Friday, June 19, 2009

Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle

I actually have been reading for the past few months, I just haven't been doing book reviews...

I read this book for my local library book club. As I've moved, that library isn't local anymore, so I am between book clubs at the moment.

I have never heard of the phrase "tortilla curtain;" I don't know if it is a common phrase or simply an apropos title for this book, but it sounds like it could be a popular phrase along the line of "glass ceiling."

In this novel, the reader follows two lives - that of a hippy writer kept by his uppity realtor wife and a Mexican couple seeking work on the U.S. side of the border. The contrast between these two American families could not be more clear, and what is most poignant is the reality that, outside of the book, these differences are not exaggerated. When these two lives intersect after a traffic incident, we read Dylaney's primarily inner conflict when liberalism faces racism and Candido's struggle when hope confronts disaster after disaster.

The petty obstacles present in Delaney's easy existence are manifest in his concerns with dinner parties and acceptance within his social circle, his wife Kyra's conflict over the sale of a massive property she covets for herself, while in contrast Candido faces poverty to the point of starvation and his wife, ironically named America (supposedly a land of hope and prosperity), is raped and beaten by - again, ironically - two other immigrants.

Converse to the families' differences, one point that stands out to me as I write this review is the similarity of the distance between the man and woman of both couples as each couple faces essentially the same struggle, one against an entire race of people, the other against racism.

Rich with symbolism and painfully engaging, Boyle's novel, though originally published over ten years ago, is a timely social statement about our attitudes and actions as a nation still mired in xenophobia, be it against people just over the border or somewhere in the Middle East. This is thoughtfully and thoroughly written, making for a read that will make you think thoroughly about your own position regarding peoples outside of your own culture. - 4 stars


hamilcar barca said...

welcome back, Amber!

this sounds like a great book. "T.C. Boyle" sounded vaguely familiar, and i finally remembered that one of the 2008 5-Squared contributors, John, reviewed a novel by him called Talk, Talk. John was similarly impressed by TCB.

Amber said...

Thanks for the welcome and info! I'll have to check that out.

Amanda said...

Yeah I thought that sounded familiar, too! I think I'm going to have to add this book to my TBR list. I'm sure it'll particularly poignant to me after growing up in San Antonio.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

this was one of my favorite books read several years ago.

Jena said...

I read this book a few years ago. I wasn't crazy about it, even though the characters and plot have proven extremely memorable, but I think a lot of that had to do with the ending. I didn't like that ending one bit.