Monday, May 01, 2006

A Series of Progressively More Painful Indignities

I recently read The Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle, a book seemingly written for these times, and by these times I mean the times where the immigration debate is on everyone's mind, with immigrants even marching in Burlington, VT, of all places. Actually the book was written in 1995, and is set in California, which is usually ahead of the rest of the U.S. in things like popular music, fashion, drugs, and racism toward Mexicans (I visited L.A. back in the 80's, and what struck me the most was how all the white people would speak disapprovingly and condescendingly of racism toward African-Americans in Indiana, then turn around and rant about 'beans', apparently completely oblivious to the irony of the conversation's turn. But this was before Alanis Morrisette brought the concept of irony to the masses.)

The novel revolves around two couples, well-off white liberals Delaney and Kyra, and immigrants Candido and America, who live in a camp in Topanga Canyon not far from the white folks' gated community. The book opens with Delaney striking Candido with his car, and Candido and America suffer a series of progressively more painful indignities as the book progresses, while Delaney's liberal ideals slowly (and Kyra's less slowly) unravel under the influence of paranoid and decidedly creepy upper-class neighbors.

As I've mentioned before, I'm fascinated with Mexico and its culture, so I found the book very interesting independently of the timeliness of the subject matter, and it is definitely worth reading (as is the other T.C. Boyle novel I've read, Drop City, in which a hippie commune self-destructs in a highly interesting way, in Alaska, of all places). It will give the reader a better understanding of what immigrants have to deal with, although I suspect people clamoring to round up all the illegals and ship them South of the Border might not be too inclined to give this book a chance.

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