Thursday, August 21, 2008

California dilemma

When in California why not read a novel about California? I just finished 'The tortilla curtain" by TC Boyle. This is an ironic satire juxtaposing the life of the poor illegal Mexican immigrant with that of the affluent liberal home owner in California The stage is set when one day Delaney Mossbacher, a dedicated white liberal, hits Candido, an illegal Mexican, with his Audi car. From then on the lives of the two cross and intersect in amusing ways so that they eventually become unknown antagonists of each other, and Delaney's liberal instincts, as a member of the Sierra Club, a naturalist and an environmentalist, are tested to the limits. Reality rears its ugly head, such that Candido's young wife is raped by fellow Mexicans and Delaney's wife's dogs are eaten by coyotes. And all is not what it seems when it turns out that white boys, the sons of the homeowners, are wreaking havoc that is being blamed on the poor Mexicans.
In order to insulate themselves from the threat of the growing Mexican presence, the homeowner's band together and decide that their new community, Arroyo Blanco, must be gated and surrounded by a high wall. But, life being what it is, this is not enough to prevent reality from intruding, as they throw their cherished concepts of liberal civilization to the wind in order to survive.
Candido's life goes from bad to worse and he and his wife are on the point of starvation, when they are hit first by a canyon fire and then by a mud slide that destroys their meager shack and the houses of their wealthy tormentors. All is not linear in this tale, the question whether or not Delaney's liberal instincts can survive this clash with reality, and whether Candido can merely survive, are the two questions that underline this morality tale. If you want to understand California and its major dilemma then read this book. Can California support millions of poor, illegal immigrants and retain its cherished liberal white culture, or will it be drowned in a sea of taco and chili?


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