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2 Burnside Literature- A to Z

The Barbarian Nurseries


The Barbarian Nurseries Cover

ISBN13: 9781250013798
ISBN10: 1250013798
Condition: 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 3 comments:

Eric S, January 30, 2013 (view all comments by Eric S)
For many reasons, I was reminded of T.C. Boyle's "The Tortilla Curtain" while I read this. A captivating story filled with vivid prose and believable characters. And it's a perfect read for a dreary winter day.
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Mary Ziegler, January 3, 2013 (view all comments by Mary Ziegler)
Excellent writing. Wonderful insight into the lives of Mexican immigrants, particularly women who care for the children of wealthy couples. Good commentary on contemporary marriage, consumerism, and the sometimes thoughtless ways we lead our lives. Ultimately hopeful because of the strength of the central character.
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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
Picador USA
Tobar, Hctor
Hispanic & Latino
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
8.25 x 5.5 in

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The Barbarian Nurseries Used Trade Paper
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$8.50 In Stock
Product details 432 pages Picador USA - English 9781250013798 Reviews:
"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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