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FEBRUARY 26, 2012
The Barbarian Nurseries ~ Hector Tobar
comments by Merand
From the first word, I felt as though I were reading a fairy tale. Granted, not an anesthetized children's fairy story, but like a fairy tale of old. A Grimm story to entertain, educate, and warn, where there is darkness and evil and greatness and love, and there just might not be a happy ending (this is not a spoiler, just an example) . The language is lyrical and the location is the magical land of California. For me, perhaps due to my lifetime in New England, California seems a place of mythic proportions. Tales of this land draw me as it did those who struck out for gold or later for the orange-filled, prosperous land that offered hope to those fleeing a dust-filled world.
But this isn't a bygone era, this is California present, with all of its foibles and traumas and triumphs. It's a story that encompasses the current news - the realty crisis, economic troubles, and immigration. I read of these things in the news and they might touch on my own life in miniscule ways but they still seem remote from my world and yet this book brings it all crashing to my door.
Tobar's writing is magnificent. Filled with description and imagery and emotion. He holds nothing back yet spares us from gruesomeness or excess in the language. A story of a family who's believed the lie of society that more is better and now finds themselves unable to maintain their lifestyle and the young woman who works in their home as a maid. We are confronted both with a wish that we might live such a life as the Torres-Thompsons while also denouncing them for their casual use of another. I could never condone being a live-in maid for $250 a week and yet, if given the chance, wouldn't I want to enjoy the other aspects of their life?
Tobar does an excellent job of fleshing out his characters. Showing what is driving them and how one small act snowballs into a course of life-changes. These early chapters of the book help us to not criticize too severely the actions of any character, for if we are honest we can see exactly how they arrived there and how we might have fallen into the same trap.
I found myself skimming rather often through the middle of the story for although the language was beautiful I found myself unwilling to take the time to appreciation the descriptions, to enter into the emotions of a character, in order to regain the thread of the action. It's a testimony to the excellence of the story that I really needed to know what was going to happen! Altogether an excellent book, full of current day events that made me think about the people who live out these dramas, and hopefully provide a caution to never think that I might not fall into the same mistakes if given the chance.