The Tortilla Curtain by T C Boyle – reviewed by 2nd Air Division Memorial Library

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.’

usa_mexico_border_03Published 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.

‘Tremendously written’

‘Absolutely brilliant book’

‘ Riveting’

‘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 writerOther books by this author include:

The Food Of Morocco by Paula Wolfert – review

 

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This scholarly book exploring the cuisine and culinary traditions of Morocco is the result of more than forty years of experience of world travel and gustatory exploration. Interspersed with glossaries of ingredients and techniques are essays about Morocco, its history and people.  The recipes are comprehensive and even easier to achieve now because of the wider availability of the ingredients; when we first bought this book, living in a large city with an expat population was a must. Wide margins make it a book for scribbling in, adding thoughts and comments – it invites this and is definitely a book to hand down as it deliberately ignores culinary fashions for hard core exploration and is the perfect companion to Wolfert’s classic, Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco.

PAULA WOLFERT, a resident of Sonoma in California, is the author of eight previously published cookbooks, all considered classics. Among them: Couscous and Other Good Food From MoroccoThe Cooking of Southwest France, and five books on Mediterranean cuisine including the much praised Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean. She has won the Julia Child Award three times, The James Beard Award five times, The M. F. K. Fisher AwardThe Tastemaker Award and been a finalist for the British Andre Simon Award. She is the creator of the open Facebook Moroccan Cooking Group, an invaluable source of support, enquiry and information.

Some of our favourite recipes in this book are the blood orange and almond lettuce salad which is redolent with the colours, tastes and scents of this magical country. The Berber Couscous for Spring is a perfect distillation of the early season bounty- Broad beans, Courgettes, Spring Chicken meat, Cinnamon, early Tomatoes and the first of the years cream as cows start giving milk again. Wolfert ensures we understand why certain ingredients are the herald of their season meaning these recipes earn a place in the home of the local and seasonal food lover.