Heart, by Alberto Rivero Rios, Reviewed by Mark D. Walker


I met Alberto Rios at the Desert Nights Writers Conference at ASU in Tempe several years ago and was impressed by his literary acumen as well as his insights into the Hispanic community. I told him about my connections and interests in Latino culture and asked about participating in his literary interview show, Books & Co., which he hosted for eight years on PBS. He currently hosts an arts interview show “Art in the 48.” He was named Arizona’s first poet laureate in 2013, a post he still holds.

I decided to start with one of his best-known books, The Iguana Killer, which is considered a Chicano Fiction classic and was not disappointed. He uses mundane situations, which reflect the complexity and injustice on the borderlands, capturing the struggles that many migrants face. His magical imagery of the Southwest is breathtaking. Growing up on the border, the author explores the three worlds of Mexico, the United States, and childhood.

My favorite story, “The Child,” starts in the Guaymas bus station where two elderly Mexican ladies get on the bus.

In their free hands, the women carried rosaries made of hardwood and their tickets. On their heads, they wore black veils and, on their legs, black stockings with lines up the back, and through which the leg hair showed. These stockings were rolled up just past their knees, worn in the manner of most of the other ladies their age who were at the bus station just then.”

Partway through the trip, a man enters the bus with a small child covered with a blanket. Throughout the day, the ladies inquire about the status of the child—is he ill? Is he hungry?  Does he need anything? But the man explains away their inquiries.   Eventually, the man gets off without the child and the women discover he’s dead and he’s been operated on. “Oh, my God, Dios mío, Dios mío was all Mrs. Sandoval kept saying, maybe with words, saying just like Mrs. García.” And then, out of the blue, the reality was revealed, which linked so much of life on the border to the influence and control of drugs and the cartel.

The dual worlds of the border are beautifully brought alive in “The Iguana Killer,” which tells of a small boy in Villa Hermosa, the capital city of Tabasco. One of his relatives from the U.S. side of the border sends him a bat for his birthday—which represents the most iconic games in this country. But when the boy opens the gift from Nogales, he’s ecstatic because it’s just what he needed, an “iguana-killer.” As the author points out, the child had never been to the U.S. and had no idea what baseball was.  The boy would become the champion iguana killer, always holding his now-famous killer bat. So, all his friends wanted to copy it. “They would come every day asking for measurements and questioning him as to its design…”

The book, which went on to win the Western States Book Award for Fiction includes several etchings by Antonio Pazos. One editorial review claims, “The Iguana Killer” is not the Chicano version of “Catcher in the Rye “but it is close.”

 The Author:

Alberto Álvaro Ríos graduated from the University of Arizona with an MFA. Ríos is a Regents’ Professor at Arizona State University, where he has taught since 1982 and where he holds the further distinction of the Katharine C. Turner Endowed Chair in English.

His book, A Small Story About the Sky, was published in 2015 by Copper Canyon Press. Other books of poems include The Dangerous Shirt, along with The Theater of Night, winner of the 2007 PEN/Beyond Margins AwardThe Smallest Muscle in the Human Body, finalist for the National Book AwardTeodoro Luna’s Two KissesThe Lime Orchard WomanThe Warrington PoemsFive Indiscretions, and Whispering to Fool the Wind, which won the Walt Whitman Award.

His three collections of short stories are The Curtain of Trees, along with Pig Cookies, and The Iguana Killer, which won the first Western States Book Award for Fiction, judged by Robert Penn Warren.

His memoir about growing up on the Mexico-Arizona border, called Capirotada, won the Latino Literary Hall of Fame Award and was designated the One Book Arizona choice for 2009.

Ríos is the recipient of the Western Literature Association Distinguished Achievement Award, the Arizona Governor’s Arts Award, fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, the Walt Whitman Award, the Western States Book Award for Fiction, six Pushcart Prizes in both poetry and fiction, and inclusion in The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry. In 2014, he was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

 The Reviewer

Mark Walker was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala and spent over forty years helping disadvantaged people in the developing world. He’s worked with other groups like Make-A-Wish International and was the CEO of Hagar USA.

His book, Different Latitudes: My Life in the Peace Corps and Beyond, was recognized by the Arizona Literary Association for Non-Fiction and, according to the Midwest Review, “…is more than just another travel memoir. It is an engaged and engaging story of one man’s physical and spiritual journey of self-discovery.”

Several of his articles have been published in Ragazine and WorldView Magazines, Literary Yard, Scarlet Leaf Review, and Quail BELL, while another was recognized by the “Solas Literary Award for Best Travel Writing.” Two of his essays were winners at the Arizona Authors Association Literary Competition and another was recently published in Eland Press’s newsletter.  He’s a contributing writer for “Revue Magazine” and the “Literary Traveler.” He has a column in the Arizona Authors Association newsletter, “The Million Mile Walker Review: What We’re Reading and Why.”

His honors include the “Service Above Self” award from Rotary International. He’s a board member of “Advance Guatemala.”   His wife and three children were born in Guatemala. You can learn more at and follow him on Facebook at


Product details

5.0 out of 5 stars    4 ratings

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