Archive for the ‘T.C. Boyle: Tortilla Curtain’ Category

Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle

November 1, 2009


The author- T.C. Boyle

“Comedy is my mode of dealing with tragedy and despair.”

Thomas John Boyle was born on December 2nd, 1948 in Peekskill, NY. When he was 17 years old he changed his middle name to Coraghessan after his ancestors. After excessive teens in the time of the hippie movement and students protests, T.C.Boyle became teacher of a high school and published his first short stories in magazines. His father was a bus driver and his mother a secretary, and they were Catholic. In 1974 T.C. Boyle married Karen Kvashay, and they now have three children, two boys and one girl, who all live near Santa Barbara, CA

T.C. Boyle published sixteen books, including ten novels which are available in many languages. His work has been translated into more than two dozen foreign languages, including German, French, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, Russian, Hebrew, Korean, Japanese, Danish, Swedish, Lithuanian, Latvian, Polish, Hungarian, Bulgarian, Finnish and Farsi. He also wrote many stories which have appeared in major American magazines, e.g. The New Yorker , Harper’s . He has received various literary awards as well.

Since 1986 he has got an English professorship of “Creative writing” at the University of Southern California.

His most popular works are the Inner Circle, The Tortilla curtain, Water Music and his newest book The woman.



What is the “tortilla curtain”?“Tortilla Curtain” is a popular name for the Mexican-American border. There is a big fence along the American boarder to Mexico to prevent Mexicans from entering the U.S.A.  Because of the bad economical situation of Mexico, thousands of Mexican people want to emigrate into the U.S.A. to find a job and to live the American dream as far as possible. Of course the high number of immigrants causes problems for The United States.

In the book “the tortilla curtain” the plot describes the identity, situation, and the attitude of two families.

Delaney, Kyra, and Jordan Mossbacher live in Arroyo Blanco in Los Angeles, CA, which  is a rich district. They seem to have a very modern lifestyle, health plays a big role and they are committed in their community.

Delaney Mossbacher is the house husband. He is the author of a monthly column called “Pilgrim at Topanga Creek”. In these columns he writes about ecological matters. When he does not write, he is out walking and observing nature. Everything is in order in the life of Delaney. While Kyra works at her office, he takes care of their child Jordan. For him it is all right that his wife is the chief breadwinner. This shows his modern attitude. During the plot the change in the attitude of the fence near their district becomes clear.

Kyra Mossbacher is about 30 years old and is a successful real estate agent. She is about the Mexicans because they always hang around near the houses she tries to sell.

Jordan Mossbacher who is six years old is addicted to computer games.

The Rincons

América Rincón is a 17 years old Mexican girl who is pregnant. Her family, who lives in Mexico, is very big. Her name can be seen as her dream. She marries Cándido, the former husband of her sister and is very keen about his plan to immigrate in the U.S.A. .So she follows Cándido and crosses the border illegally. She dreams of a better life there. But they don‘t find work and they stay very poor. You can even say that they must reduce their standard of living down to a level which is below the standard of an average Mexican family. It is very hard for her, that they don´t succeed and she has to struggle with the circumstance that they live under so bad conditions. All the time there is also the fear of being found by the police so they try to hide in the wilderness. But she is willing to work as hard as possible for the realization of her dreams. América doesn‘t know how to handle her pregnancy, and she fears for her baby‘s health.

Cándido Rincón is a 33 years old man. His biggest dream is to live in America with a job and that he earns enough money for him and his family. His family is, like most people in his country, very poor and religious. Several times he tries to realize his dream by immigrate illegally into the U.S.A. But yet, they even haven`t the money to buy enough food to prevent starving.



The book is subdivided into three parts.

Summary of the first part -Arroyo Blanco

Chapter 1

The book starts with an accident. Delaney is driving on the highway through the Topanga Canyon. Suddenly Delaney hits a man, who crosses the highway. Immediately Delaney asks himself whether his car is still all right. But then he realizes that he has just hit a man. He gets off the car and wants to look after this man. But the man seemed to have disappeared. He starts to search him. Finally he finds him lying in the bushes near the roadside. The man, Cánidio is bleeding and in pain. He is hurt very badly. Delaney tries to speak with him but Cándido does not understand English. After several misunderstandings, Delaney offers Cándido about $20 which he takes happily. Now both of them want to leave the place quickly but for diffrent reasons. Cándido has the fear to be found by the police or someone else while Delaney wants to get off of the spot because the scenery is very embarrassing for him and he feels uncomfortable by offering the Mexican man just $20. Delaney is getting angrier because he can´t understand why the Mexican man crossed the street so rash. The chapter ends with Delaney saying to his wife, that he just had caused an accident and that he gave Cándido, the man he hit, $20. Kyra, his wife, asks why he only gave him $20. Delaney replies he was only Mexican.Here, the subliminal racial attitude of Delaney becomes obvious.

In the first chapter the main characters meet for the first time. They will meet again several times but without knowing it. In the book the two completely different life stories of the two men and their families are compared.

Having read the first pages, I became very curious about the following story. I think also, that the subject, the illegal immigaration into the U.S.A., is very important and topical. T.C. Boyle decided to through light on the two different positions by telling the story not just in the view of an American or a Mexican but also in the view of the other party. Considered literarily, it is very elaborate that Boyle knots together the two stories by letting the main characters meet each other.


Chapter 2 

The second chapter is written from Cándido’s point of view. Because of the accident, Cándido has to suffer terrible pain .He got hit when he came back from the labour exchange to get to work. He collapses on the way back to his camp. Ameríca finds Cándido lying on the ground on her way back from to the camp. She also tried to get work somewhere. At first she does not realize that her husband is badly injured but then she understands that they are in trouble now.
She carries him back to their camp and takes care of him as good as possible.
She is very upset that she can´t call a doctor because they are in the camp illegally.
One day, when Cándido is still very weak, Ameríca wants to go and get work.
It hurts Cándido deep inside that he isn’t able to feed his wife, and he wants to go himself, but he is still much too weak. However both his pride and his fear don’t allow it to let her go either. América reminds him of his promises about the good life and of their dreams of an own apartment they should have.
This hurts him even more and finally he gives in and lets her go.

Chapter 3

The third chapter describes the daily life of the Mossbacher´s. But the idyllic situation is disturbed when a coyote roams around their garden and finally grapes one of their family dogs.
Delaney and Kyra are very outraged and tie to chase the coyote away but the coyote still has one of their dogs. When Kyra comes back from work in the afternoon she hears that her dog is dead.
Delaney goes do a meeting of the community on this very afternoon. They will discuss whether there should their district should be walled in or not. Many inhabitants fear that the immigrants may hang around in there district. But Delaney is not interested in this discussion. He simply wants to solve his own “coyote-problem”. Immediately he has to notice that nobody cares about his request. When Delaney leaves the meeting he meets the son of the president of the meeting. He talks with him about the accident and it for him it feels really good that the son says, that the accident wasn´t his fault but he also notices and wonders about why the boy is so interested in the details of the accident.

Chapter 4-8


Cándido has to accept that Ámérica is the chief breadwinner of the two now because he is unable to work .His injuries don´t heal that quick. But he feels very uncomfortable by the circumstance that Améica has to earn the money. Finally he accepts it well-knowing that there is no other possibility for them. They can´t starve anymore, even not the unborn baby.

While América finds work, Cándido is confronted with the racial attitude of two American teenagers. They destroy their camp very brutally. All the time América is working, Cándido is very concerned about her. América works the whole day very hard and under bad conditions. She has to clean the house of a rich white man who is living in the same district where also Delaney lives with his family. But for the very first time she earns money and that makes her very proud. Now she and Candido can buy food. The next day, she has the opportunity to work at the same house for the second time. But on her way home she gets raped brutally by two men who leave her where she is.

During the same days, Delaney and Kyra live their everyday life. One day, Delaney discusses the problems the illegal immigrants cause in their direct neighbourhood with a neighbour and his son. At that time Delaney defends the immigrants against the strong reproaches. The very next day, Delaney decides to go on a hike. While he is working through the canyon, he discovers a camp of illegal immigrants. He reacts very outraged and is disgusted because they destroyed the whole nature by their rubbish. On his way home, he has to realize that his car is stolen which makes him even angrier considering the immigrants.

 The first part of the book has the function to describe the situation of both families very precisely. You also can notice some differences of the two families concerning not only the economic situation but also mindset. For example it is completely normally for Delaney that his wife is the chief breadwinner while it is very hard for Cándido to accept that his wife has to earn the money.

You also can notice a change in the attitude of Delaney concerning the illegal immigrants. He gets more and more angry towards their existence in his close neighbourhood and their way of life.

In the first part, I really liked the change of the stories. Every chapter treats just one of the two stories and the change of the chapters often includes a direct unknown meeting of the two men.


Summary of  the second part-El Tenksgeevee


Delaney just got his new car and meets Kyra for lunch in a Mexican restaurant. Kyra is in a hurry and has to leave very early. When they walk to their car, Kyra notices a dog being locked in a car. She is very scandalized about that and wants to search the owner f the car. When she finds him, she grouses at him but the man doesn`t “give a fuck”.This makes her even more angry and Delaney tries to calm her down. Before Kyra has to drive to work, she controls the building of the wall around her district. Later Kyra is directly confronted with supposed illegal immigrants and she reacts with fear.

In the third chapter everything seems in its old habits again. Delaney does not care about the theft of his car anymore and his wife, Kyra, just does her normal office work again. The Mossbachers’ have settled back to normal, and they leave the awful things that have happened behind, like the accident, Sachverell’s death and the stealing of their car. One evening, Kyra and her husband start a discussion about the daily presence of the immigrants. While Kyra thinks they should have no right to hang around in their district looking for jobs, Delaney mentions that it is their right to move freely in the United States. But Kyra adds that just so many Mexicans have come in the last years and Delaney seems to have no more arguments anymore. Then Delaney remembers when he accompanied Jack last night hanging around with some men of their district.  They all had drinks at the bar and started a conversation about Mexican immigration issue. They talked about how more and more Mexicans get into the community and steal American jobs. After a while Delaney felt that Jack has just taken him there to get him on his team. He finally realized what the meeting is all about. The purpose of the gathering is to make plans to wall the place in. They went on with the conversation, talking about how unsafe it would be to live there now that the immigration rate increases. They even mentioned about closing the labor exchange.


 While Cándido drives to his new work place, he remembers his first time as an illegal worker in the United States, his escape from the police and his meeting a farmer ready to help him with food and a blanket, thus enabling him to take a bus ride to his cousin’s place and to escape immigration authorities. Cándido is a worker who builds the wall around Arroyo Blanco and he of course realises why this wall has to be build but does not care. He knows he will never live in such a rich district. Later that day, when he comes home from work, he discovers that América has been violated by an Indian and a Mexican. After three weeks of filling in for a sick man, Cándido has made about 300 dollars. From then on he is once again unemployed. Out of his desperation he slaps América once again well knowing that she is not the reason for his hopeless situation.When Cándido gets up early the next morning he has to see that the labor exchange is closed. He realizes immediately that they can´t live here anymore and so he decides to leave the place and go somewhere else. He also thinks of suicide but he is aware of his importance for the life of América and his son so he rejects these thoughts. When Candido and América arrive CANOGA PARK after a exhausting hike the next day, América has new draws new hope for the first time since they were living in the nasty camp. Everywhere she hears people speaking Spanish and there are lots of Mexican shops so she thinks that they can make it, too. When Cándido takes Amérca out for lunch she is really very happy. But the disillusionment comes soon. They also get no job here and find no place to sleep although América would have given everything to take a shower. Suddenly a America man speaks to Cándido in Spanish and offers the two a rather cheap sleeping place for two nights. Cándido follows him while América has to wait.


In his weekly collum Delaney writes about the existence of the Coyote. The main meeage of the text is, that you can´t stop them killing and destroying but that you have to protect yourself against this wild animal.

In the second part of the book the differences between the two families couldn´t be clearer. While Delaney and his family have no essential fears, Delaney and América have to suffer under bad living conditions, have to hide all the time and become hopeless. The attitude of the Mossbacher´s has huge influence on the life of the Rincons.

1.       When Delaney discusses about the closing of the labour exchange, this is the main reason for the Rincons to move away.

2.       With the building of the wall it is Cándido who finds work

3.       The increasing intolerance of the inhabitants of Arroyo Blanco makes life for the illegal immigrants more and more difficult

The fears and requests of the Mossbachers seem invalid in comparison to the problems of the Rincons. It is exciting to think about how the Mossbacher family would react if they would know what life means to América and Cándido and which influence they have on them.

The collum of Delaney about the coyotes is in my eyes closely linked with the presence of the illegal immigrants. I can´t get rid of the feeling that Delaney has a deep racial attitude and I wonder wether thisattitude might become obvious and how this might happen.

Literary you can notice that there are always used Spanish words to make the background and the feeling of Cándido and América even clearer.


Chapter 6

While Kyra is favour of building the wall, Delaney hesitates. Because of their arguments, Kyra decides to sleep in another room. Kyra feels really uncomfortable because the last happenings. She can´t get over the loss of her two dogs and fears to be attacked from the two Mexicans she met on the ground of “Da Rose”. When she is on her walk around the house to check on everything she discovers spray-painted letters which say “Pinche Puta. “  Delaney notices a Mexican driving through the district. He stops him and asks him what he wants there. The Mexican is answering that he just delivers flyers.The next day Delaney accompanies Kyra to lock the house and in the end they buy the last things for Thanksgiving.


The man leads Cándido into a side street where two other men await them. They attack Cándido with a baseball bat and steal all of Cándido’s and América’s money. América waits for him for hours before he returns in the middle of the night. Now that they have absolutely no money, they must return to their campground the very same day. On their way back, América is shocked when Cándido looks through the garbage of a fast food restaurant to find something to eat.

Chapter 8

While Delaney does not find a new topic for his column and Kyra gives him a nice present, América doesn´t speak a word to Cándido any more. She is totally shocked. She even does not care about Cándido having earned the $500. One day, Cándido goes to the supermarket to buy some things, also for Thanksgiving; two boys give him a free turkey. He is happy about this, goes home and starts a fire to roast the turkey. The fire gets out of control, and in the hot weather the whole canyon is soon in flames

In my eyes the story of the Mossbachers is a little bit boring and too detailed. I think the relationship between América and Cándido is becoming really interesting. How long is América willing to stay in this camp again? Will they still live together? What is about their children? Do they succeed anytime? What will be the consequences of the fire in the canyon?

While the language in the chapters of the story of the Rincons is easy to read, I have some difficulties by reading the story of Delaney and Kyra. There are used many words I never heard of ,but it´s not a real problem to get the sense of the plot.

To build a wall around ones district-is this really possible in the United States? The ones who are so proud of their liberty and who either don´t accept a health insurance because it violates the personal freedom? Isn´t such a plan unconstitutional? Who can decide something like that?

Yet I can´t get the sense of the three parts of the book. Why did T.C. Boyle divide the book into these parts?



Summary of the third part-Socorro

Chapter 1

Dominick Flood, a neighbor of the Moosbachers, is having a Thanksgiving party. Delaney, Kyra and her mother are also invited. At the party, Delaney is talking with Jack about the column about coyotes Delaney has published those days. Soon they change subject and talk again about the wall which will be build around the district. Jack tries to convince Delaney that the built of the wall will make living there safer but Delaney remains skeptical. Later Kyra joins the conversation and makes clear that she is in favor of the wall. This is the reason for an argument between Delaney and his wife. But then somebody notices that the whole canyon is burning. All the guests are shocked and leave the party to go home. Also Kyra, Delaney and his mother-in-law are leaving because Jordan is alone at their home with his nanny. When they arrive at their house, the first thing they do is watching the news. Although the reporter does not mention the necessarily to evacuate the Mossbachers are thinking about that.

Chapter 2

América misses civilization. She hates Cándido because he has made her come to the U.S. and live like an animal there.

But when Candido arrives with a turkey she can´t be angry anymore. But the Candido loses the control about the fire and soon nearly the whole canyon is burning.

 They have to escape from that place and leave all their goods behind. Both are in big fear for their life. For América it is soon too hard to run because her baby is about to arrive. They shelter near a wall. They can´t get any help because Candido does not want the police to arrest him because of the fire. The fire is still dangerous because the wind changes direction all the time and so they still fear for it.

Chapter 3

The police asks the inhabitants of Arroyo Blanco to evacuate. The families have got ten minutes to pack their belongings. In the chaos Kyra and Delaney start another argument and Kyra leaves to go home while Delaney meets Jack. Jack offers Delaney a sip of his bottle. Soon Delaney is slightly drunk.  They notice two Mexicans come up the way to shelter in the district and Delaney recognizes one of the men. He met this man when he was hiking. Immediately he wants to inform a police officer but the officer is already take the Mexicans to task. The arrival of the two Mexicans attracts the attention of many onlookers. Loudly, Delaney blames the two Mexican campers for starting the fire. Jack supports him in his accusing. Soon the whole crowd insults the two Mexicans and Delaney is attacking one of the two by hitting him with his fists. He is so outraged and angry that he can´t control him anymore. The Mexican tries to defend himself. The police have to stop the angry crowd from attacking the Latinos. The following day everybody is allowed to return to their homes after having spent the night in hotels or in their cars. Back home there is still a tense atmosphere between Kyra and Delaney, and they still argue. Jordan is searching for his cat but he can´t find it what makes him very upset.

Chapter 4

A cat comes to the place where Amériva is lying. The presence of the cat helps América a lot to relax. Then the moment has come. América brings her daughter into the world. Although Candido is at first disappointed that it is a girl, both are very happy that Socorro, the name América gave to her, is healthy and everything worked out. América is that much tiered that she is going to sleep immediately. But Candido can´t sleep. He will take advantage of the situation that all houses are empty because the inhabitants evacuated this night. He climbs in their gardens to organize some vegetables and blankets for América. He himself eats dog food which he takes out of a dog house. From a garden shed Cándido also steals some wooden pallets and some other things he needs for building a shack for his family. But then the inhabitants are coming back. Candido fears for his life but he manages it to come back to América. But they have to camp another place because the old one isn´t safe anymore. But Américadoes not want to move anymore, she wants to return to her mother and show her the baby. She is fed up with having to live like an animal in the US.

These 4 chapters were really exciting.

 Delaney´s racial attitude became obvious and he can´t control his feelings anymore. But in the mean time he fails as the perfect husband. For him it’s clear that a Mexican is responsible for the fire which at least is right but he accuses the first Mexican he sees to be responsible for it. Delaney also does not care about the nanny of his son who is Hispanic.

Now the perfect world of the inhabitants of Arroyo Blanco is in danger because of the illegal immigrants and they are powerless against it. They have to evacuate and there is no other way.

For me the cat has a very interesting role. She did not evacuate with the Mossbachers but went to América and made her relax. For me it is one the one hand a literary sign of the perfect knotting of the two stories but on the other hand it could be seen as if the cat has changed sides and is now on the side of the Rincons. So maybe the cat has a moral aspect.

You can understand América very well when she says that she wants to return o Mexico. I wonder why Candido can´t accept that he failed in his plan to succeed in America or whether he will…

I feel with América and for the baby the whole time. In my eyes, América is the most sympathetic but also helpless character in the whole book.

How long will it take that the police will know that Candido is responsible for the fire?

 And what will be the consequence?

Will there be a second direct meeting of Delamey and Candido?

And if yes, what does it cause?

These are questions which I hope will become clear in the last 4 chapters.




Chapter 5

Kyra drives to the Da Ros place to see what the fire may have done to it. She is really shocked by the fact that nearly nothing is left of it. It will be hard for her to sell the property. She is convinced that Mexicans are responsible for the fire, although there is no real proof. Kyra calls Darlene and complains about what has happened.

Delaney arrives at Da Ros and tries to console Kyra. Both have a walk and search for the cat which is still missing. They meet Jack and he takes them to the wall around the development. During the car ride he talks about Dominick Flood who has left the country. On the wall there are large graffiti insults in Spanish. They all get angry about the Mexicans, and their anger turns into hate.

A month later Delaney decides to guard the wall because the police and the hired guard aren’t effective enough. Kyra doesn’t like Delaney’s idea; she worries about him. Delaney is on guard every night, and he is so much engaged that he forgets about his other duties. There is just one night he does not guard the wall because he takes Kyra to dinner and to the movies. At that night his surveillance camera takes a picture, and when he checks the pictures he sees a Mexican’s face. It is the face of the man involved in the accident in the mountains.

Chapter 6

Candido goes back to the camp to search for the money they left there, but the fire destroyed it. On the way home, Cándido is full of self-pity. América fears for Socorro because she noticed that her baby is blind. She wants to see a doctor but Cándido says this is impossible because they have no money. Cándido tries to find work, but he is not very successful, since he is afraid of being caught. Trying to find work, Cándido happens to meet Delaney again whom he remembers from the accident.

Chapter 7

Delaney is on the way home when he sees the Mexican he hit weeks ago. In the meantime he can´t control his hate and racism anymore. He obsessed with the taught that this Mexican destroys his life systematically. He breaks without warning and causes an accident. But that doesn´t matter to him. He gets off the car, calls the police and wants to “catch” Cándido. Furthermore, the policeman arriving does not care about him. So Delaney decides to follow the Mexican’s footprints to find him. He follows the footprints up to Arroyo Blanco Drive where they turn into the road. Delaney is not surprised about that because of the Spanish-looking graffiti and everything that has happened there. He gets angry about it and ideas of Cándido’s death in the car accident come to his mind. He also things that it is Cándidos strategy  to let himself hit by cars to earn some money Delaney is determined to find Cándido although it rains and its getting dark.. He walks home to pick up his gun, purchased together with Jack and of which he has always been afraid. He walks over to Jack’s place to develop the pictures of graffiti-spraying people. When he recognizes that Jack Jr. is the sprayer, he almost stops his plan of trying to find the Mexican, but he changes his mind quickly. His anger is so big that he can´t think rationally anymore. He just wants to catch Candido although, considered objectively, there is no urgent reason anymore.  So he doesn´t give up the plan to find the Mexican that night and he is finding the right track.

Last Chapter/ Chapter 8

Cándido returns to the camp to tell América about his meeting Delaney. Evidently, Cándido is really shocked.

With a gun in his hands, Delaney follows Cándido to the Mexican’s shack. He sees that the house is built of material stolen from his premises when a flash flood rushes down from the mountains and washes the shack, its inhabitants and Delaney away. Cándido and América try to surf on pallets towards Topanga Creek, are sucked under water and can finally save themselves on the roof of a building where they realize that they have lost their daughter. But Cándido notices a white hand in the midst of the water and he grabs it…



 I can´t understand Delaney. In the first chapters I thought he was a really normal, handsome, smart and likeable guy but he turned into a racial, fanatic, stupid, unpleasant and egoistic person who isn´t able to think objectively anymore.

However Cándido changed in my eyes from a very egoistic to a person who cares about others, not only his family but in the end also his enemy.  At the second sigh the character of Cándido is really very lovely.

I liked the book pretty much, although the end made me really down. The only character that had really not to blame for the whole situation had to die, well, life is just unfair. It’s not that easy to clap the book shut and forget about the significance. The problem of illegal immigrants is really serious. The situation for them in the U.S.A. is not humane. But could be done? The economic situation in Mexico is really dreadful and many people see no other way than try to realize the American dream in the United States. Of course it is impossible for the U.S.A. to accommodate all the immigrants but maybe the signal the United States send is not the right one. The myth of the American dream plays such an enormous role that immigrants make themselves the wrong hopes.

It is inconceivable under what conditions other people have to life. In this book I think the opposite of the two different lifestyles become very clear and it makes you think about your problems, maybe they are such invalid like the ones of Delaney…

The book is a bit “long-winded” but it’s really worth reading!

Now I have to say sorry to all of you who had to struggle to read that much, but it wasn´t easy to summarize the plot.  The two stories are that much connected, I could not leave things out because than it would have been illogical and  incomprehensible for you. Forgive me for being such detailled…


Reasons why YOU should read the book…

1.)    T.C. Boyle is one of the most important authors of America

2.)    You can emotionally identify with the illegal immigrants in America

3.)    In today´s society immigration is an inevitable topic

4.)    The change of perspectives gives you even a deeper insight in the story

5.)    If you like dramatic but also promising endings…

I hope you enjoyed my blog…

Yours Verena