The Tortilla Curtain by T. C. Boyle - Book Review

10/28/2010 04:54:00 PM

Title:  The Tortilla Curtain
Author:  T. C. Boyle
Publisher:  Penguin
Paperback, 368 pages
ISBN 10:  014023828X
ISBN 13:  9780140238280


  • Recipient of National or International Prize in Discipline, Prix Medicis Etranger, Paris, for best novel of the year
  • Audie Prize, 2007, for best audio narration by an author
From the back of the book:

Topanga Canyon is home to two couples on a collision course.  Los Angeles liberals Delaney and Kyra Mossbacher lead an ordered sushi-and-recycling existence in a newly gated hilltop community:  he a sensitive nature writer, she an obsessive realtor.  Mexican illegals Candido and America Rincon desperately cling to their vision of the American Dream as they fight off starvation in a makeshift camp deep in the ravine.  And from the moment a freak accident brings Candido and Delaney into intimate contact, these four and their opposing worlds gradually intersect in what becomes a tragicomedy of error and misunderstanding.

My Take:  I read this as part of my Banned Books Challenge.

First, I cannot really see why it would be banned.  There IS a rape that occurs, but it is not graphic and really plays into the larger issue of the novel. Maybe people don't like seeing themselves in Delaney and Kyra; that's all I can think of.

In a stunning social commentary that's as relevant today as it was when first published in 1995, T. C. Boyle takes us into the hardscrabble world of Candido and America, two illegal Mexican immigrants living off the land and their quest to simply find a place in this country.  They face unimaginable hardships and the basest of poverty, while Candido struggles to make a way for his family and feels that he is coming up woefully short.

Kyra and Delaney live a relatively tranquil life, cocooned from harsh realities until the day that Delaney hits a pedestrian on the road leading home, gives him a tiny amount of money, then leaves.

No matter what side of the immigration debate you are on, this is a must-read, as it offers the reader more than a glimpse into the motivation that causes many to make that treacherous trip across the border, the ways and means that illegal workers are taken advantage of, and the various ways people allow their views to be influenced by others.

Although there are some places where the writing seems to skim the surface, the stunning and heart-rending ending is enough on it's own to make it recommended reading.

Don't read this book if you are uncomfortable with maybe uncovering your own hidden prejudices; or if you think that all illegal immigrants and poor people deserve the hard lives they lead.

Sensitive Reader:  There is some profanity, and a non-graphic description of a rape. None of it is gratuitous or excessive.


A feeling like joy took hold of her, but it wasn't joy exactly or joy without limit -- she wouldn't feel that until she had a roof over her head.  But if Candido had work they'd have enough money to eat for a week, two weeks maybe, and if they could both find a job -- even every second day -- they could start saving for an apartment.

"Why should we be providing jobs for these people when we're looking at a ten percent unemployment rate right her in California -- and that's for citizens.  Furthermore, I'm willing to bet you'll see a big reduction in the crime rate once the thing's closed down.  And if that isn't enough of a reason, I'm sorry, but quite frankly I resent having to wade through them all every time I go to the post office.  No offense, but it's beginning to look like fucking Guadalajara or something down there."

Yes, he told her, yes, that's the way, and he was happy, as happy as he'd ever been, right up to the moment when the wind plucked the fire out of its bed of coals and with a roar as loud as all of the furnaces of hell set it dancing in the treetops.

BOOK RATING:  4.5 out of 5 stars 

Disclosure:  This is a review of my own personal copy.

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  1. I am glad to read a review of this book. The only Boyle book I have read is The Women, but I would like to read others, including this one.

  2. This topic of immigration will always be at the forefront, especially since the Wall was created between Mexico & US. I thought we were suppose to break the WALL, you'd think once the Berlin Wall came down people would realize the significance.

    Immigration is always tied to the dream of a better life but at times it is an illusion that gnaws the hopes of many in the third world countries. Sad statement on life when there are individuals who prey on the dreams of others by placing a "price tag" for the right to immigrate, be it legal or illegally.


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