The Barbarian Nurseries by Hector Tobar

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The Barbarian Nurseries by Hector Tobar

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: A middle-class American family have struggled hard to live the American dream. Their two young sons go missing with their surly Mexican maid and the situation soon turns into a nightmarish media circus.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 432 Date: October 2011
Publisher: Sceptre
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1444726756

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The Torres-Thompsons seem to have it all. A beautiful home, two healthy boys and enough money not to have to worry about practical matters. The cherry on the cake is their employment of their maid Araceli. She works like a trouper and keeps the large house spick and span. She is lucky enough to have her own private quarters (if small and rather basic) in the back garden area. She knows within herself that she should be grateful, should really be jumping up and down with glee and thanking her lucky stars to have this job. She's managed to escape the poverty and violence of Mexico after all. But as she goes about her daily housekeeping duties she feels like some alien living on another plant. Planet America. Araceli is young, single and childless and at times she misses the hustle and bustle of her old life. And here Tobar gives an excellent account of the affluent part of LA where the Torres-Thompson's live - ... in this house on a hill high above the ocean, on a cul-de-sac absent of pedestrians or playing children, absent of traffic ...

As far as Araceli is concerned it was much better when the other employees were working around the house and garden but they've recently been told by Scott, el senor Scott, not to bother turning up any more. In short, the family is experiencing some money problems. Hopefully it's just a little hiccup. But then things go from bad to very bad indeed.

A lot is made of the lush garden in this spacious home, especially by Maureen, the wife. But it's a decadence too far in this fierce Californian sun so Maureen decides to take charge of the situation - with drastic results. We see her as a person who has managed to break free of her roots and better herself and now she lives for her sons and husband. She has status now and she intends to hold on to it, at any cost apparently. We see Maureen downplaying their current financial problems beautifully and they continue to give rather lavish parties etc.

But Scott can only take so much. There is a massive marital argument from which it will prove difficult to recover. And so we witness a downward spiral in their relationship. Somehow the maid and worse still, the two young boys get caught up in this mess. They don't really care about the maid, they can always hire another one after all. But the boys ...

Tobar tells a very good and at times, poignant story. He is both fluent and passionate about his subject matter in this book. Generally speaking, we see a massive influx of Mexican people working and integrating (or not) within American society. He concentrates on one family. He really gives serious food for thought in this fictional story. He also creates a believable character in Araceli, in particular. The language barrier creates problems for her on a regular basis and she is often out of her depth. I really felt for Araceli and her alienation. She can't seem to win, whatever she does. She's Mexican after all, so she'll be wrong, won't she?

A powerful tale involving two diverse societies and cultures. Written in stylish and elegant prose, I found this novel to be a profound read for me personally. Highly recommended.

If this book appeals then you might like to try Book of Clouds by Chloe Aridjis.

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Buy The Barbarian Nurseries by Hector Tobar at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Barbarian Nurseries by Hector Tobar at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Barbarian Nurseries by Hector Tobar at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Barbarian Nurseries by Hector Tobar at


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