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Book Review: The Tortilla Curtain by T. Coraghessan Boyle

The Tortilla Curtain takes a hard look at racism, xenophobia, and immigration, several very real topics in today’s society. Bringing up more questions than answers, it’s a great read for anyone interested in the subject.

PARENT REVIEW | by Erin Bishop Rosen

The Tortilla Curtain looks at the plight of Mexican immigrants who cross the border in search of the American dream. First stop, Southern California. Candido and his pregnant wife, America, end up living in a makeshift camp in Topanga Canyon just below a lovely gated community where another couple, liberal nature writer Delaney and his successful realtor wife, Kyra, reside. Their paths cross in a horrific way, and real issues of racism, immigration, and social status are explored. The book becomes about tragic errors of judgment and misunderstanding. The story unfolds through the alternating voices of Candido and Delaney, each struggling with their own demons.

The events that kick off this modern-day tragedy begin with Candido being hit by a passing car. The driver is Delaney, who is more worried about the damage done to his car than Candido’s health. Candido flees the scene, worried he will be caught and questioned. His injuries prevent him from working, so America must venture out and seek employment. Her foray into seedy illegal worker practices opens her up to a world of harassment and abuse, causing Candido great distress and regret about bringing America across the border.

Candido and America’s story is juxtaposed with the story of Delaney and his family just up the ravine in their prosperous community. Their biggest concern is about the plans that are underway to build an enormous wall to keep out the coyotes from their backyards as well as the suspected “illegal aliens,” who they blame for robbing their homes.

As the story progresses, the residents become more vigilant about protecting themselves. Delaney initially expresses concern that the residents are “locking themselves up in their fancy homes,” but through a series of events, his view becomes increasingly aggressive against anyone who crosses the border illegally. As the book comes to a stunning conclusion, there are no answers to the questions raised about these social issues—just more questions.

The Tortilla Curtain is a well-written journey of two very disparate couples.  It makes the reader look at the subject of immigration in the United States in a way they may not have thought of before.  I think this is an excellent read for high-school-age kids because it lends itself to interesting discussions.

Erin Bishop RosenErin Bishop Rosen is a television writer, entrepreneur, and mom.

 


TEEN REVIEW | by Aidan Rosen

The Tortilla Curtain is a book that talks about a seemingly never-ending battle between Mexican immigrants and a wealthy couple. Candido Rinco and his pregnant wife, America, fled Mexico to live in a hut in Topanga Creek. Delaney Mossbacher and his wife, Kyra, live in a gated community up Topanga Road. These two couples show sides of themselves—and of how they live—that you would have never imagined. Their paths intertwine throughout the book, with the immigrants just trying to make it and the wealthy just trying to keep the immigrants away. The wealthy couple expresses racism towards all Mexican immigrants throughout the book, especially in the end when … well you’re going to have to read it to find out.

The first place where the couples’ paths intertwine is on Topanga Road, when a car strikes Candido. The driver, of course, is Delaney. He is very worried that he dented his car, and in fact has no thoughts about whom or what he hit. After he realizes he hit Candido, he gives Candido $20 and flees the scene. Candido accepts the offering and leaves because he worries the police will question him and find out that he is an illegal immigrant. Candido is injured very badly and unable to work, so his wife is forced to work.

Through America’s experiences, readers are introduced to the awful way illegal workers are treated, especially the women.

While all of Candido and America’s hardships are going on, Delaney and Kyra’s biggest concern is that the wall around their neighborhood won’t be high enough to keep the coyotes out. But that’s just an excuse. The real reason they want to raise a massive wall is so that the Mexicans cannot enter and “steal” their belongings. The coyotes were just a scapegoat to hide the community’s racist viewpoint.

I currently live in an area with lots of Latinos, and I observe and hear many racist acts and comments. I feel that this book really shines a light on racism and how it can affect people. It makes you ask yourself tough questions about the choices you make in your life everyday that could impact other people. And it encourages you to examine your own feelings and prejudices.

Aidan RosenAidan Rosen is a sophomore at Palisades High School, club soccer player, and surfer.

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