Author Spotlight: Héctor Tobar

We ask the writer about a character in his new novel, The Barbarian Nurseries
Araceli, the Mexico City-educated artist who’s working as a maid in an Orange County home, is an enigma—aloof, uncomfortable with children. What was her genesis?
In some ways Araceli is my alter ego. She’s an artist, a frustrated intellectual trapped in the body of a servant. I’m the son of Guatemalan immigrants, born and raised in a city where guatemaltecos perform so many basic low-paid service jobs. My father parked cars for a living when I was growing up. I earn my living with words and ideas but can never escape my mestizo skin and what that stands for to certain people. So when I first imagined Araceli as a character, I thought of her as someone who would totally subvert the stereotypes of a Latina housekeeper: She is not submissive and she is not especially friendly. Later I lived in homes with live-in servants—in Buenos Aires and Mexico City, where I worked as a foreign correspondent. When people live with you, you learn a lot about them, their idiosyncrasies, and all the different reasons they end up in that kind of work. Melding together a bit of myself, and a bit of these women I came to know so well, Araceli was born.
Photograph by Doug Knutson