Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle

In a confrontation that echoes the country's issues with immigration, two families in California face off.  Delany and Kyra Mossbacher are nice people, liberal and well-off and have all the recommended opinions.  They live in an expensive development.  Delany has family money so doesn't work.  He spends his time hiking the surrounding countryside and writing a series of nature columns.  Kyra is a driven realtor.  Together they have built a life that works for them.

Candido and America Rincon are not so lucky.  They are an unlikely couple to start with; Candido is thirty-three while America is seventeen.  Candido was married to her sister but when she left him, he wooed and won America and brought her with him over the border to build a life there.  They arrive completely broke; their only hope to work hard and build a life.  But work is hard to find.  They are reduced to living outside, camping in the country without adequate sanitation which in turn makes finding a job even harder.

The two families meet when Delaney hits Candido with his car by accident one day.  Rather than calling police or taking him to the doctor, Candido is easily bought off with twenty dollars although his injuries are so severe that he can barely move for days.  Delaney is troubled but knows in his heart it wasn't his problem and his friend insists it might have been a scam anyhow.  As the weeks go by, Delaney starts to change his liberal views as the immigrants start to affect his easy life.  Graffiti is found, thefts occur, the residents' daily routines are changed by the influx of men standing around waiting for work and soon the development gates and walls itself in.  As time goes on, more and more happens until attitudes change and confrontations occur.

Although this book was written in 1996, it still rings true more than twenty years ago.  It is the classic story of immigration and how it affects both those who come to another country and those who are already residents.  This book focuses on Hispanic immigration in the West but it could easily be written about any of the other ethnic groups that have come to our country and the difficulties they encounter as they try to make a life here.  It holds a mirror up in which those of us already here as citizens can see ourselves as we make decisions about how we will welcome these newcomers.  This book is recommended for readers of current affairs literature.

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