“The Tortilla Curtain” (Viking Penguin 1995) by T. Coraghessan Boyle has been selected by “One Community, One Book-Johnson County Reads” for its 2006 reading project promoting new insights on human rights in the United States. The University of Iowa Center for Human Rights (UICHR) coordinates the project in conjunction with representatives from other sponsoring organizations from Johnson County and the UI.
“The Tortilla Curtain” explores Topanga Canyon, home to two couples on a collision course. Los Angeles liberals Delaney and Kyra Mossbacher lead an ordered sushi-and-recycling existence in a newly gated hilltop community: he is a sensitive nature writer, she an obsessive realtor. Mexican illegals Candido and America Rincon desperately cling to their vision of the American Dream as they fight off starvation in a makeshift camp deep in the ravine. From the moment a freak accident brings Candido and Delaney into intimate contact, these four and their opposing worlds gradually intersect in what becomes a tragic comedy of error and misunderstanding. In the United States, which defines itself as a nation of immigrants, the novel questions who gets to slam the door on whom?
Boyle is the author of 17 books of fiction. He received a Ph.D. in 19th Century British Literature from the UI in 1977, his MFA from the UI Writers’ Workshop in 1974 and his B.A. in English and history from SUNY Potsdam in 1968. He was the 1997 winner of France’s Prix Medicis Entranger for “The Tortilla Curtain” as the best foreign language novel illuminating the many potholes along the road to the elusive American Dream.
The book project will run Sept. 17 through Nov. 11. Teachers, students, librarians, book groups and others are encouraged to participate. By announcing the selection now, the project sponsors hope to allow time for groups to plan to read the book, participate in fall community discussion forums and for teachers to plan discussions around the book.
The goal of the Johnson County Reads project is to encourage people to read the selected book and, through public and private discussion, to develop a greater community awareness of human rights issues locally, nationally and internationally. Discussion questions will be available online at http://www.uiowa.edu/~uichr/conferences/jc_reads_2006.html at the start of the 2006-2007 academic year.
A new sponsor this year, the UI Alumni Association (UIAA), will provide a university online resource site linked to other project websites for the 18,000 UI alumni and readers who live in Johnson and nearby counties. UIAA also plans to include the project in its Lifelong Learning Series and highlight the project in the August issue of Iowa Alumni Magazine. The public community forum discussions of the book — scheduled at different locations during the project’s eight-week period — will be announced in early September.
In addition to UICHR, other project sponsors are the UI International Writing Program, Prairie Lights Books, Coralville Public Library, Hancher Auditorium, Hills Bank & Trust Company, Iowa Book LLC, Iowa City Human Rights Commission, Iowa City Public Library, Iowa State Bank & Trust Company, UI Alumni Association, UI Center for Asian and Pacific Studies, UI Charter Committee on Human Rights, UI Department of History, UI International Programs and University Book Store. City High School and the West High School Library are also participating.