I went to hear Héctor Tobar speak at University of California, Riverside last month and bought a copy of his novel, The Barbarian Nurseries, which he kindly signed with “a big abrazo.”
Having just read the book, I realize how big that abrazo was and is. Tobar gathered a whole lot of what I love about Southern California and about Mexico in a strong, broad embrace and hugged it (and me) long and masterfully, unwinding a loving, lingering tale.
Lady Pamela and I have been fortunate to travel fairly extensively, and thirty or so years ago spent enough time in a language school in Cuernavaca, Mexico to coax my high school Spanish to a reasonably conversational level. We lived with the Arillo family, who became lifelong friends. They had little need of English, living an hour over the mountains south of Mexico City, and my longing to communicate more deeply with them was impetus to aprender más su idioma. Eric Crocker, a closer friend, was a Uruguayan-born bi-cultural American who lived his final years with his wife on a beach north of Acapulco. I do not have raices latinos myself, other than honorary, but I feel as deep a kinship.
In The Barbarian Nurseries Héctor Tobar pulled me into the contradictions and paradoxes playing out in the hearts and minds and actions of his richly conceived and developed characters. His writing deserves all the accolades he receives, which are many. Reading Tobar is a big abrazo!
I will now request this from the library. And thank you for the warm hearted, big picture clarity of the fine book you wrote too.
Very tantalizing but not quite enough to open a window onto the book for dense me. Is this a contemporary tale of drugs and guns? Is it an multigenerational epic? Does it have one protagonist whom you love, male or female, young or old, live or die? What is the theme of this book if you could put it in one sentence? Inquiring minds want to know! 🙂
Tobar’s heroine is Aricela, an undocumented Mexican housekeeper employed by a couple in their Rancho Laguna home (a fictional upscale gated community on the Orange County coast). The morning after a domestic spat, the couple leave home separately, each thinking the other was home, but unintentionally leaving Aricela with their two boys, 11 and 8. After a couple of days with no communication from either parent, food supplies running low in the house, Aricela takes the boys with her on public transportation. Many adventures ensue. Through the personalities and voices of a rich variety of characters, Tobar represents the cultural diversity and complexity of white and brown Los Angeles. The articulate author (also a Pulitzer-winning journalist) writes from his experience of being of and living in both worlds.