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Literary voices: 'Hope' is about second chances

Los Angeles.

Image of The Barbarian Nurseries: A Novel
Author: Héctor Tobar
Publisher: Picador (2012)
Binding: Paperback, 432 pages

Hope is living in a city of second chances. I know this because I was born and raised in L.A., the capital city of American second acts. A city where people come from Korea, from Louisiana, from El Salvador and many other places, in search of a second chance at freedom and prosperity. In Los Angeles, we have a magical factory system of second acts.

My father wandered into one of these places on Hollywood Boulevard in 1962: he went in a 21-year-old Guatemalan bus boy with a fourth-grade education and came out a fluent English speaker on his way to college. It was the night school at Hollywood High.

Yes, there is poverty in Los Angeles. But we are not yet living, and perhaps never will live in the kind of grim, hopeless landscape of Dickens. I know a young man who was shot and paralyzed a decade ago while stealing a case of beer from a liquor store. He was in a gang then, a tough teenager who later shot someone -- from his wheelchair.

My friend the paraplegic was charged with assault, but spared jail time by a benevolent judge. This one act of benevolence led my friend to that the other factory of second chances we call Community College; and then to the next level of reinvention called the State University, where he eventually earned his Master's Degree in, of all things, Medieval Literature. These days, he teaches kids to write.

In Los Angeles and its great sprawl of suburbs, this is not an unusual story. Go to your average continuation school, and you'll find at least two or three kids in every classroom who are about to sling-shot themselves back into the regular education system. That's what hope is. Hope is living in a city of second chances.


Read an excerpt from Tobar's most recent novel, "The Barbarian Nurseries," here.

About the author

Héctor Tobar is a Los Angeles author and journalist. His latest novel is called "The Barbarian Nurseries."
Image of The Barbarian Nurseries: A Novel
Author: Héctor Tobar
Publisher: Picador (2012)
Binding: Paperback, 432 pages
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