The Library blog is maintained by scholars at the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library and each month their book group reviews one book within it. This month our book group, Reading Across the Pond, read T.C. Boyle’s The Tortilla Curtain, a novel that tackles middle-class values, illegal immigration, xenophobia, poverty, the American Dream and entitlement.
What is the Tortilla Curtain? The Tortilla Curtain references both the physical wall, or border, between Mexico and the United States and the cultural wall or division between the people of these two nations. The novel follows two couples: Delaney and Kyra Mossbacher, a white upper-middle class liberal couple who live in a gated community on the outskirts of Los Angeles; and Cándido and America Rincón, two Mexican illegal immigrants in desperate search of work, food and shelter. A car accident brings Cándido and Delaney into intimate contact and their opposing worlds gradually intersect in what becomes a tragicomedy of error and misunderstanding.
With the narrative voice switching with each chapter, the novel forces its readers to engage with a variety—and sometimes conflicting—perspectives. This adds to the complexity of the book and the complexity of the issues within the book. As one member said, ‘the book forces you to see yourself from very different perspectives—sometimes painfully so.’
Published in 1994 at the height of the U.S.’s militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border, Boyle’s book poignantly demonstrates the sometimes inconsistent demands for citizenship rights and human rights and the often emotional reactions towards immigration and immigrant communities. For many of our book group readers, Boyle’s novel unveils the ‘hypocrisy of the American Dream’, ‘the impossible immigrant experience’ and the criminalization of desperation: ‘Mexicans don’t get the chance to experience the American Dream.’
Though written in an American context, many of our readers felt there were ‘many parallels with contemporary thinking in Britain’ vis-á-vis immigration. Truth be told the book–despite being twenty years old—continues to hold contemporary resonance within the United States as well.
For these reasons and many more, T.C. Boyle’s The Tortilla Curtain sparked a very thoughtful and emotive discussion for our book group readers and as a result the book comes highly recommended; it has been one of the group’s favorite books this year and many have been encouraged to read more of Boyle’s work.
‘Absolutely brilliant book’
‘Evidence of a great writer, strong character development and very tense’
You can borrow a copy of T.C. Boyle’s The Tortilla Curtain from your local Norfolk Library. Check the catalog and put in your requests here.
T.C. Boyle is an American novelist and short story writer. Other books by this author include:
- Water Music (1982)
- Budding Prospects (1984)
- World’s End (1987)
- East Is East (1990)
- The Road to Wellville (1993)
- The Tortilla Curtain (1995)
- Riven Rock (1998)
- A Friend of the Earth (2000)
- Drop City (2003)
- The Inner Circle (2004)
- Talk Talk (2006)
- The Women (2009)
- When the Killing’s Done (2011)
- San Miguel (2012)
- The Harder They Come (2014)