This reading group guide for Barefoot Dogs includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book. Introduction
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On a day like any other, José Victoriano Arteaga—the patriarch of a large, well-to-do Mexican family—disappears on his way home from work and is never heard from again. When strange boxes begin to arrive at the family home, his children are forced to flee. They scatter across the globe leaving almost everything behind while clinging desperately to their memories of a different time and place. The lives of the “domestics” employed by the family are also turned upside down now that they have lost their jobs and their home as a consequence of the family’s exile. Arteaga’s mistress must come to terms with her lover’s disappearance while struggling with the day-to-day challenges of raising the child who haunts her with his uncanny resemblance to his missing father—and his insistence that he has seen him. In their places of exile—both physical and emotional—each character struggles to adapt and to come to terms with the tragedy that has befallen them and changed their life forever. With courage, candor, and even humor, Ruiz-Camacho weaves a tapestry of stories that together form a stark and stunning portrait of a community and a country ravaged by violence. Through the story of one man’s fate as experienced by many, Ruiz-Camacho offers up a striking and unforgettable exploration of personal trauma, cultural tragedy, and the universal experiences of love and loss that reach across time and space, geographical boundaries and generations, and touch us all. Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Ruiz-Camacho employs several narrators in Barefoot Dogs
. Why did the author choose to incorporate a number of narrators? Are the narrators’ points of view uniform or is there variety in their stories, their feelings, and their experiences?
2. Although the author has included many characters in Barefoot Dogs
, names are used sparingly. Why do you think that the author chose to do this? How does it contribute to the concepts of personal experience and universal experience?
3. What information does opening chapter “It Will Be Awesome Before Spring”
offer about the Arteaga family, their background, and their life before José’s kidnapping? Who provides this information? Is he or she a reliable narrator?
4. Maids and “domestics” are employed as characters and narrators and are also talked about by other characters. How do the “domestics” relate to the Arteaga family? How does the disappearance of José affect them? What other kinds of personal tragedies or traumas do these characters endure?
5. Who is responsible for José’s kidnapping? Is the perpetrator ever named? Are they brought to justice? Aside from the kidnapping itself, what other scenes or details in the story contribute to the book’s exposé of a cultural crisis?
6. Who are some of the parents and children in the book and how would you characterize their relationships? How does Martín feel about his child? What do we learn in the “Barefoot Dogs” chapter about Martín’s relationship to his brother and father?
7. There are several young characters incorporated in the story, some of whom narrate parts of the book. Some adult characters also recall or discuss their youth. How does the book seem to characterize the experience of youth? How does it describe the transition from youth to adulthood?
8. Victoriano appears in two chapters back-to-back. In the first chapter, we see him through the eyes of José’s mistress, Sylvia. In the second, Victoriano narrates his own story. Did your understanding of José’s son Victoriano change between the sections narrated by José’s mistress and the next chapter in which he appears?
9. Discuss the various examples and varieties of loss featured in the book. How do the various characters cope with loss? Do they seem to find peace, meaning, or comfort in the process of grieving?
10. What ghosts or apparitions appear throughout the book? Who experiences them? Do these experiences correspond to an experience of faith or superstition? Are these ghostly experiences comforting or alarming?
11. Although the characters’ stories are united in their relationship to a tragic event, are any examples of love or hope found in the book? If so, what allows the characters to experience love or hope?
12. In the final chapter, there is a clear sense of the absurd in the suggestion that dogs should wear shoes. What might be the purpose of incorporating elements of the absurd in the book as a whole and especially in the closing chapter?
13. Martín suggests that he is waiting for his doorman to say that “every immigrant story…ends that way, on a merry note” (132). Why does Martín want him to say this? How does this statement correspond to the ending of Barefoot Dogs
14. Examine the theme of storytelling in the book. Why do the characters share their stories with the reader and with their fellow characters? What seems to be the purpose of exchanging their stories? Enhance Your Book Club
1. Share your own experiences of exile, immigration, or, alternatively, homecoming. What were your reasons for leaving home? Were you able to return? Why or why not? How did this experience change you and alter or otherwise strengthen your sense of identity? What other stories of exile have you heard from family or friends? What do these stories have in common? Compare these experiences to the experiences of the characters in Barefoot Dogs
2. Use the Barefoot Dogs
as a starting point to consider the political and cultural climate and crises in Mexico. How does the book correspond to or otherwise refute journalistic accounts of violence in Mexico? You might compare the book to a work of nonfiction such as Alfredo Corchado’s Midnight in Mexico