The Tortilla Curtain (Turtleback School & Library Binding Edition)

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Overview

FOR USE IN SCHOOLS AND LIBRARIES ONLY. .
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Go tell it in the valley: Boyle's newest novel is, according to the publicist, "a timely, provocative account" of immigration in central California. With a 100,000-copy first printing and a 25-city tour, you know the publisher expects this book to be big.
Janet St. John
PEN/Faulkner award winner and author of various novels, including "The Road to Wellville" (1993), Boyle avoids any potential pitfall of his prior achievement by veering in another direction and seriously examining social and political issues in this timely novel. He establishes an obvious dichotomy by interweaving the scrapping, makeshift, in-the-present lives of illegal aliens Candido and America Rincon with the politically correct, suburban, plan-for-the-future existence of wealthy Americans Delaney and Kyra Mossbacher. The Rincons' lives, though full of fear and hardship, contain far more passion and endurance than the Mossbachers' mundane and materialistic lifestyles. An initial, pivotal car accident briefly unites, and ultimately separates, Delaney and Candido, provoking question after question concerning immigration, unemployment, discrimination, and social responsibility. Surprisingly, Boyle manages to address these issues in a nonjudgmental fashion, depicting the vast inequity in these parallel existences. This highly engaging story subtly plays on our consciences, forcing us to form, confirm, or dispute social, political, and moral viewpoints. This is a profound and tragic tale, one that exposes not only a failed American Dream, but a failing America.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780613656344
  • Publisher: Demco Media
  • Publication date: 7/1/2003
  • Format: Library Binding
  • Edition description: THIS EDITION IS INTENDED FOR USE IN SCHOOLS AND LIBRARIES ONLY
  • Pages: 355
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

T. Coraghessan Boyle
Since the 1980s, T. Coraghessan Boyle has been challenging readers with a smart, surreal style that manages to satirize America's past, present and future all at once. As Barbara Kingsolver wrote of him, "What Boyle does, and does well, is lay on the line our national cult of hypocrisy."

Biography

In the interest of time and space, it might be easier to note the writers that T. C. Boyle isn't compared to. But let's give the reverse a try: Donald Barthelme, John Barth, Thomas Pynchon, Evelyn Waugh, Franz Kafka, James Joyce, Kingsley Amis, Thomas Berger, Robert Coover, Lorrie Moore, Stanley Elkin, Tom Robbins, Tom Wolfe, Hunter S. Thompson, Don DeLillo, Flannery O'Connor.

Oh, let's not forget F. Lee Bailey. And Dr. Seuss.

Boyle, widely admired for his acrobatic verbal skill, wild narratives and quirky characters (in one short story, he imagines a love affair between Dwight Eisenhower and Nikita Khrushchev's wife), has dazzled critics since his first novel in 1981.

Consider this example, from Larry McCaffery in a 1985 article for The New York Times: "Beneath its surface play, erudition and sheer storytelling power, his fiction also presents a disturbing and convincing critique of an American society so jaded with sensationalized images and plasticized excess that nothing stirs its spirit anymore.... It is into this world that Mr. Boyle projects his heroes, who are typically lusty, exuberant dreamers whose wildly inflated ambitions lead them into a series of hilarious, often disastrous adventures."

But as much as critics will bow at his linguistic gifts, some also knock him for resting on them a bit too heavily, hinting that the impressive showmanship attempts to hide a shortage of depth and substance.

Craig Seligman, writing in The New Republic in 1993, pointed out that "Boyle loves a mess. He loves chaos. He loves marshes and jungles, and he loves the jungle of language: luxuriant sentences overgrown with lianas of lists, sesquipedalian words hanging down like rare fruits. For all its exoticism, though, his prose is lucid to the point of transparency. It doesn't require much deeper concentration than a good newspaper (though it does require a dictionary)."

Reviewing The Tortilla Curtain in 1995, New York Times critic Scott Spencer scratched his head over why Boyle had invited readers along for this particular ride: "Mr. Boyle's fictional strategy is puzzling. Why are we being asked to follow the fates of characters for whom he clearly feels such contempt? Not surprisingly, this is ultimately off-putting. Perhaps Mr. Boyle has received too much praise for his zany sense of humor; in this book, that wit often seems merely a maddening volley of cheap shots. It's like living next door to a gun nut who spends all day and half the night shooting at beer bottles."

Growing up, Boyle had no aspirations to be a writer. It wasn't until his studies at State University of New York, where he as a music student, that he bumped into his muse. "I went there to be a music major but found I really couldn't hack that at the age of 17," he told The Writer in 1999. "I just started to read outside my classes -- literature and history. I wound up being a history and English major; when I wandered into a creative writing class as a junior, I realized that writing was what I could do."

He then started teaching, in part to avoid getting drafted into the Vietnam War, and later applied to the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop.

After a collection of short stories in 1979, he released his first novel, Water Music, called "pitiless and brilliant" by The New Republic, and has shuttled back and forth between novels and short stories, all known for their explosions of character imagination. Mr. Boyle's literary sensibility ... thrives on excess, profusion, pushing past the limits of good taste to comic extremes," McCaffery wrote in his 1985 New York Times piece. "He is a master of rendering the grotesque details of the rot, decay and sleaze of a society up to its ears in K Mart oil cans, Kitty Litter and the rusted skeletons of abandoned cars and refrigerators."

In his review of Drop City, the 2003 novel set in California commune that won Boyle a National Book Award nomination, Dwight Garner joins the chorus of critical acclaim over the years – "Boyle has always been a fiendishly talented writer" – but he also acknowledges some of the criticism that Boyle has faced in these same years.

"The rap against Boyle's work has long been that he's a sort of madcap predator drone, raining down hard nuggets of contempt, sarcasm and bitter humor on the poor men and women in his books while rarely giving us characters we're actually persuaded to feel anything about," he wrote. "This is partly a bum rap -- and I'd hate to knock contempt, sarcasm and bitter humor -- but there's enough truth in it that it's a joy to find, in Drop City that Boyle gives us a lot more than simply a line of bong-addled innocents led to slaughter."

But perhaps the neatest summary of Boyle's work would be from Lorrie Moore, one of the novelists to which he has been compared. In a 1994 New York Times review of Boyle's short story collection Without a Hero, she praised Boyle's "astonishing and characteristic verve, his unaverted gaze, his fascination with everything lunatic and queasy."

"God knows, Mr. Boyle can write like an angel," she continues later, "if at times a caustic, gum-chewing one. And in this strong, varied collection maybe we have what we'd hope to find in heaven itself (by the time we begged our way there): no lessening of brilliance, plus a couple of laughs to mitigate all that high and distant sighing over what goes on below."

Good To Know

Boyle changed his middle name from John to Coraghessan (pronounced "kuh-RAGG-issun") when he was 17.

He is known almost as much for his ego as his writing. "Each book I put out, I think, 'Goodbye, Updike and Mailer, forget it," The New Republic quoted him as saying. "I joke at Viking that I'm going to make them forget the name of Stephen King forever, I'm going to sell so many copies.

Boyle's philosophy on reading and writing, as told to The Writer: "Good literature is a living, brilliant, great thing that speaks to you on an individual and personal level. You're the reader. I think the essence of it is telling a story. It's entertainment. It's not something to be taught in a classroom, necessarily. To be alive and be good, it has to be a good story that grabs you by the nose and doesn't let you go till The End."

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    1. Also Known As:
      T.C. Boyle
    2. Hometown:
      Santa Barbara California
    1. Date of Birth:
      December 2, 1948
    2. Place of Birth:
      Peekskill, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A. in music, State University of New York at Potsdam, 1970; Ph.D. in literature, Iowa University, 1977
    2. Website:

Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION

In this explosive and timely novel, T. Coraghessan Boyle explores an issue that is at the forefront of the political arena. He confronts the controversy over illegal immigration head-on, illuminating through a poignant, gripping story the people on both sides of the issue, the haves and the have-nots.

ABOUT THE TITLE

In Southern California's Topanga Canyon, two couples live in close proximity and yet are worlds apart. High atop a hill overlooking the canyon, nature writer Delaney Mossbacher and his wife, real estate agent Kyra Menaker-Mossbacher, reside in an exclusive, secluded housing development with their son, Jordan. The Mossbachers are agnostic liberals with a passion for recycling and fitness. Camped out in a ravine at the bottom of the canyon are C·ndido and AmÈrica RincÛn, a Mexican couple who have crossed the border illegally. On the edge of starvation, they search desperately for work in the hope of moving into an apartment before their baby is born. They cling to their vision of the American dream, which, no matter how hard they try to achieve it, manages to elude their grasp at every turn.

A chance, violent encounter brings together Delaney and C·ndido, instigating a chain of events that eventually culminates in a harrowing confrontation. The novel shifts back and forth between the two couples, giving voice to each of the four main characters as their lives become inextricably intertwined and their worlds collide. The RincÛns' search for the American dream, and the Mossbachers' attempts to protect it, comprise the heart of the story. In scenes that are alternately comic, frightening, and satirical, but always all "too real," Boyle confronts not only immigration but social consciousness, environmental awareness, crime, and unemployment in a tale that raises the curtain on the dark side of the American dream.

The United States and Immigration

The debate over immigration continues to escalate across the nation, particularly in California, and this sampling of quotations and statistics from various newspapers and magazines sheds light on the issue.

  • History suggests that those who truly yearn to come to America and stay will find a way to do it. (Newsweek, August 9, 1993)
  • In November 1994, California passed by a 59% to 41% vote Proposition 187, a bill that denies certain social privileges, mainly welfare, public schooling, and non-emergency medical care, to illegal immigrants. (The New York Times, November 11, 1994)
  • California hosts about 40% of the nation's estimated 3.4 million illegal immigrants. (Time, November 21, 1994)
  • "All Americans...are rightly disturbed by the large numbers of illegal aliens entering our country.... We are a nation of immigrants, but we are also a nation of laws. It is wrong and ultimately self-defeating for a nation of immigrants to permit the kind of abuse of our immigration laws we have seen in recent years, and we must do more to stop it." (President Clinton, "We Heard America Shouting," Address to Joint Session of Congress, January 25, 1995)
  • "Our immigration policy is a measure of who we are as a people. I believe we are a people who draw strength from our diversity and meet our challenges head on. I believe we want and deserve immigration laws that favor those who play by the rules." (Bill Bradley, former U.S. Senator, New Jersey, The New Jersey Record, June 8, 1995)
  • About 800,000 people follow the rules and enter the United States legally as immigrants each year. An additional 200,000 to 300,000 come to the country illegally. (San Francisco Chronicle, December 5, 1995)
  • Half of illegal immigrants do not cross the borders unlawfully--they enter legally and overstay their visas. (San Francisco Chronicle, March 18, 1996)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

T. Coraghessan Boyle was born in 1948 and grew up in Peekskill, New York. He is a graduate of the State University of New York at Potsdam, and received his doctorate in nineteenth-century English literature from the University of Iowa in 1977. Since 1977, Boyle has taught creative writing at the University of Southern California. While in college, Boyle exchanged his middle name, John, for the unusual Coraghessan, the name of one of his Irish ancestors.

Boyle is the author of Descent of Man (1979), Water Music (1982), Budding Prospects (1984), Greasy Lake (1985), World's End (1987, winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction), If the River Was Whiskey (1989), East Is East (1990), The Road to Wellville (1993), which was made into a movie starring Anthony Hopkins, and Without a Hero (1994). His work has appeared in major American magazines, including The New Yorker, Esquire, Harper's, The Paris Review, and The Atlantic Monthly. Boyle lives with his wife, Karen, and their three children near Santa Barbara, California, in a house designed in 1909 by the architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

AUTHOR INTERVIEW

A Process of Discovery: A conversation with T. Coraghessan Boyle

Q: What is the significance of the title of the book?

A: The title comes from a common phrase for the Mexican border, the tortilla curtain, and I envision it in this way. We have the Iron Curtain, which as an image is impenetrable. You picture this wall across Eastern Europe. Then we have the Bamboo Curtain with regard to China. As I see it, that isn't quite as impenetrable as an iron curtain. It shatters easily and has gaps in it. It's not uniform. And now we have the Tortilla Curtain, which is the opposite of impregnable. It's three strips of barbed wire with some limp tortillas hanging on it. The central question of this, and of the images of walls that appear throughout the book--the walls, the gates, walling people out, what do you wall in, all of that--has to do with us as a species and who owns what. Do you really own your own property? Do you have a right to fence people out? Do we have an obligation to assist people who come over that border, that wall, that gate? How is it that Americans are allowed to have this incredible standard of living while others do not? All of these questions, I think, are wrapped up in my view of our debate over immigration.

Q: What is your view on immigration?

A: I feel that, on the one hand, we do have a right to be a sovereign nation and to protect our borders. Illegal immigration makes a mockery of legal immigration, and no other country in the world allows this sort of thing to happen. On the other hand, what I object to even more than that is this kind of demonizing of a whole race and class of people, as in considering all Mexicans, all Guatemalans, all Salvadorans to be bad because they're invading our country as impoverished and ignorant individuals. The final gesture of the book, I think, shows you that we are one species and we do have to understand and appreciate that fact despite ethnic and national differences. But it's a small gesture because I think that it's a very, very complex issue that people have to work towards answering.

Q: As an epigraph to the book you use a quotation from The Grapes of Wrath. Did you have John Steinbeck's novel in mind when you wrote The Tortilla Curtain?

A: I'm not trying to re-write Steinbeck in any way. I chose the epigraph from him because I wanted to see how the ethos of the 1930s, and the traditional liberal ethos of providing for everybody, is applied to today.

Q: The book is essentially set in your own backyard. Did this prompt you to write it? Did the proposal and passing of Proposition 187 (a bill passed in California that denies certain social benefits to illegal immigrants) factor in?

A: The book was somewhat misunderstood because it came out after the 187 vote, and people attacked the book or enjoyed it based on their own perspective. The book was actually conceived and written prior to Proposition 187's even being drafted, and I think it came from the fact that I lived in Los Angeles for sixteen years. Reading about immigration in the newspaper every day and talking to people at parties like the ones that Delaney and Kyra give, I began to get a sense of something brewing that was akin to what happened here in Steinbeck's day, but had the added element that the Okies of today are not American citizens and they're of a different race.

Q: Do you see The Tortilla Curtain as a political novel?

A: I think obviously people will want to talk about 187, and the campaign to draft a national bill like 187, but this book isn't a political novel in the sense that it takes a position and is meant to have people agree or disagree with that position. It's political in a different sense. I don't think political novels work because they have "an ax to grind." If you have "an ax to grind," then you have to sacrifice aesthetics and the discovery of the book in order to make your point or to make people join your party or to see your point of view. I write a book like The Tortilla Curtain from having lived here and picked up on everything going on that finally resulted in 187, and from trying to sort out my own feelings. I don't have a position when I begin a book, any book. I write in order to put some hypothetical elements together and see what will happen. I don't know what's going to happen even chapter by chapter, and I don't know what's going to happen at the end of the book. That's a process of discovery, which is why I write novels rather than, let's say, a polemic, to discover how I feel about the issues, but particularly about this issue.

Q: Critics and readers on both sides of the immigration issue had mixed reactions to The Tortilla Curtain. Why do you think the book generated so much controversy?

A: I'm not presenting any answers, and I think that's why the book was very controversial. People want a polemic. They want to raise their fist in the air and say, "Yes, you're on our side." Well, I'm not on your side. I am presenting a fable, a fiction, so that you can judge for yourself. A lot of people simply read the book and flew off the handle because it either accords with what they want it to or it doesn't. People want things to be very clear-cut. Here's the issue and here's how I stand on it. But I think it's much more complex. I think it has to do with biology. You may notice that Delaney is a nature writer. Well, nature writers are generally very liberal, even radically liberal on all issues except one--the issue of immigration, on which they are more reactionary than anyone. The reason for this is they argue that there are six billion people on the planet now, and who is the enemy of the environment? Who is the enemy of clean air, clean water, all the dwindling animal species? Well, it's us. Us, human beings. Our species. And this is an element of the book which is very important and has been overlooked. There is this population pressure on the world in all the industrial nations, not simply the United States. England, Germany, and France all have huge influxes of immigrants, and I'm wondering, what does this mean and how are people going to deal with it? I think ultimately, as you see in The Tortilla Curtain, it may simply exacerbate racist tendencies.

Q: What research did you do to prepare for the writing of The Tortilla Curtain?

A: It may sound silly, but I've always felt an affection for Mexico and Mexican culture. I grew up in New York, as you may know, and the language I studied from eighth grade on was Spanish. In fact, the only language I can speak besides English is Spanish. I've always been attracted to the culture, and even before I moved to California I had traveled in Mexico and Central America. When I decided to write this book, I knew that I had to see one thing only. And that was the fence at the border. So I went back to Tijuana, where I hadn't been for some years, and spent the day there. I talked to people. I walked along the fence. I saw people waiting to climb over the fence with little plastic bags with everything they owned in them. I saw the border guards eyeing me suspiciously from the other side. I saw the huge fence the U.S. is building out into the water, and so on, just to get a feel for that again and see what it's like. And it's a real war zone, it's a real disaster, Tijuana, let me tell you.

Q: The search for the American dream is a theme that resounds throughout The Tortilla Curtain. Do you think there is such a thing as the American dream?

A: I've addressed this throughout all of my work, our material obsession, all the stuff I've written about eating and how much we have and the surfeit of things; my story "Filthy with Things," for instance. What is the American dream? Well, the American dream is, "you pull yourself up by your bootstraps, you make it, you have a house, you live in the suburbs, and you drive a new car." What is that? That is a material dream. If you have nothing, then you have material dreams. Presumably, if you have an education and you have enough to eat, then you can have aesthetic dreams or humanistic dreams. Easy for me to say. I have every material thing I could want. I didn't become a writer to make money. I became a writer because that is my obsession and that's how I view the world. As a novelist, my job is to try to inhabit people of any culture, to be a person of another sex, or another race, or another ethnic group. I think it helps me to understand them, and it helps the reader to understand them, too.

Q: What writers do you admire? Have any of them influenced your work?

A: I admire hundreds of writers of the past and present and many, many of them have influenced my work. A writer who has influenced me with regard to this type of book is Steinbeck because I'm re-examining his ethos, as we said. In terms of satire, people like Flannery O'Connor and Evelyn Waugh have been influential on me, writers who are sort of angry about the way things are happening in society, and so they hold up certain behaviors to ridicule.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I'm working on a historical novel entitled Riven Rock about the psychopathology of love. It's set in my new hometown of Santa Barbara, and it deals with actual historical figures. The story centers around Stanley McCormick, the son of the man who invented the reaper, and his wife, Katherine Dexter. It's quite a wonderful and extraordinary love story.

PRAISE

"Succeeds in stealing the front page news and bringing it home to the great American tradition of the social novel." - The Boston Globe

"Lays on the line our national cult of hypocrisy. Comically and painfully he details the smug wastefulness of the haves and the vile misery of the have-nots." - Barbara Kingsolver, The Nation

"A compelling story of myopic misunderstanding and mutual tragedy. - Chicago Tribune

"Boyle is still America's most imaginative contemporary novelist." - Newsweek

"The Tortilla Curtain qualifies as that rarest of artistic achievements--a truly necessary book." - The San Diego Union-Tribune

"Weaving social commentary into moving entertaining fiction is a job few writers can handle. Boyle does so here, admirably. Readers should not miss this latest work from an impressive talent.... Many generations of great satirists come to mind when reading it--from Swift to Twain to Waugh to Woody Allen." - The Baltimore Sun

"A Grapes of Wrath for the 1990s." -

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. At the beginning of the story, Delaney accidentally hits C·ndido with his car. "For a long moment, they stood there, examining each other, unwitting perpetrator and unwitting victim." How does this encounter set the tone for the events that follow? Does it come full circle in the final scene?
  2. The novel is forged on the cultural, social, and financial differences between the Mossbachers and the RincÛns. It alternates between the two couples' points of view, allowing the reader to enter the lives of both families. How does this technique propel the story? Do you feel that you got to know each of the couples equally well? Was the author fair in his portrayal
  3. of each of the couples? Is he too harsh in his portrayal of the Mossbachers, as one reviewer suggested?
  4. C·ndido and AmÈrica crossed the border in search of a better life for themselves and their unborn child. They do not ask for much and are willing to work hard, yet they are constantly met with resistance and failure. There are numerous references to C·ndido's bad luck. Is he unlucky? Is there anything he could have done to have changed his luck? What does this story say about the American dream?
  5. The symbol of the coyote appears throughout the novel and represents illegal Mexican immigrants. In his nature column, Delaney writes, "The coyote is not to blame--he is only trying to survive, to make a living, to take advantage of the opportunities available to him." He concludes the same column by writing, "The coyotes keep coming, breeding up to fill in the gaps, moving in where the living is easy. They are cunning, versatile, hungry and unstoppable." How do these passages reflect Delaney's mixed feelings about illegal immigrants? Is he a hypocrite? As the novel progresses, Delaney's humanistic beliefs give way to racism and resentment, and he directs his rage at all illegal immigrants onto C·ndido. When confronted with evidence that C·ndido is not the vandal at Arroyo Blanco, he destroys it. Why does Delaney need to believe that the vandal is C·ndido? How does Delaney evolve from being a "liberal humanist" to a racist?
  6. Boundaries--both real and imagined--play a large role in the novel, especially the front gate at Arroyo Blanco Estates. In what other instances do boundaries appear and what do they represent? What roles do the different characters play in constructing these boundaries?
  7. In a recent interview Boyle stated, "If it's satire, it has to bite somebody, has to have teeth in it, otherwise it's useless." How does satire affect The Tortilla Curtain and the telling of the story? Is it a successful technique?
  8. The novel concludes with Delaney confronting C·ndido with a gun, followed by a mud slide. In an almost simultaneous moment, C·ndido realizes his baby is missing and reaches down to offer Delaney a hand. One is a frightening image and the other an act of generosity. How do these contrasting images play off one another? Did the conclusion leave you with a feeling of hope or despair?
  9. During an argument with Jack Jardine, Delaney makes the following statement: "Do you realize what you're saying? Immigrants are the lifeblood of this country--and neither of us would be standing here today if it wasn't." In another instance, Jack says to Delaney, "What do you expect, when all you bleeding hearts want to invite the whole world in here to feed at our trough without a thought as to who's going to pay for it, as if the American taxpayer was like Jesus Christ with his loaves and fishes." How do these two sentiments play out in the novel and in the larger issue of immigration?
  10. The author stated in the Conversation section of this guide that he feels it is a novelist's job to inhabit people of other races and sexes, for his own understanding of an issue as well as for the reader's. Did The Tortilla Curtain help you to better understand the issue of immigration and the people involved?
  11. The author does not offer a solution to the problem of illegal immigration, for which he was praised by several reviewers. Do you think he should have offered a solution?

RELATED TITLES

If you enjoyed The Tortilla Curtain, you'll want to read these other works by T. Coraghessan Boyle, all available from Penguin.

Budding Prospects
0-14-029996-3
Felix's dreams of easy money--from harvesting a marijuana plant--soon get nipped in the bud in "a first-rate picaresque adventure." -- Los Angeles Times

Descent of Man
A Norse poet overcomes bard-block. Lassie abandons Timmy for a randy coyote. In seventeen slices of life, Boyle shows just what the "evolution" of mankind has wrought.
"Madness that hits you where you live." -- Houston Chronicle

East Is East
A young Japanese seaman jumps ship off the Georgia coast and swims into a nest of genteel ladies, rabid rednecks, and the denizens of an artists' colony.
"A hilarious black farce about racial stereotypes." --The New York Times

Greasy Lake and Other Stories
"Satirical fables of contemporary life, so funny and acutely observed that they might have been written by Evelyn Waugh as sketches for... Saturday Night Live." -- The New York Times

If the River Was Whiskey
Boyle tears through the walls of contemporary society to reveal a world at once comic and tragic, droll and horrific in sixteen magical, provocative stories.
"Writing at its very, very best." -- USA Today

The Road to Wellville
0-14-016718-8
This wickedly comic novel looks at the people who first went crazy searching for a magic pill to prolong their lives.
"A marvel, enjoyable from beginning to end." -- The New York Times Book Review

Water Music
Ned Rise, thief and whoremaster, and Mungo Park, explorer, travel from London to Africa.
"A dark and sprawling, ribald, hilarious, cruel, exotic, and...engrossing flight of the literary imagination." -- Los Angeles Times

Without a Hero
In fifteen tales, Boyle depicts a wide range of Americans: a college football player who knows only defeat, a real estate tycoon on safari in Bakersfield, California, and others.
"Sharp, rueful, malevolently funny." -- The New York Times

World's End
A collision with history leads Walter Van Brunt to search for his long-lost father in this PEN/Faulkner Award-winning novel.
"Zany, different, and intellectually engaging...a winner." -- Glamour

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 79 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 29, 2005

    Good Writing - Poor Attempt to Convey the Immigrant Experience

    I guess I'll start with what I thought Mr. Boyle did well. He is definitely a gifted writer and the novel showcases his ability to bring feelings and settings to life. I was impressed by his mastery of the written word, especially his wit and cleverness to convey feelings and make situations tangible. I feel he did a great job of capturing the spirit of liberal-yuppie-suburbanite demographic, exposing its contradictions and hypocrasies as well as its well meaning soul. However, for all of its technical highlights, I feel that the novel falls short of being truly convincing or authentic to the 'Mexican' themes. To be completely honest, I was very excited when I bought the novel at the prospect of reading an Anglo take on both sides of the Latino-Anglo race relations theme. But as I read more and more of the novel, I was convinced more and more that Mr. Boyle's grasp of immigrant experience was shallow at best. It takes much more than the sporadic use of spanish words or knowledge of obscure traditions/beliefs/practices to truly build an understanding of a people. It is this shortcoming that ulitimately prevents the novel from truly telling the story from both sides. My concern regarding this novel is that people unfamiliar with immigrant issues of cultures will use the novel to--if even in some small way--form beliefs about immigrants or Mexicans. I feel that stereotypes on both sides were propogated, with immigrants and Mexicans receiving the shorter end of the stick. For all of Mr. Boyle's literary talent, I feel the novel was a disappointment. Let the record show that I am the son of immigrant parents--their only child to be born an American citizen. Through their dedicated work and unwavering commitment, they afforded me the opportunity succeed and attain a University education. I have gone on to serve immigrant populations through the non-profit sector. In a sense, I guess I feel that I am a part of both worlds presented in the novel.

    8 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 28, 2010

    Relevant social commentary

    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.

    QUOTES:

    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 here 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 f___king 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

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 20, 2009

    Reader Beware

    Am I the only one who found this book utterly disturbing? I was required to read this book this summer for my AP Language class in High School. I was reading the book until I came to a graphic sex scene. Is this what you want to fill young 16 and 17 year old high school students minds with? I know in the world today most high schoolers read trashy novels and watch trashy movies and television. But I may be one of the few does not. And the public school system has never forced any of these teenagers to watch or read any of this. I'm not quite sure how the parents would react if they knew the content of their children's summer reading assignments. I am fine with anyone else reading and liking this book, I can see it was well written and moving in parts, but I do not agree with some of the content, especially for high school students English classes.

    2 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 18, 2006

    A Modern Day Grapes of Wrath?

    I really think that is novel is especially relevant and poignant when compared to what's going on today with immigration controversy and racial prejudices in the Southwest. T.C. Boyle creates two vivid storylines, (which did not intertwine as much as I expected them to) one of an affluent, professed-to-be liberal, and outwardly humanitarian Los Angeles couple, and one of a destitute, self-doubting, and near starving couple recently emigrated from Mexico. This book does a fantastic job at opening the eyes of its readers to the true misjudgments, mischaracterizations, and blatant disregard of Mexican immigrants, and what expectations of theirs are never met in the 'promise land.' However, Boyle equally conveys a defensive, conservative outlook which seeks to protect American values, purity, and nominal safety. But the most riveting factor of the novel is the progression of the Mossenbachs from liberal outspokenness to conservative reticence. It seems that their humanist values were easy to maintain when secluded and removed, but when poor labor and some crime begin to infringe upon their lifestyle, these views are slowly overtaken. Similarly with America and Condido, we see two people once guided by a tremendous amount of faith and optimism, yet who, after continual denial and refutation, begin to lose hope. This book challenged my own views on immigration and what our outlooks should be, for the good and for the bad. My only qualm with novel as a narrative was the lack of a continuous, increasing plot. For those seeking to tie it to Steinbeck's 'Grapes of Wrath,' they might as well just read that, because Boyle's characterizations, while good, are not Steinbeck's. A worthwhile read especially for Californians.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 18, 2004

    Twisted and Suspensful

    ¿Tortilla Curtain,¿ by T.C. Boyle, is a book with not one story in it but two. Throughout the book the reader follows the life of an average every day man living in America. We see his ups his downs and some unfortunate and fortunate encounters with life. Through one of the not so fortunate, Delaney the main character of the book hits Candido an illegal immigrant who as come to American to fulfill the American dream. This book does a fantastic job at going from the life of Candido to Delaney. We see the struggles that Candido and his wife face by being illegal immigrants in the state of California, the hardship they go through to survive the world around them and how in the end they come through together. Delaney and his experience are geared more towards the average American lifestyle. He is more worried about his home getting walled in than he is about having a home. Compared to Candido this seems selfish and unrealistic but is an excellent parallel in today¿s world. J.C. Boyle did a great job in keeping the reader entertained. With every chapter jumping back and forth one did not get lost but had the urge to keep reading. Telling two stories in one is a difficult task but when the author can keep the reader hooked on the story without discouraging them then that is an excellent book. As well as being a great story the book also addresses a few political issues many Americans are faced with today. These issues include illegal immigration, gated communities, and fenced-in communities. These issues keep the story going and ¿real¿ for the reader. The book was a good read that will leave the reader turning one page after another. The reader will come back to the book after they have set it down wanting to know what will happen next or just thinking about an issue that the main characters are facing. This book is a must and strongly recommended. Read this amazing book as it was educating and stimulating!

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 26, 2012

    I Also Recommend:

    HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS BOOK. I'D WANTED TO READ THIS BOOK FOR A L

    HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS BOOK.
    I'D WANTED TO READ THIS BOOK FOR A LONG TIME, SO GLAD I DID. THE CHARACTERS AND STORY ARE UNFORTUNATELY SO VERY REAL IN TODAYS SOCIETY.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 2, 2011

    Great book that makes you think

    This story gripped me from the beginning and the ending delivers. Everything that is wrong with the class system in the US is embodied here by these two couples.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 1, 2011

    I Also Recommend:

    You too will love this book!

    I read it for an English college course I took and I was hooked. This is a must read book and you will not be disappointed.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 24, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Flashes of Brilliance Don't Redeem a Ridiculous Plot

    I had a hard time deciding what to rate this, because this is a book with flashes of brilliance and insight which ultimately I don't think works. The book follows two couples that live near each other in the outskirts of Los Angeles: one a rich white tofu-eating liberal American couple, Delaney and Kyra; the other two illegal immigrant Mexicans, Candido and America, squatting on public land.

    The two families first come into contact when Delaney runs over Candido in his car. Candido is able to walk away from the accident--Delaney sops his conscience by giving Candido twenty dollars. Next we follow Candido down to where he's camped out with his pregnant wife. His desperate circumstances are effectively told, and the contrast and savage irony with Delaney's assumptions (and Delaney's own lyrical nature column on the glories of staying out in the wilderness) is priceless (which earned it the two stars). There are flashes of brilliant insight like that throughout the book, when Boyle is able to hold out contemporary Americans assumptions and prejudices to a bright satiric light that kept me reading. I felt mixed about Boyle's characterization of the Mexican couple at times--feeling there's something a bit too facile and caricatured about his characterizations that depended too much on a sprinkling of Spanish and bits of cultural trivia.

    But what ruined this book for me were the twists and turns of plot. This book had the potential to humanize the plight of the illegal immigrant, but in the end I feel it's too easy to simply roll your eyes at Boyle's book and dismiss it because of the ridiculous pile-on of disasters. I almost put the book down twice at certain events and the conclusion made me want to throw the book against the wall.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 4, 2009

    Definately recommended

    A thoroughly maddening novel of race relations and progressive disillusionment, Boyle crafts amazing characters who are sure to spark emotion (mainly frustration).

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 3, 2006

    Shame, Shame

    A 'tear jerker' but a wonderful social commentary.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 21, 2003

    The Best Book I Have Ever Read

    I am an avid reader of all types of books. But, I have never been as gripped by a book as this one. I literally could not put the book down and stayed up all one night reading it. And, still, many weeks later I find myself pondering all the nuances of the story. I live in California, and I disagree that Mr. Boyle got caught up in stereo-types. This books nails it all right on the head.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 28, 2003

    stunning and provocative read

    This enchanting book opened my eyes to the parrils of everyday life. The danger and daring adventures that illigal immigrants have to face just to live the so called American dream. The core of this book was the comparision to the everyday hardworking joe to the no troubles life style of a rich and shallow yuppie family. I have never quite read anything like this no nonsence book that lays it all out on the table and leave the reader to clean up the mess.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 13, 2013

    Must read

    A great book. I read this for a book club discussion and thoroughly enjoyed it. The author was able to pull at my sympathies and empathies for both sides in this story. Food for thought with the immigration issue.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2013

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 23, 2011

    Great Book

    I read this book in a matter of days. The characters are developed in such a way that each of their perspectives are fully understandable, thus really capturing the enormity of the struggle to resolve this real issue in the United States. In reading this I truly feared for the characters and was impressed by the way the author wove together many facets of the issue to build a more complete picture of the environment they lived in.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2010

    Great Characters and Plot

    Tortilla Curtain is a story that centers around four characters that have their own personal battles. Battles that deal with how they live, who they are, and how they survive in society. The best thing about this novel is the transformation of the characters, particularly Delaney. He makes a huge turn around in personality. He represents a person who is confused with who he is and what he wants. This story touches on many political, social,and ethical issues. The plot is surprising and very entertaining. The climax and ending are very original.

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  • Posted April 30, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Interesting Clash of Cultures

    This was a decent attempt at conveying the clash of cultures... the Anglo life and the Mexican immigrant. Definitely a social commentary novel and one often assigned for sophomore lit classes. I recommend another book that better addresses the two cultures... The Salvation of La Purisima by T. M. Spooner.

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  • Posted December 7, 2009

    Review of "Tortilla Curtain"

    A page-turner about the conflict between wealthy Americans and illegal Mexican immigrants in Topanga canyon near L.A. Great insights into the life of the indigent illegals, including Spanish slang. Exellent description of a wildfire. Realistic dialogue. But I didn't like the ending - the last couple of pages. I thought the ending was contrived.

    Marvin (Nick)Saines
    Las Vegas

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  • Posted May 5, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    What can we do to help the tortilla curtain!

    It was difficult to read, yet I couldn't stop reading! I kept hoping the characters would find a way to be helpful to one another! It was a perfect picutre of the narrow view one so often has of the life one leads. Please let goodness become a driving force! At some point, one day, not yet! The characters were strong, likeable and......so.... real!

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