Michelle's Reviews > The Barbarian Nurseries

The Barbarian Nurseries by Héctor Tobar
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Feb 28, 12

bookshelves: 2012, contemporary-fiction, social-commentary
Read from February 24 to 28, 2012

This is one of the most page-turning works of “literary fiction” I’ve ever read. It’s been pitched as a modern-day, Southern California version of The Help. I didn’t see the connection other than, you know, the help. This is far superior and a must-read for anyone who lives in this area. I think beyond that, too, but I can’t say for sure if this resonated for me more because I live and grew up in San Diego.

There’s so much going on that I can’t really address all of it in my review. I loved the shifting viewpoints (doesn’t always work, here it’s crucial), the work/life malaise, the desert garden and everything surrounding it. The dichotomy of the Orange County conservatism pocketed inside a liberal state is perfectly executed. The characters are often selfish, yet even at their most heinous the reader can understand where they’re coming from.

The only thing that prevented this from being 5 stars is I didn’t feel I knew Araceli all that well. She is a very emotionally remote character. Maybe that was the point. It definitely makes what happens (the “turning point”) seem all the more “what the f***”? But she is a sympathetic character because of what happens, not because I felt particularly attached to her. I thought it was interesting the author chose this particularly version of household “help” to center the story around. She has no deep bond with the children and only barely knows them. This, of course, makes the "stranger in a strange land" theme all the more compelling.

All in a fabulous work and well deserving of all its positive reviews.
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