The Barbarian Nurseries

9780374708931_p0_v5_s192x300Although Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Hector Tobar wrote The Barbarian Nurseries almost five years ago, the theme of racial conflict is just as relevant today.  As he explores boundaries, Tobar combines drama with comedy, and introduces characters with more depth than the stereotype so often assigned to them.

The story has more to offer than the bones of the plot.  Araceli is the live-in Mexican maid for pale-skinned, half-Mexican Scott Torres; his wife, Maureen; and their three children, Brandon, Keenan and Samantha –  a family in a gated community in Orange County, California, living beyond their means.  After a quarrel over money, Scott and Maureen each leave to lick their wounds – not realizing the other has gone.  Days go by and Araceli finds herself alone with the two young boys.  With an old photograph in hand, she decides to find their grandfather as a possible caregiver for the abandoned boys.  The parents return to find the boys and the maid missing, and fear the worst.  The wild ride that ensues is based on a misunderstanding.

In her review for the New York Times, Rebecca Donner notes:

“Much of the potency of “The Barbarian Nurseries” comes from our knowledge, as privileged readers, of Araceli’s thoughts and feelings, disclosures that bring forth some of its freshest imagery. We learn of her girlhood home in Mexico City, where she awoke to the sound of her mother sweeping the patio…that she attended art school at the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, but economic hardship prevented her from continuing her studies…

Social and racial conflict assume a larger dimension when Araceli is accused of a crime, setting into motion a plot that brings about the collision of people from radically different worlds. The charge is child endangerment, child abuse or kidnapping, depending on whose opinion is solicited in Child Protective Services, law enforcement or the network news, and media frenzy feeds an institutional over­reaction that culminates in an Amber Alert.”

The book is the monthly pick for a local book club, and certainly offers a wealth of issues for discussion, but I hope someone in the group speaks Spanish and can translate the many asides Tobar includes.  Their context reveals the meaning, but somehow I think I may have missed a few of the juicier innuendos.

 

Book Club Picks for 2015

images-1Whether or not you like to discuss books, a list of possible new reads is always tempting to explore, and next year’s selection of books from one of my local book clubs offers quite a range.  Only ten books, one a month; November is for lunching and December for the holidays.

The books I’ve read and reviewed are in red; click on the link to read my thoughts.  I checked out summaries and review of the others – just to see what there are about…

Have you read any on the list?

Book Club Picks for 2015

1) The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

2) China Dolls by Lisa See

“…three young women who come up together on the “Chop Suey Circuit” — all-Asian nightclub shows for mostly white audiences: Helen {is} from the traditional family of a well-heeled Chinatown merchant; Grace escaped an abusive home in the Midwest; and Ruby is a scrappy climber, a Japanese dancer “passing” as Chinese. They pledge everlasting friendship to one another, only to see their bond suffer the ravages of fame, time and war, particularly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.”  from Jennifer Keishin Armstrong review in the New York Times

3) Fear the Worst by Linwood Barclay

“A crime thriller based on a daughter’s mysterious disappearance… thrusts her father into the world of violence and deception that lurks just below the surface of his nondescript Connecticut suburb.”  from Kirkus Reviews

4) The Blue Zone by Dan Buettner

Review from the New York Times: How To Live Longer Without Really Trying 

5) The Tattoo by Chris McKinney

“Ken Hideyoshi is the new guy in Halawa Correctional Institute (Hawaii)…. observes his cellmate Cal—the mute tattoo artist of the prison, a wife murderer. SYN, a gang symbol, is tattooed on his hand, and he has a Japanese emblem inscribed on his left shoulder. He asks Cal for a tattoo on his back…While he is being worked on, he tells Cal his life story, a tale of hardship and abuse… ”  from the Barnes and Noble Overview

6) Heaven Is For Real by Todd Burpo

“Just two months shy of his fourth birthday, Colton Burpo, the son of an evangelical pastor in Imperial, Neb., was rushed into emergency surgery with a burst appendix.  He woke up with an astonishing story: He had died and gone to heaven, where he met his great-grandfather; the biblical figure Samson; John the Baptist; and Jesus…  Colton’s father, Todd, has turned the boy’s experience into a 163-page book…”  from Julie Bosman’s New York Times Review

7) The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie

Short story collection by Nigerian author of “Americanah”

8) The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry  by Gabrielle Zevin

9) The Barbarian Nurseries by Hector Tobar

“Héctor Tobar’s second novel sweeps its central character from almost-serfdom and sends her on an odyssey through the teeming mysteries of Los Angeles and the wild jungles of the California judicial system…”

Book Review: The Barbarian Nurseries  by Richard Rayner, Special to the Los Angeles Times

10) Where’d You Go, Bernadette?  by Maria Semple