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The Barbarian Nurseries


The Barbarian Nurseries Cover

ISBN13: 9780374108991
ISBN10: 0374108994
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Reading Group Guide

1. What were your initial impressions of the Torres-Thompson family and Araceli? How did your understanding of them change throughout the novel?

2. Maureen and Scott, along with their friends, consider themselves to be progressive. How would they need to change if they were to bring about true progress in their community? Are the newly rich of this century very different from wealthy entrepreneurs from other generations?

3. Do Araceli and the other servants in the neighborhood have any leverage, or are they entirely powerless with their employers?

4. Discuss Los Angeles as if it were a character in the novel. What personalities and history are captured in the neighborhoods Araceli travels to, with and without Brandon and Keenan? How do the extremes of rich and poor affect the city as a whole? Do Brandon and Keenan see the world the same way as other characters in the novel, even though neither one of them has traveled far before (except through fiction)?

5. In Maureens and Scotts minds, what does good parenting look like? How is this different from Aracelis parenting standards? How does Brandon and Keenans childhood compare to their parents childhood?

6. Does Maureen treat her baby daughter, Samantha, differently from her sons? What does it mean for her to have a little girl in a household of males? When Maureen and Scott have power struggles, does gender come into play?

7. In the scenes depicting Aracelis time off, what is most striking to you about her true self and her lost dreams of being an artist with a college education?

8. What would America look like—economically, socially, and otherwise—if Janet Bryson had her way? Were you surprised when the author revealed how much Araceli earns per week ($250 cash, on top of room and board), as well as Pepes annual salary range (in the four figures)?

9. At every turn, Tobar finds a place for humor while keeping the story line tremendously realistic. What makes satire the best way to understand the issues of class and immigration raised in the novel? How did it affect your reading to know that the author is a Los Angeles native whose parents emigrated from Guatemala?

10. Discuss the translation and language issues that arise in The Barbarian Nurseries, including the moments when non-native speakers try to use Spanish. Is Araceli in some ways protected by the fact that her English is limited?

11. Ultimately, whose fault is it that the Torres-Thompson children were briefly without parents? Could something similar have happened in your household? If so, would you have been grateful to Araceli or suspicious of her?

12. Why is Scott so different from his father? How has Grandfather Torres evolved since the time the photograph was taken?

13. The title is referenced in chapter eight, when Maureen looks at the landscapers and thinks to herself, “What am I doing, allowing these sweaty barbarians into my home?” In chapter ten, Araceli uses the expression qué barbaridad when she thinks about Maureens not telling her where shes gone. Who are the barbarians in this novel? What is being nurtured in the “nurseries”?

14. In the closing scenes, many of the characters experience newfound freedom. What did they have to sacrifice in order to gain that freedom? How did their definition of freedom change?

15. How would you have answered Felipes question in the novels final lines?

Guide written by Amy Clements / The Wordshop, Inc.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 6 comments:

JPC, March 20, 2013 (view all comments by JPC)
A wonderfully written novel that captures the vast cultural differences and similaries of modern life in southern California. Hector Tobar gives readers a peak into into the lives of various people and makes each one relateable. Readers will learn something while also empathizing with the characters.
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Nancy L, January 22, 2013 (view all comments by Nancy L)
Contemporary fiction at its finest. The Barbarian Nurseries depicts one family's marital struggles as they live the American dream and cope with their relationship, parenting, and present-day financial insecurity in L.A. The story has a strong sense of place, but it's not set in the L.A. of movie stars and Disneyland. It's the L.A. where families really live.

Both parents separately decide to take a temporary break, and leave without telling each other, or their maid Araceli, an illegal immigrant from Mexico. As a bewildered Araceli makes one uninformed, but thoughtful decision after another during the parent's absence; the story becomes a real page-turner. I could not put it down until I found out what happened to the kids, and to the parents when they realized what they'd done, and to Araceli once her ordeal was over.
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Lindsay Waite, October 1, 2012 (view all comments by Lindsay Waite)
In many ways, two worlds co-exist when families hire maids (live in or otherwise), gardeners, childcare workers, and others of Latin American origin. There can be intimate involvement with live in "help" since the workers live side by side with their employers. Yet, there is a gulf between the lives of the two groups of people. Héctor Tobar's wonderful novel shows us both points of view.

Araceli and the sons of Scott and Maureen are unknowingly caught in a predicament caused by Scott and Maureen's marital strife. Araceli does the only thing that makes sense, trying to find a safe place for the boys. Cultural differences and cultural norms (where those who hire staff keep them at arm's length) result in an unfair predicament for Araceli.

Life in Los Angeles and the responsibility for others' children are filtered through Araceli's intelligent eyes. How the boys, Keenan and Brandon, interpret Los Angeles and the surrounds is also insightful. Ultimately, postponed dreams become more realized as the story concludes, and there is a sense of optimism.

Tobar effectively expresses the unique voices of all the characters, and I was sorry that the story ended. I plan to read more of his works very soon! He is a brilliant writer.
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Product Details

Tobar, Hector
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Flournoy, Angela
Urban Life
Literature-A to Z
Hispanic & Latino
Family;brothers;sisters;Detroit;African-American;the Great Migration;the America
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
Electronic book text in proprietary or open standard format
Grade Level:
A-)<BR><br> &ldquo;Flournoy has written an epic th
9 x 6 in

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The Barbarian Nurseries Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$8.50 In Stock
Product details 352 pages Picador - English 9780374108991 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "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.
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "Tobar, a veteran city reporter in Los Angeles, weaves an intricate urban tale animated by a creative, savvy protagonist."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "[R]iveting...a ripping novel — and a proper adventure yarn — about power and identity in 21st century California."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "The Barbarian Nurseries is a grand, amusing read, a mad and sprawling city's less-mad but still sprawling apologia."
"Synopsis" by , 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.
"Synopsis" by , 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&#8212;both an actual haint and the specter of addiction&#8212;the imminent loss of their mother, and the necessary abandonment of their family home in struggling Detroit.
"Synopsis" by ,
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.

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.


"Synopsis" by ,
Winner of the California Book Award for Fiction

A Los Angeles Times Bestseller

Best Book of the Year Lists

The New York Times Book ReviewLos Angeles Times

San Francisco ChronicleThe 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.

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