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The Barbarian Nurseriesby Hector Tobar
Synopses & Reviews
New York Times Notable Book for 2011
A Boston Globe Best Fiction Book of 2011
The great panoramic social novel that Los Angeles deserves — a twenty-first century, West Coast Bonfire of the Vanities by the only writer qualified to capture the city in all its glory and complexity.
With The Barbarian Nurseries, Hector 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 shes never had to interact with before. Their parents are unreachable, and the only family member she knows of is Senor 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.
"Tobar (The Tattooed Soldier) delivers a riveting, insightful morality tale of conspicuously consuming Americans and their Mexican servants in the O.C. When Maureen's failing tropical garden becomes a source of embarrassment, she charges its four-figure replacement, pushing her and software engineer husband Scott's already-tottering finances over the edge. A fight ensues, with Maureen crashing through a glass coffee table, and she flees with baby Samantha while Scott opts to repair his ego with another woman and by 'taking a little break from being home,' leaving their Mexican maid, Araceli, to care for their two young boys. The situation turns explosive when Araceli tries to ferry the boys to their grandfather, only to spark a full-blown Los Angeles media circus. Tobar is both inventive and relentless in pricking the pretentious social consciences of his entitled Americans, though he also casts a sober look on the foibles of the Mexicans who serve them. His sharp eye for Southern California culture, spiraling plot twists, ecological awareness, and ample willingness to dole out come-uppance to the nauseatingly privileged may put readers in mind of T.C. Boyle." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"The Barbarian Nurseries is a book of extraordinary scope and extraordinary power. Hector 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....Tobar, a Los Angeles Times columnist, moves nimbly in and out of the minds of a host of characters, viewing even those who seem on the surface the least sympathetic with an awed authorial tenderness. The chief surprise of The Barbarian Nurseries is that, despite the social and ethnic schisms it so acutely explores, it turns out to be such a warm novel." Los Angeles Times
"The Barbarian Nurseries is a dark, poignant and hilarious tale of a family maid in Southern California who tries to hold things together as a marriage falls apart...That Tobar is so evenhanded, so compassionate, so downright smart, should place his new novel on everyone's must-read list." The Seattle Times
"In his ambitious second novel, The Barbarian Nurseries, Hector Tobar plants issues both timely and timeless — race, class, mixed marriage, immigration, servitude, parenting — and raises them up from the fertile narrative soil of Southern California....[His] writing continually creates moments of uncommon magic." Elle
"The Barbarian Nurseries, in stylistic homage to Charles Dickens, Tom Wolfe and T. C. Boyle, paints a rich Panavision place and time as sprawling and paradoxical as its subject....Tobar has crafted an illuminating parable for this historical moment, and an entertaining one, and provided a social mirror within which are faces we need to understand, and face." The Buffalo News
"Hector Tobar's The Barbarian Nurseries is that rare novel that redefines a city. It has the necessary vital sweep of culture and class that brings a city to life, but its power lies in Tobar's ability to persuasively change the perspective from which the Los Angeles of the present — and, by extension, the United States — is seen. This book confirms the promise of Tobar's debut novel, The Tattooed Soldier." Stuart Dybek, author of I Sailed with Magellan and The Coast of Chicago
"The Barbarian Nurseries is a huge novel of this century, as sprawling and exciting as Los Angeles itself, one that tracks a Mexican immigrant maid not only as static decor in 'real' America's economic rise and fall. Like yard workers and cooks, construction laborers and seamstresses, Tobar's Araceli has flesh, brains, dreams, ambition, history, culture, voice: a rich, generous life. A story that was demanded, we can celebrate that it is now here." Dagoberto Gilb, author of Before the End, After the Beginning and The Flowers
"Hector Tobar's novel is astonishing, like a many-layered mural on a long wall in Los Angeles, a tapestry of people and neighborhoods and stories. A vivid testament to Southern California as the world. Araceli is so unexpected and unique; she's a character America needs to see, and this novel takes her on a journey America needs to understand." Susan Straight, author of Highwire Moon
"Tobar, a veteran city reporter in Los Angeles, weaves an intricate urban tale animated by a creative, savvy protagonist." The New Yorker
"The strength of this book is to be found in its sympathetic portrayals of people who struggle to find a common language yet persist in misunderstanding one another...Tobar's portraits, acute and humane, render his characters intelligible. His illuminations become our recognitions." Rebecca Donner, New York Times Book Review
"[R]iveting...a ripping novel — and a proper adventure yarn — about power and identity in 21st century California." Theo Schell-Lambert, San Francisco Chronicle
"This is a novel about Los Angeles, and maybe the finest we'll see for many years. It is also a novel that triumphantly transcends geography and delivers a stirring look at the borders of our expectations, both great and small." Tod Goldberg, Los Angeles Review of Books
"If Hector Tobar turns out to be the Charles Dickens or the Tom Wolfe of the 21st century, he owes a big thank-you to the people of California....Yuppies, immigrants, politicians and vigilantes — Tobar has them all coming together in a Crash-like moment for a perfect California ending that will leave readers pondering the inconsistencies in the country's dependence on illegal immigrants even as some of us persist in keeping them at arm's length." Karen Grigsby Bates, Morning Edition
"The Barbarian Nurseries is a grand, amusing read, a mad and sprawling city's less-mad but still sprawling apologia." Alan Scherstuhl, SF Weekly
Scott and Maureen Torres-Thompson have always relied on others to run their Orange County home. But when bad investments crater their bank account, it all comes down to Araceli: their somewhat prickly Mexican maid. One night, an argument between the couple turns physical, and a misunderstanding leaves the children in Araceli's care. Their parents unreachable, she takes them to central Los Angeles in the hopes of finding Scott's estranged Mexican father — an earnest quest that soon becomes a colossal misadventure, with consequences that ripple through every strata of the sprawling city. The Barbarian Nurseries is a masterful tale of contemporary Los Angeles, a novel as alive as the city itself.
A novel centered on the journey of the Turner family and its thirteen siblings, particularly the eldest and youngest, as they face the ghosts of their pasts—both an actual haint and the specter of addiction—the imminent loss of their mother, and the necessary abandonment of their family home in struggling Detroit.
A powerful, timely debut, The Turner House marks a major new contribution to the story of the American family.
The Turners have lived on Yarrow Street for over fifty years. Their house has seen thirteen children grown and gone—and some returned; it has seen the arrival of grandchildren, the fall of Detroit’s East Side, and the loss of a father. The house still stands despite abandoned lots, an embattled city, and the inevitable shift outward to the suburbs. But now, as ailing matriarch Viola finds herself forced to leave her home and move in with her eldest son, the family discovers that the house is worth just a tenth of its mortgage. The Turner children are called home to decide its fate and to reckon with how each of their pasts haunts—and shapes—their family’s future.
Already praised by Ayana Mathis as “utterly moving” and “un-putdownable,” The Turner House brings us a colorful, complicated brood full of love and pride, sacrifice and unlikely inheritances. It’s a striking examination of the price we pay for our dreams and futures, and the ways in which our families bring us home.
Winner of the California Book Award for Fiction
A Los Angeles Times Bestseller
Best Book of the Year Lists
The New York Times Book Review • Los Angeles Times
San Francisco Chronicle • The Boston Globe
Scott and Maureen Torres-Thompson have always relied on others to run their Orange County home. But when bad investments crater their bank account, it all comes down to Araceli: their somewhat prickly Mexican maid. One night, an argument between the couple turns physical, and a misunderstanding leaves the children in Aracelis care. Their parents unreachable, she takes them to central Los Angeles in the hopes of finding Scotts estranged Mexican father---an earnest quest that soon becomes a colossal misadventure, with consequences that ripple through every strata of the sprawling city. The Barbarian Nurseries is a masterful tale of contemporary Los Angeles, a novel as alive as the city itself.
About the Author
Hector Tobar, now a weekly columnist for the Los Angeles Times, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and a novelist. He is the author of Translation Nation and The Tattooed Soldier. The son of Guatemalan immigrants, he is a native of the city of Los Angeles, where he lives with his wife and three children.
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