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The Barbarian Nurseries: A Novel Hardcover – Bargain Price, September 27, 2011

4.0 out of 5 stars 109 customer reviews

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Hardcover, Bargain Price, September 27, 2011
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Editorial Reviews

Review

'A 1st century Bonfire of the Vanities.' MiNDFOOD Book of the Month 'Dazzling ... This book will establish Tobar as an important writer.' Thomas Keneally on The Tattooed Soldier 'Tobar's exploration of I he wide chasm between, the city of Angel's wealthiest residents and the downtrodden immigrants who service them is authentic and descriptive... For real insight into the other L.A. - the one that exists far from Hollywood's glitzy carpets - you can't beat this impressive novel.' Madison 'A big, insightful novel.' New York Times, Notable Books of 2011 'The Pulitzer winning newspaper journalist knows his way around a hot topic. This page-turner examines the economic and racial divides that still exist in sunny Southern California - so there's a message in the thrilling tale.' SHOP til you drop The scope and cracking pace of Bonfire of the Vanities Bookseller Hector Tobar's THE BARBARIAN NURSERIES is that rare novel that redefines a city. It has the necessary vital sweep of culture and class that brings a city to life, but its power lies in Tobar's ability to persuasively change the perspective from which the Los Angeles of the present - and by extension, the United States - is seen. This book confirms the promise of Tobar's debut novel, The Tattooed Soldier. Stuart Dybek, author of I Sailed with Magellan and The Coast of Chicago ' ... what follows is as pacy and informative about the states of America as you would expect from a journalist who won a Pulitzer for coverage of the LA riots ... Tobar is in total control of his material ...' Independent THE BARBARIAN NURSERIES is a huge novel of this century, as sprawling and exciting as Los Angeles itself, one that tracks a Mexican immigrant maid not only as static decor in 'real' America's economic rise and fall. Like yard workers and cooks, construction laborers and seamstresses, Tobar's Araceli has flesh, brains, dreams, ambition, history, culture, voice: a rich, generous life. A story that was demanded, we can celebrate that it is now here. Dagoberto Gilb, author of Before The End, After The Beginning and The Flowers Hector Tobar's novel is astonishing, like a many-layered mural on a long wall in Los Angeles, a tapestry of people and neighborhoods and stories. A vivid testament to Southern California as the world. Araceli is so unexpected and unique; she's a character America needs to see, and this novel takes her on a journey America needs to understand. Susan Straight, author of Highwire Moon This is Araceli's story, and The Barbarian Nurseries is a novel that is entirely dependent on our relationship with her. Mercifully, she makes the journey worth our while. Referred to as "Madame Weirdness" by her employers, she is as inscrutable in the workplace as she is fiery out of it. As hypnotic as she is observant and as sympathetic as she is frosty, she is a diamond of a character. Independent on Sunday Hector Tobar's THE BARBARIAN NURSERIES is a virtuosic and hard-hitting novel about social schism in Southern California. He combines a broad and bitter social vision with exuberant attention to details. Tobar exposes disturbing and enlightening ironies about the perpetuation of both privilege and social disadvantage. TLS This book is beautifully written ... it provides a fascinating portrait of mutual misunderstanding, of the life led by California's unprotected underclass, and of the American citizens who are wholly dependent on the illegal immigrants who service them. Literary Review The predicament of the recession-hit middle classes as they hastily rearrange their priorities has provided a rich seam for fiction writers in recent years, and Pulitzer-winning journalist Tobar's latest is a fine example of the genre. Daily Mail ... what follows is as pacy and informative about the states of America as you would expect from a journalist who won a Pulitzer for coverage of the LA riots ... Tobar is in total control of his material ... Independent --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

The Barbarian Nurseries is a book of extraordinary scope and extraordinary power. Héctor Tobar's second novel sweeps its central character from almost-serfdom and sends her on an odyssey through the teeming mysteries of Los Angeles and the wild jungles of the California judicial system . . . Tobar, a Los Angeles Times columnist, moves nimbly in and out of the minds of a host of characters, viewing even those who seem on the surface the least sympathetic with an awed authorial tenderness. The chief surprise of The Barbarian Nurseries is that, despite the social and ethnic schisms it so acutely explores, it turns out to be such a warm novel.” —Los Angeles Times

The Barbarian Nurseries is a dark, poignant and hilarious tale of a family maid in Southern California who tries to hold things together as a marriage falls apart . . . That Tobar is so evenhanded, so compassionate, so downright smart, should place his new novel on everyone's must-read list.” —The Seattle Times

“In his ambitious second novel, The Barbarian Nurseries, Héctor Tobar plants issues both timely and timeless—race, class, mixed marriage, immigration, servitude, parenting—and raises them up from the fertile narrative soil of Southern California . . . [His] writing continually creates moments of uncommon magic.” —ELLE

The Barbarian Nurseries, in stylistic homage to Charles Dickens, Tom Wolfe and T. C. Boyle, paints a rich Panavision place and time as sprawling and paradoxical as its subject . . . Tobar has crafted an illuminating parable for this historical moment, and an entertaining one, and provided a social mirror within which are faces we need to understand, and face.” —The Buffalo News

"Héctor Tobar’s The Barbarian Nurseries is that rare novel that redefines a city. It has the necessary vital sweep of culture and class that brings a city to life, but its power lies in Tobar's ability to persuasively change the perspective from which the Los Angeles of the present—and, by extension, the United States—is seen. This book confirms the promise of Tobar's debut novel, The Tattooed Soldier.” —Stuart Dybek, author of I Sailed with Magellan and The Coast of Chicago


"The Barbarian Nurseries is a huge novel of this century, as sprawling and exciting as Los Angeles itself, one that tracks a Mexican immigrant maid not only as static decor in 'real' America's economic rise and fall. Like yard workers and cooks, construction laborers and seamstresses, Tobar's Araceli has flesh, brains, dreams, ambition, history, culture, voice: a rich, generous life. A story that was demanded, we can celebrate that it is now here." —Dagoberto Gilb, author of Before the End, After the Beginning and The Flowers

"Héctor Tobar's novel is astonishing, like a many-layered mural on a long wall in Los Angeles, a tapestry of people and neighborhoods and stories. A vivid testament to Southern California as the world. Araceli is so unexpected and unique; she's a character America needs to see, and this novel takes her on a journey America needs to understand." —Susan Straight, author of Highwire Moon

"Tobar delivers a riveting, insightful morality tale of conspicuously consuming Americans and their Mexican servants in the O.C. . . . Tobar is both inventive and relentless in pricking the pretentious social consciences of his entitled Americans, though he also casts a sober look on the foibles of the Mexicans who serve them. His sharp eye for Southern California culture, spiraling plot twists, ecological awareness, and ample willingness to dole out come-uppance to the nauseatingly privileged may put readers in mind of T. C. Boyle." —Publishers Weekly

“Tobar, a veteran city reporter in Los Angeles, weaves an intricate urban tale animated by a creative, savvy protagonist.” —The New Yorker
 
 “The strength of this book is to be found in its sympathetic portrayals of people who struggle to find a common language yet persist in misunderstanding one another . . . Tobar’s portraits, acute and humane, render his characters intelligible. His illuminations become our recognitions.” —Rebecca Donner, New York Times Book Review  
 
 “[R]iveting . . . a ripping novel—and a proper adventure yarn—about power and identity in 21st century California.” —Theo Schell-Lambert, San Francisco Chronicle 
 
 “This is a novel about Los Angeles, and maybe the finest we’ll see for many years. It is also a novel that triumphantly transcends geography and delivers a stirring look at the borders of our expectations, both great and small.” —Tod Goldberg, Los Angeles Review of Books
 
 “If Hector Tobar turns out to be the Charles Dickens or the Tom Wolfe of the 21st century, he owes a big thank-you to the people of California . . . Yuppies, immigrants, politicians and vigilantes—Tobar has them all coming together in a Crash-like moment for a perfect California ending that will leave readers pondering the inconsistencies in the country’s dependence on illegal immigrants even as some of us persist in keeping them at arm’s length.” —Karen Grigsby Bates, Morning Edition
 
The Barbarian Nurseries is a grand, amusing read, a mad and sprawling city's less-mad but still sprawling apologia.” —Alan Scherstuhl, SF Weekly
 
 “A cross-cultural gem.” —Rebecca Adler-Warren, More
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (September 27, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374108994
  • ASIN: B0085RZKLO
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.4 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (109 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,172,839 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By TChris TOP 500 REVIEWER on August 17, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The Barbarian Nurseries begins with the flip sides of LA: the one that Hollywood showcases, populated by prosperous, shallow, socially competitive consumers; and the one almost invisibly populated by maids, landscapers, day laborers, and the other workers who, speaking heavily accented English, struggle to sustain their families while serving the needs of those who hire them. I am impressed by the fullness of the characters on both sides of the economic divide.

The principle characters of means are Scott Torres and his wife, Maureen Thompson. The Torres-Thompsons and their three children live in a posh house tended by a staff they can no longer afford. As the novel opens, the gardener and nanny have been recently sacked, leaving only Araceli, the maid whose duties suddenly expand to include childcare without a commensurate increase in pay. Following a mild incident of domestic violence, Scott and Maureen make independent decisions to take a "break" from domestic life. Maureen goes to a spa with their daughter, Scott doesn't come home from work, and neither of them bothers to tell the other -- or, more importantly, Araceli, who finds herself taking care of the two boys without guidance from their parents.

Araceli, fearful that the kids will be placed in foster care if she calls the police, begins a journey through the sprawling city and its suburbs in search of their paternal grandfather. Héctor Tobar uses Araceli's quest to illustrate the city's cultural evolution: the ever-changing character of its neighborhoods as members of various ethnic groups settle in and later move on, replaced by new arrivals with a different group identity.
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Imagine a Tom Wolfe - or perhaps a T.C. Boyle or Don DeLillo - novel without some of the more tempered nuances. The Barbarian Nurseries is a social novel, focusing largely on the schisms between the wealthy and the immigrant population in Southern California and it's good - at times, really good - before dissolving into a disappointing ending.

Scott Torres is a programmer, a Mexican American with the emphasis on the American, who has fulfilled the American dream: he lives with his lovely blond wife Maureen Thompson, his two sensitive and precocious young sons Brandon and Keenan and his baby daughter Samantha in wealthy gated L.A. community he can ill-afford. The Spanish-style house - Paseo Linda Bonita, a redundancy - is an immediate clue that this is not a community that is primed to understand those who toil in its households.

After falling on hard times, he dismisses all the servants with one exception: Araceli, his illegal Mexican maid. One night, Scott and Maureen get into a particularly vicious fight about Maureen's plan to replace the "petite forest" tropical garden with a very pricey desert landscape. Each separately decides to take a little break from home, leaving the two boys with Araceli. Unwilling and ill-equipped to handle her two charges, Araceli takes off on an ill-advised adventure to downtown Los Angeles, where she hopes to deposit the boys with their grandfather. When the parents return home four days later (each thinking the other is already there) they reach the absurd conclusion that Araceli has absconded with their sons and the result is the predictable media circus.

Hector Tobar is at heart, a journalist, and his writing reflects his careful journalist's eye for detail. That is both the good news and the bad news.
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To say that I enjoyed reading "The Barbarian Nurseries" from the start would be grossly inaccurate. For the first few pages, I felt like the book was just going to be one let-down after the next - the shifting between character perspectives (all done in third person) felt awkwardly done in the first chapter and I had to grit my teeth to keep myself reading. But that was it. Once I got used to the way Héctor Tobar seamlessly (yes, seamlessly!) switched narrative, the experience was heightened into something beyond most books. Because "The Barbarian Nurseries" is one of the most enjoyable books I've read this year, one of the most interesting and challenging ones, as well as one of the best written.

From the early pages of "The Barbarian Nurseries", Tobar introduces a trio of different and somewhat confusing characters: Araceli the maid (who based on the book blurb would appear to be the primary character in this broad-scoped novel), Maureen the mother, and Scott the father. These three present themselves to the reader within the first chapter and perhaps it was this that had me frustrated. At the start, Tobar doesn't mind giving us somewhat stereotypical and bland figurines. The beauty of "The Barbarian Nurseries" kicks in once the characters begin to grow beyond their original sketch, once their thoughts and motives become clear. Gradually - and it does take some time - the reader is led to sympathize entirely with the mistakes each of our characters makes and learns to understand what makes these three tick. But they are not alone in making "The Barbarian Nurseries" a good book - far from it.
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