The Barbarian Nurseries, By Hector Tobar
Eye-opening travels across borders with the home help
Saturday 18 August 2012
Hector Tobar, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist for the LA Times, has written extensively about the Latino experience in America. Now, with his second novel, he returns to the seismic divides of Southern California with a dense and dark portrait of indentured drudgery.
Propelling the narrative is a strained marriag. Scott is a Stanford-educated software millionaire, his wife, Maureen, an elegant Mid-westerner. With the help of three mexicanos, a nanny, a housekeeper and a gardener, they're raising three young children. Scott, himself the son of a Mexican father, seems to have few qualms watching Pepe toiling over the family's tropical garden, or paying Guadalupe to tidy away his childrens' extensive library of pop-up books and Scandinavian building blocks.
Early on in the novel, hit by the recession, Scott and Maureen are forced to dismiss their domestic work-force, retaining only the services of their super-efficient housekeeper, Araceli. While seemingly inscrutable to her employers, Araceli emerges as a tough, complicated character. It's Araceli who finds herself in charge when after a heated marital spat , Maureen and Scott part company. After four days without hearing from either parent, Araceli sets off with her needy charges in search of their grandfather, Torres Snr, in a distant LA suburb. When the parents return to an empty house they panic – police helicopters are dispatched and borders closed.
As the action broadens so does the novel's cast to include politicians, social workers and lawyers. Avoiding the usual cliches, Tobar portrays his character's inner lives in nuanced detail. But despite the ambition of this panoramic work, Tobar is at his best at small, telling scenes. Towards the close of the book we see Maureen on her own personal border control, battling an army of "pulsating" ants.
Tobar's hard-hitting novel drills deep into LA's hidden social and racial strata, and explores what happens when these carefully constructed lives implode.
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated
tvAn expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle
artLee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 The BBC has just done more to eradicate ‘terrorism’ than all our wars since 9/11
- 2 Dog thinks owner is drowning in lake, dives in and tries to pull him out
- 3 Thank heavens for Louise Mensch and her foul-mouthed tweets to world leaders
- 4 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 5 Phil Neville backtracks on Tomas Rosicky 'I'd smash him' comments from Match of the Day 2
Ed Sheeran texts Noel Gallagher to offer him tickets after that Wembley Stadium rant
Blink-182 split: Tom Delonge is 'disrespectful and ungrateful' say Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus
Emma Watson to play Belle in Beauty and the Beast
Sia apologises for 'Elastic Heart' music video that sees Shia LaBeouf wrestle 12-year-old Maddie Ziegler
Sam Smith is now paying Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne royalties for 'Stay With Me'
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
Islamic history is full of free thinkers - but recent attempts to suppress critical thought are verging on the absurd
Leaked documents show Ukip leaders approve NHS privatisation once it becomes more 'acceptable to the electorate'