Barefoot Dogs

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About The Book

Winner of the Jesse H. Jones Award for Best Work of Fiction from the Texas Institute of Letters * A San Francisco Chronicle Recommended Book of 2015 * Fiction Finalist for the 2015 Writers’ League of Texas Book Awards * A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2015 * One of the Texas Observer’s “Five Books We Loved in 2015” * One of PRI’s “The World’s Five Books You Should Read in 2016”

“Profound and wrenching…A deeply moving chronicle of one family’s collective devastation, full of remarkable wisdom and humor” (The New York Times Book Review) that follows the members of a wealthy Mexican family after their patriarch is kidnapped.

On an unremarkable night, José Victoriano Arteaga—the head of a thriving Mexico City family—vanishes on his way home from work. The Arteagas find few answers; the full truth of what happened to Arteaga is lost to the shadows of Mexico’s vast underworld. But soon packages arrive to the family house, offering horrifying clues.

Fear, guilt, and the prospect of financial ruin fracture the once-proud family and scatter them across the globe, yet delicate threads still hold them together: in a swimming pool in Palo Alto, Arteaga’s grandson struggles to make sense of the grief that has hobbled his family; in Mexico City, Arteaga’s mistress alternates between rage and heartbreak as she waits, in growing panic, for her lover’s return; in Austin, the Arteagas’ housekeeper tries to piece together a second life in an alienating new land; in Madrid, Arteaga’s son takes his dog through the hot and unforgiving streets, in search of his father’s ghost.

A stunningly original exploration of the wages of a hidden war, Barefoot Dogs is a heartfelt elegy to the stolen innocence of every family struck by tragedy. Urgent and vital fiction, “these powerful stories are worthy of rereading in order to fully digest the far-reaching implications of one man’s disappearance…this singular book affords the reader the chance to step inside a world of privilege and loss, and understand how the two are inextricably intertwined” (San Francisco Chronicle).

Reading Group Guide

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

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 Springoffer 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.

About The Author

© Joel Salcido

Antonio Ruiz-Camacho has worked as a journalist in Mexico, Europe, and the United States. A 2009 John S. Knight Fellow at Stanford University and a 2014 Dobie Paisano Fellow in Fiction, Ruiz-Camacho earned his MFA from the New Writers Project at the University of Texas at Austin. He is from Toluca, Mexico, and lives in Austin, Texas, with his family.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Scribner (March 2016)
  • Length: 192 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781476784977

Raves and Reviews

"Barefoot Dogs is a splendid collection. Each of these stories is a straight-on jab to the soul, the kind of sharp fictional punch that wakes us up to our own flawed, fragile, essential humanity. With this debut collection, Antonio Ruiz-Camacho shows he's already a writer of the first rank, one of those rare storytellers who leaves you wanting more even as he breaks your heart."

– Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

“Antonio Ruiz-Camacho's Barefoot Dogs is bravura, brilliant, moving, hilarious—it's both clear-eyed and dreamy, strange and beautiful, stories for our time, and also for all-time.That it's his first book is a wonder, and a wonderful promise.”

– Elizabeth McCracken, author of The Giant's House and Thunderstruck

“A deeply moving chronicle of one family’s collective devastation, full of remarkable wisdom and humor, yet unflinching in its portrayal of the horrors sweeping contemporary Mexico…Lean and beautifully rendered…Profound and wrenching… Ruiz-Camacho takes class distinctions head-on, with characters clear and unashamed of their social position and the advantages—and disadvantages—it brings….Ruiz-Camacho’s prose is muscular and evocative. He revels in intimately observed moments and sharp but nuanced characterizations.”

– The New York Times Book Review

Barefoot Dogs is a family drama signifying a national crisis…Ruiz Camacho writes in a colloquial,loosely assembled realistic fashion, so that the devastating effect of the kidnapping builds slowly, but irrevocably, producing a portrait of several generations of a family suffering at the whims of criminals whom we never see…Taken together, these stories have a kind of staying power unusual in a first book.”

– Alan Cheuse, NPR

“With deftness and nuance, Ruiz-Camacho…captures the flawed but fascinating humanity of the extended Arteaga family…Readers receive a gift as rare as it is unnerving: a chance to enter imaginatively into a world of personal tragedy through portals other than pathos. Despite their myopia and unreckoned privilege, the wealthy wanderers of Barefoot Dogs never become objects of scorn or pity. And this is perhaps the most powerful testament to Ruiz-Camacho’s powers.”

– Texas Observer

“Ruiz-Camacho gives each minor tragedy its due, exploring the quiet cacophony of grief with the hyper-articulated rawness of someone who has been writing in English for less than a decade. The sense of newness in the language can be illuminating.”

– The Chicago Tribune

“These powerful stories are worthy of rereading in order to fully digest the far-reaching implications of one man’s disappearance. Taken altogether, this singular book affords the reader the chance to step inside a world of privilege and loss, and understand how the two are inextricably intertwined.”

– The San Francisco Chronicle

"Antonio Ruiz-Camacho has written a marvelous and moving story collection: Barefoot Dogs is a brilliant and devastating portrait of a scattered, entitled, and traumatized Mexican upper-class, waking up in horror to the reality of the country they once owned. A tour de force."

– Daniel Alarcón, author of At Night We Walk in Circles

“In the world of today no calamity stays local, no tragedy private. Someone missing at a street corner leaves unhealed scars in other countries, among different generations. It is with this keen sense of intersection between personal and impersonal history that Antonio Ruiz-Camacho approaches his characters—his scrutiny of them, his empathy for them, and his versatile voice reminding us of Grace Paley, among other masters of the short story.”

– Yiyun Li, author of The Vagrants and Kinder Than Solitude

“'Are you afraid of a human’s touch? Have you become that American already?' one of Antonio Ruiz-Camacho’s displaced upper-class Mexican characters asks another who is about to become her lover in the Austin, Texas laundromat where they meet. The brilliantly gifted Ruiz-Camacho, writing in English about the members of a Mexican family forced to flee their country, brings the terror, sadness, tenderness and intimacy as well as the class absurdities of contemporary Mexican life into that most traditional of American forms, the realist short story. Ruiz-Camacho’s mastery will impress and astonish, open your eyes, but most of all, each one of these stories will unforgettably touch your heart and move you."

– Francisco Goldman, author of Say Her Name and The Interior Circuit: A Mexico City Chronicle

“Mexican-born,Texas-based journalist Ruiz-Camacho shows a wealth of talent in this fiction debut….Outstanding…Funny….A nimble debut that demonstrates not a singular narrative voice but a realistic chorus of them.”

– Kirkus Reviews

“Antonio Ruiz Camacho springs out of the gate with an assured, beautiful collection of stories. There were several spots that made me stop and go back to them. And not a few others that made me burn with envy. Great stuff.”

– Luis Alberto Urrea, author of The Devil’s Highway and The Hummingbird’s Daughter

"Barefoot Dogs offers readers a relatable experience of dealing with unexpected tragedy, even when framed by a less-than-relatable situation. An extremely promising debut."

– Booklist

“Timely and timeless, fullof ambiguity, dislocation and startlingly vivid images that are perfectlysuited to the book’s overall tone.”

– Austin American Statesman

“Every story in this collection has an unexpected poignancy as the characters try to create a new normal in strange, unfamiliar cities. Ruiz-Camacho takes the true stories from his journalistic life and re-purposes them as stories told in a classic mode, where compelling characters hold on by a finger-grip to a hope that can make sacrifice and risk worth their survival.”

– San Antonio Exrpress News

"[A] revelatory glimpse of the human costs of the Mexican drug war....The language of these stories is wonderful, at times recalling Roberto Bolano and at other times Alice Munro...."Origimi Prunes"...is a near masterpiece....This is the power of the short story: a window opens for a moment, then shuts. One can imagine these stories going on forever, each one adding a bit more clarity to the incomprehensible contemporary world we live in."

– World Literature Today

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