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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Review: (ARC) The Barbarian Nurseries

(ARC) The Barbarian Nurseries
Author: Hector Tobar
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Publisher:  Picador
Release Date: September 4, 2012
Paperback: 432 pages
Source: Free from SCIBA event

Book Description

With The Barbarian Nurseries, Héctor Tobar gives our most misunderstood metropolis its great contemporary novel, taking us beyond the glimmer of Hollywood and deeper than camera-ready crime stories to reveal Southern California life as it really is, across its vast, sunshiny sprawl of classes, languages, dreams, and ambitions.
Araceli is the live-in maid in the Torres-Thompson household—one of three Mexican employees in a Spanish-style house with lovely views of the Pacific. She has been responsible strictly for the cooking and cleaning, but the recession has hit, and suddenly Araceli is the last Mexican standing—unless you count Scott Torres, though you’d never suspect he was half Mexican but for his last name and an old family photo with central L.A. in the background. The financial pressure is causing the kind of fights that even Araceli knows the children shouldn’t hear, and then one morning, after a particularly dramatic fight, Araceli wakes to an empty house—except for the two Torres-Thompson boys, little aliens she’s never had to interact with before. Their parents are unreachable, and the only family member she knows of is Señor Torres, the subject of that old family photo. So she does the only thing she can think of and heads to the bus stop to seek out their grandfather. It will be an adventure, she tells the boys. If she only knew . . .
With a precise eye for the telling detail and an unerring way with character, soaring brilliantly and seamlessly among a panorama of viewpoints, Tobar calls on all of his experience—as a novelist, a father, a journalist, a son of Guatemalan immigrants, and a native Angeleno—to deliver a novel as broad, as essential, as alive as the city itself.


This book and the author were completely new to me before I went to the SCIBA (Southern California Independent Booksellers Association) dinner two years ago.  And that night just happened to be the night Héctor Tobar won the 2012 California Book Award gold medal for fiction.  So of course I just had to get a signed copy for my collection.
This is a modern novel centered around the Torres-Thompson family.  This very well off family has two sons, a great view and three Mexican employees.  When the family fiances begin to decline changes are made and that is when the drama begins.  This story is set in the upscale city of Orange County but soon becomes a journey through the streets of Los Angeles.
For me the beginning of this book was so slow I had to think about completing it or just adding it to my DNF pile.  The family is built of some really non interesting people who only think about race.  Race is the main topic and only thing everyone talks about.  The White family talks about their Mexican housekeepers strangeness (she is just an artist) and the Mexican housekeeper talks about the odd parenting skills the White family has.  They do and to be honest it is not unusual.  There are way to many hands-off parents today but that is another discussion all together.  
I thought this book had a great story to tell and had an interesting voice in the race discussion between Mexican employees and their White employers.  I just didn't like the shallowness of the characters.  It seemed to me not one single adult had any kind of connection to another character.  The parents up and left their kids without really being concerned about them.  The housekeeper was not into taking care of any kids (hers or otherwise).  No one in the book had any kind of real relationship with a spouse, friend or family member.  No one.  It just made the book feel kinda sterile for me and that is not good.  I was so hoping for something deeper.
Without spoiling anything for you, there is a relationship in the end.  It's a budding new one and I think it is not about the people but more about the destination.  

Reviews by Other Bloggers


I recommend this book to older teens and adult readers due to the adult topics and race.


This book is number 15 in my Diversity on the Shelf Reading Challenge.
This book is number 8 in my Rewind Reading Challenge.
This book is number 3 in my TBR Pile Reading Challenge.
This book is number 10 in my Off the Shelf Reading Challenge.
This book is number 8 in my Dusty Book Reading Challenge.

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