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Thewanderingjew

Thewanderingjew

The Barbarian Nurseries: A Novel

The Barbarian Nurseries: A Novel - Héctor Tobar When I turned the last page I had to stop and think, what is this book really about? I decided it was about three things: freedom, justice, and immigration. It is about the freedom to move about, the freedom to make one’s own decisions, the freedom to live wherever one wants, the freedom to have ideas and speak one’s mind, the freedom to cross all kinds of borders. It is about right and wrong, fear and courage, comprehension and misapprehension, deception and clarity, lying and telling the truth and how all of these basic ideas affect the idea of justice and injustice in a free society in which immigrants and citizens live side by side.|
The Torres-Thompson family lives in an upscale neighborhood with all the amenities of people with money. At one time they had several people working for them full time, but because of a shift in their financial status, Scott and Maureen have had to economize. When the story begins, Araceli, the Mexican housekeeper, is lamenting the absence of her fellow employees. They have succumbed to the consequences of the belt tightening. All of the work, child care included, now falls upon Araceli’s shoulders without so much as an offer of additional pay because, essentially, Araceli is invisible to them except in the performance of her duties and is taken completely for granted. They take no interest in her life. She is there to serve their needs and none of hers are considered or recognized. She, however, silently seems to judge them in their lifestyles in her thoughts and comments to herself. There is resentment on both sides. Often the author makes her behavior and values seem superior to theirs, which defies the reality of her situation since she is employed by them, and in all ways, except her thoughts, she is the underling.
Maureen Thompson does not seem to understand the gravity of their situation and still spends money extravagantly. Scott Torres begins to lose his self confidence and worries about how he will be able to continue to provide for his family. Both seem immature and irresponsible. After a particularly aggressive argument, Scott loses his temper and does something out of character; Maureen leaves with her youngest child, Samantha, and does not return for four days. She believes she is leaving her two sons, Keenan and Brandon, in her husband’s care. However, he leaves earlier than she does and neither has any idea that both boys have been left alone, in the care of Araceli, who is not a nanny and has no desire to take on that responsibility. It has been foisted upon her, unwillingly, without her knowledge. Through a series of missteps, both Maureen and Scott have drawn false conclusions, and have abandoned their children.
When Araceli finds out that she is the only one home with the boys, she tries to call their parents, but neither answers their phone. She does the best she can for the first couple of days, but after that, not knowing where the parents have gone or for how long they will be away, and not wanting to have the children placed in foster care, and not wanting to arouse immigration about her illegal status, she decides not to call the police, but instead, sets out with the boys to try and find their grandfather from the only address she has for him, written on the back of a boyhood photo taken many years ago. Not assimilated in America, she is naïve and makes many foolish decisions based on false assumptions. The self-serving Torres-Thompsons make just as many, and they are acquainted with their environment. The ramifications of their incredibly irresponsible behavior, is the basis for this story, and it often plays out in a tortuous fashion.
All of the injustices perpetrated upon the main characters by political spotlight seekers, crazed fanatics on both the left and the right, media moguls looking for a scoop, merge together to produce a horror story of injustice for all. Are there no groups that follow common sense, rather than their own cause, without jumping to false conclusions which support their anger or sense of injustice regardless of its right or wrongness? When truth no longer is of the highest value, when it is the underling to self serving “on the fringe” individuals, how can you have anything but chaos? When people are afraid, they won’t come out of their box to defend the defenseless, but they will watch as they are abused by those stronger, those less ruled by ethical or moral judgments, watch as those governed by their own perceived need for success, regardless of whether or not justice is served, try to take over and wield power through the manipulation of facts. Often, it was the innocent thoughts of the children that rose above the fray and enlightened the reader to the stereotypical beliefs and biases which seemed to shape the characters, rather than the adult conclusions and behavior. Perception was often lacking and honest appraisals of the situation were instead colored by personal grudges and backgrounds.
In the end, I was disappointed. Stupidity continued to reign throughout. Only the scene changed. Nothing was learned, the comedy of errors and circus atmosphere continued. I found the use of foreign phrases distracting and often confusing. I wondered if the author was trying to show the futility of the situation by giving the main characters the name Torres-Thompson instead of Thompson-Torres, since Torres is the husband’s last name. Was it a subtle reminder that to be Mexican in America was a negative image even as he portrayed the Mexican as having the better moral sense, the upper hand and the last laugh? Could there actually ever be such a series of misunderstandings and false conclusions leading to such disastrous consequences?
This is not a quick read. It raises so many questions about civil rights, bias and prejudice, illegal aliens, unreal expectations of immigrants, the rights of workers, the abuse of the poor by the rich which leads to the abuse of their employees, the efficacy of our justice system and child welfare programs. This book has a social message, which seems to follow more liberal ideas. In some ways, the characters are caricatures of real people, stereotypes of the worst kind of adult and parent, irresponsible and immature, selfish, stupid, greedy and egotistic, who run from responsibility and each other to prove they were right when right and wrong had nothing to do with their problems. They were childish, expressing hostility instead of behaving rationally. The book made me angry for four reasons, one because it is overdone in its portrayal of selfish, ignorant Causcasians, and two because it is overdone in its portrayal of the Mexican émigré as the only deserving character, and three because it is decidedly left leaning and four, because the characters are totally hateful. It is only in the end that some of the characters seem to realize the folly of their ways and recognize the injustices they have enabled. The story seemed a bit lopsided.
The author presents his own bias by assuming that those on the left are pretty much only guilty of over-reactions in their need to defend the defenseless, and perhaps guilty of political greed and fifteen minutes of fame, while those on the right are guilty of far more serious behaviors of arrogance, anger, hatefulness and financial greed at the expense of those who are far less fortunate, without regard to consequences which are often deadly. It is not that simple, nor is it accurate.
The book reminds me somewhat of the movie Babel, in which another Mexican maid is unjustly accused of kidnapping the children in her care when the parents are unable to return in time for her to attend her own son’s wedding, forcing her to take those children with her to Mexico for the event.
Two opposite conclusions can be drawn from this book: 1) to Americans, Mexicans are objects to be used, not minds to be explored (the Mexicans think they are better than the Americans think they are); 2) to the Mexicans, the Americans or America is an object to be used, not explored. Two sides of the same coin perhaps coexist and serve no positive purpose at the present time.