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The Barbarian Nurseries

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  3,085 ratings  ·  537 reviews
The great panoramic social novel that Los Angeles deserves—a twenty-first century, West Coast Bonfire of the Vanities by the only writer qualified to capture the city in all its glory and complexity

With The Barbarian Nurseries, Héctor Tobar gives our most misunderstood metropolis its great contemporary novel, taking us beyond the glimmer of Hollywood and deeper tha
Hardcover, 422 pages
Published September 27th 2011 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 2011)
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Average rating 3.68  · 
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Sep 08, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Mexican art students forced to clean house for stay-at-home moms with desert gardens
Let me be bold here: I think this book deserves to be a modern classic.

Not because it's the greatest book I've ever read. I liked it a lot, but it falls short of true greatness.

I am, however, comparing it to a lot of other classics I've read in the past few years, and in particular, the great melodramatic social commentaries like Bleak House, Mansfield Park, Middlemarch, North and South, Can You Forgive Her?, The Age of Innocence and so on.

Note that while I liked most of those books, I didn't lo
Jeanette (Ms. Feisty)
This lardful lump of language is heavy-handed and implausible. It took me nearly six weeks to finish, when it should have taken one to two weeks at most. Some days I could only read two or three pages. Not only is the story slow-moving and tedious, but the author's agenda is overpowering. Whenever he wants to be sure you get his point, he spells it out by putting it fully formed into the thoughts of one of the characters. I felt like I was constantly being bludgeoned with authorial intent.

The st
Nov 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Is it a river or a big ditch?

I loved this book. Tobar creates an accurate account of how people from different walks of life interact in Los Angeles and Orange County. I’ve lived here for over 30 years and his insights were startling but at the same time felt like home truths. Araceli Ramirez is an educated woman from Mexico City. She’s also in the States illegally and the only job she’s been able to get is as a housekeeper to an outwardly prosperous Irvine couple with two young boys, ages 9 and
Gary  the Bookworm
Jun 14, 2013 rated it really liked it

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos I took a break from reading Buddenbrooks, Thomas Mann's early 20th Century tome about the collapse of an German family, to read about a modern Californian family's demise. Because we live in a time of hyper-descent, it takes the Torres-Thompson family less than a decade to accomplish what Buddenbrooks did over three generations. This particular story concerns the fallout from economic malaise on the lives of a pampered family living in a gated community by the sea. Their stoic Mexican hou
switterbug (Betsey)
Jul 08, 2011 rated it it was ok
The upscale, LA gated community of the Torres-Thompson household has a breathtaking view of the ocean, and a lush tropical or semi-tropical garden maintained by Pepe the underpaid Mexicano gardener. Ironically, the elevation and climate of this suburban McMansion is really desert, so when the Torres-Thomspon household is forced to lay off Pepe due to personal financial problems, and Guadalupe, their underpaid Mexicana nanny, Scott Torres and Maureen Thomson are helpless with their tropical or se ...more
May 19, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
I was excited to read this book, as I started it during a weeklong trip to LA, and found it in a local bookstore. Finding this book fit in with the feeling I was having that LA was no less a foreign land than London where I'd been 2 weeks prior. Indeed, I have a sense of London's geography, social makeup and customs that I just don't have for LA's - partly because I've visited LA much more rarely, and partly because of books. I read reams upon reams of British fiction old and new, but when was t ...more
Jan 07, 2015 rated it it was ok
2.5 stars - It was alright, an average book.

At its core, this is a satirical analysis of the all too common misunderstandings and misconceptions that occur between different demographics. It is filled with characters that share with you their inner thoughts, and these hosts serve up plenty of racism, classism and sexism.

While I applaud the author's brazen ability to tackle controversial issues head on without sugar coating the more virulent and shameful behaviors of one man to another, the nove
Feb 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The complexity and the humor, that’s what I liked.
Each individual’s motivations, history, family, temperament were a fascinating interplay within the context of California/US immigration law and reality, racism, materialism and human striving.
Did the end surprise you too?
I had overwhelming feeling of dread in middle and had to go on hiatus for a few days. I couldn’t bear to read about Araceli crushed.
But she wasn’t crushed! Far from it, yet her freedom is only as long lived as the next Miga sto
Oct 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Is it a river or a big ditch?

I loved this book. Tobar creates an accurate account of how people from different walks of life interact in Los Angeles and Orange County. I’ve lived here for over 30 years and his insights were startling but at the same time felt like home truths. Araceli Ramirez is an educated woman from Mexico City. She’s also in the States illegally and the only job she’s been able to get is as a housekeeper to an outwardly prosperous Irvine couple with two young boys, ages 9 and
Oct 12, 2011 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
The major feat of Tobar's epic, sprawling, hot-mess of a novel is its ability to capture, I think, what it means to be from Southern California--in all the myriad ways that can mean now.

I don't think I can recall a contemporary novelist who is as humane or as forgiving of some of his seemingly very unforgivable characters. There really is so much to hate here and yet just as one feels one's self getting suitably outraged on behalf of the good guy or gal that same guy or gal does something remark
JS Found
Mar 14, 2013 rated it it was ok
This novel by a Latino novelist and reporter won the California Book Award for Fiction. It was named a best book of the year by the august New York Times Book Review, by the LA Times, the Boston Globe, and the San Francisco Chronicle, according to the book's back cover. It is a provocative look at the illegal immigrant experience in California, where, as in most of the U.S., there is a need for domestics and low-wage workers. It covers race, class, politics, poverty, and an ethnography of the ci ...more
Book Concierge
Audiobook performed by Frankie Alvarez

Scott Torres and his wife, Maureen Thompson, live in an ocean-view Spanish-style McMansion with their three children and a staff they can no longer afford. The gardener and nanny have already been let go when we meet Ariceli Ramirez, “the last Mexican standing” in the household – the last, that is, except for Senor Torres, who is only half-Mexican and doesn’t even speak Spanish. An argument over Maureen’s excessive spending leads to a brief physical altercat
Jan 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
I have to compare The Barbarian Nurseries to The Help. Both novels are about the inequities between the moneyed and their domestic servants and shine a light on the plight of those the majority opts to keep voiceless in society. And. I'll be honest I am not a big fan of the novel The Help.

We all know the story that The Help tells correct? Ok then moving on to The Barbarian Nurseries by HéctorTobar. In this contemporary novel the Torres-Thompson family of Los Angeles and their illegal Mexican hou
May 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
The Barbarian Nurseries is a huge book. Not in pages, but in conflicts and themes. Aricela, the Mexican illegal and her employers, the Torres-Thompson's are symbols of the great divide.
Hector Tobar plants these characters in a McMansion in arid, sun drenched California. The economy has changed and Scott Torres' investments have dried up in much the same way as the tropical garden in the back yard has. Scott Torres struggles with the lawn, his children, his wife, and his mortgage.
In an effort to
Berengaria di Rossi
This startlingly well-written novel offers up a tale in which everybody is not only a little wrong, but also a little right. And because nothing is ever as clear-cut as it seems, the lives of 3 people go to hell in a hand basket in the media chaos that ensues.

Themes: culture clash (US/Mexico), illegal immigration to California, immigrant communities, liberal privilege, class, the lives of modern servants, pressure groups, the unreliability of media and hearsay, and last but not least Orange Cou
Aug 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
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 wi
Apr 18, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: audio
Principally a book of Observations, more or less True I guess but largely Banal and in a great number of instances irrelevant to the story. I can't accept this is (as it describes itself) the great sweeping contemporary novel of LA - surely, SURELY, there is more to life there than this. The whole point seems to be to measure the misunderstandings and unbridgeable differences between the demographic groups - mainly the American start-up rich living in soulless and heartless affluence and their M ...more
Dickens writes about East L.A. and the richest parts of Orange County.

Here’s the storyline: Scott and Maureen did well enough in the dot-com world that they could afford three employees to take care of their children and mansion. But things are starting to fray. The gardener and nanny are let go. A fight about money goes too far. The next morning, each parent decides to take a time out for a day or two. Each one thinks the other one is home with their two boys.

But only Araceli, the cook, is wit
Aug 04, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
How disappointing, this book has a very interesting premise - what happens when two parents independently decide to leave at the same time and don't tell each other and on their return home their children are missing? It could have been a fascinating thriller. However it is anything but thrilling.

The interesting premise is smothered by bad execution: poor to non-existent characterisation, far too much exposition and a concentration on mundane detail, plus unnecessary use of untranslated Spanish
May 25, 2018 rated it liked it
This is an ambitious book which tries to capture the mercurial make-up of early 21st century Los Angeles and Orange County; the contradictions, the diversity, the frictions of the Southland. That is a pretty big subject, but I think it a lot of ways, Tobar nails it. The book opens with Mexican housekeeper Areceli observing her second generation Mexican-American boss, Scott Torres, try to mow his own lawn. Scott is a former millionaire whose liquid assets are rapidly depleting due to bad ...more
Oct 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
For the first time in awhile, I had to fight myself to do anything but read this book. An Orange County family, with a dad who works hard and a mom who is trying to be the best mom she can possibly be, has an incident that results in their two sons being left with the housekeeper/cook for 4 days. She panics and tries to take them to their grandfather, but doesn't realize that he no longer lives at the address she has. The parents panic (where did she take them? why? will she smuggle them to Mexi ...more
Two statements came to mind as I was reading this book:

1. If we could see ourselves as others see us.
2. Perception is reality.

Each character in this book was living thru the same set of events and perceiving it in his/her own way - according to life-experiences, preconceived ideas, culture, political agendas, etc.

The parallel lives of the monetarily successful husband and wife and their illegal alien "help" was fascinating, frustrating and often a bit too stereo-typical. The political bias of th
Nancy Oakes
I really didn't read this book, nor am I going to. Purging the shelves. If anyone in the US wants this book, I know I'm never going to read it, so it needs a new home. Brand new, signed copy, never read. I'll pay postage to whoever wants to adopt this book. ...more
Mar 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book really gets into the head of the young housekeeper and gets across many points , including how sad the family she works for is . I enjoy how the author expresses himself. It is a work of art
Oct 25, 2012 rated it it was ok
Story Description:

HarperCollins Publishers Ltd|September 20, 2011|Hardcover|ISBN: 978-1-44340-709-0

Scott Torres is a thirty-something Mexican American with a beautiful, blonde wife, Maureen; a mansion outside L.A.; and a staff of servants to tend his lawn, clean house and care for the three Torres children. As the novel opens, all the servants have been let go save for Araceli, their maid. Scott has fallen on hard times after a failed investment, and to make ends meet he has been forced to cut c
Dec 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
so 2018; even though written in 2011,
Two America's living in each other's shadow
Dec 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone

I read this wonderful novel simply because the author lives in Los Angeles. Hector Tobar, son of Guatemalan parents who immigrated to Los Angeles in the 1960s, is an LA Times columnist. The Barbarian Nurseries is his third book; his second novel. He has created a unique hybrid: a factual portrayal of a city and its immigration woes couched in fiction and driven by characters who surprised me at every turn.

Araceli is an undocumented Mexican immigrant working for an affluent family inside a gated
Apr 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
Truly, this book started out as dry and sometimes clipped, mostly, as in TC Boyle, and not just in Tortilla Curtain, and threatened the same sort of hopelessly mechanical drive to injustice, mostly for the heroine. Sometimes I was also surprised by the quick switches in point of view, although I could define the reasoning for most of them, but not always. I did not find myself getting lost in them, at least, but I'm an old hand at that. It is hard, however, for an author to do it and not lose tr ...more
The best book I have read in months and months.

Araceli, former Mexican university student and live-in housekeeper to the Torres-Thompson family of a wealthy Orange County gated enclave, suddenly finds herself the only hired help in the house when the gardener and nanny are both let go because of money problems.

Then, after a huge fight, both parents take off for a little "vacation". After 4 days alone with the 8- and 11-year-old boys, Araceli takes them to find their grandfather, armed with an ol
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Héctor Tobar, now a weekly columnist for the Los Angeles Times, is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and a novelist. He is the author of Translation Nation and The Tattooed Soldier. The son of Guatemalan immigrants, he is a native of the city of Los Angeles, where he lives with his wife and three children.

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  As the summer comes to a close and the days grow shorter, it's natural that we're drawn to what hides in the shadows. Mystery stories are...
36 likes · 4 comments
“Maybe innocence is a skin you must shed to build layers more resistant to the caustic truths of the world.” 4 likes
“She would speak her story in Spanish and la señora Maureen would tell hers in English; it was obvious to her that the two languages did not carry equal weight.” 3 likes
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