Pulitzer Prize–winning L.A. Times columnist Héctor Tobar captures the angst and ecstasy of living in Southern California in this tale of dislocation, dysfunction and miscommunication. Enigmatic Araceli Ramirez, who has put her dreams of an art career in Mexico City aside for economic reasons, is the live-in housekeeper for a well-to-do Orange County family falling on hard times. The parents have a fight and leave separately. Araceli is left alone with their children, and she sets out with the kids to find their grandfather. An emotional media frenzy ensues, and the intrepid, integrity-minded Araceli, as well as her hapless (but maturing) employers, are caught in the meshes of government, politics and cultural misunderstandings.
Tobar has written a great book. The omniscient narrative really gets into the heads of the characters, from an Ivy League Latina, harried cops and our current L.A. mayor (in a striking cameo) to the main, fascinating characters of Araceli and her employers, the perfectionist stay-at-home mother Maureen and her software programmer husband Scott. Nuanced, filled with striking visual imagery and the deep political insight you would expect from someone who has covered L.A. and Mexican politics, The Barbarian Nurseries is a must-read, knitting together the wealth and poverty, privilege and furtiveness, fear and joy of living in Southern California today. Tobar is a thoughtful, compassionate, ironic and witty observer who brings to life much of what is unseen and unknown in our sprawling, disconnected megalopolis. Highly recommended, and not only by us: the New York Times loves it, too.
Editor’s note: Tobar will be reading at Slake After Dark, a literary happening in beautiful downtown Atwater, on Thursday evening. It promises to be a terrific event.