Friday, February 2, 2018

The Tortilla Curtain - T. C. Boyle

The Tortilla Curtain
Title: The Tortilla Curtain
Author: T. C. Boyle
Publication Date: 1995
Pages: 355
How I Found It: My book club is reading it.
Date Completed: 1/15/18

Summary: Boyle explores the contrasts between two couples living in California's Topanga Canyon. Delaney and Kyra are wealthy liberals who live in a gated community. Cándido and América are illegal immigrants living in the canyon and doing their best to survive and find work. 

What I Thought: This book broke my heart. I listened to it on audiobook as that was the only way it was available from my library and there were some parts that were just so hard to listen to. Boyle doesn't shy away from the grim realities and dangers of life as a defenseless undocumented immigrant. It wasn't even necessarily the violent moments that were the hardest - although they were very difficult - it was the blatant xenophobia and hypocrisy of the white characters. Of course, that's Boyle's point. 

This book reminded me a lot of The Book of Unknown Americans in the way they both humanize immigrants. I think it's easy for media or even literature to write stereotypes, but these authors show the emotional depth of what it means to be an immigrant. Their characters are flawed, but so relatable. My biggest struggle was realizing I have so very much more in common with the wealthy liberals than I do the immigrants. It makes sense, of course, but Boyle's brutal portrayal of their self-centered attitude felt like a wake-up call in a lot of ways - a reminder that we must do something to help those in need, not just talk about it as grandiose ideas and never actions. 

I interact with immigrants almost every day in my classroom, many of them undocumented. While I don't often see the level of desperation the immigrants in this story are facing, I cannot let myself that it doesn't exist simply because I'm not seeing it. I know there are students in my classroom who are hungry. I know there are students who are effectively homeless. I know there are students who fear deportation - either their own or that of family members. However, I don't often think about how those stresses are inevitably affecting their schoolwork. If nothing else, Boyle's work is a reminder that everyone is dealing with something and we should not assume the worst in people.Often the "least" among us are the most fervent in their selflessness and honesty. 

This is a hard read. Even though it is twenty years old at this point, it feels incredibly relevant. Perhaps even more so now in some ways. Yet, don't let that scare you off. It's an important book and how that will certainly help you few those around you - regardless of their nationality or socio-economic status - in a new light. I'm anxious to discuss it with my book club. We always have such heady discussions and I know this book will assuredly deliver a high level of discourse. 

Rating: ★★★★☆
Will I Re-Read: Doubtful

A Reduced Review: This is a sobering book; it casts a harsh light on the hypocrisy of one class of Americans and the desperation of another class. 

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