On a recent Sunday, an intimate gaggle of fans, friends, and family gathered at the Stadium Club in Dodger Stadium to hear Héctor Tobar read excerpts from his new novel, “The Barbarian Nurseries” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011), and answer some questions about his writing process and generative protocols.
In many ways, Tobar’s novel is a love letter to Los Angeles, and the several crusts of strata that constitute LA. There’s Araceli, a live-in maid from Mexico, who according to Tobar is an “intellectual trapped in the body of a servant.” Araceli works for the Torres-Thompsons, an uppity Latino family of seemingly affluent means, but is the last-maid-standing after the Torres-Thompsons have to adjust their lifestyle to their means.
According to Tobar, the novel is a “love story to family, and to people of color” who grind it out on the daily in Southern California. The novel is a far cry from the glitz and noir of Hollywood and L.A.’s polluted tabloid architecture; instead, “The Barbarian Nurseries” delves into the private lives and private thoughts of Angelinos from different social, lingual, and political realities.
If Tobar’s name sound familiar it is because he is also a professional journalist that has served as Latin America Bureau Chief for the Los Angeles Times. In 1992, Tobar won a Pulitzer for his work as part of a team that covered the LA Riots in The Los Angeles Times. Currently, Tobar is the sole writer the Chilean miners have agreed to work with as they tell, and eventually sell, their amazing story.
During the question-and-answer period, Tobar discussed how the epigraphs used at the beginning of each section of Barbarian Nurseries form an infrastructure of influence. Indeed, the literary triumvirate of Don DeLilo’s “White Noise,” Richard Wright’s “Native Son,” and Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn” serve as aesthetic touchstones from which Tobar addresses lingual, racial, and economic narrative extrapolations.
To hear novelists read excerpts from their books is almost a thing of the past, like Victorian Lantern Talks. Tobar read excerpts from his new novel, and peppered the readings with asides and anecdotes, flourishes and foibles. For example, Tobar talked about how the genesis of “Barbarian Nurseries” was a novel he had been writing for fifteen years but failed to publish. At one point, Tobar looked out over the audience and said that “one can not be successful” unless one has a “really big failure.”
[Screenshot By HectorTobar.com]