Published 1991 by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Source: bought my copy of book club
In this debut novel, the García sisters—Carla, Sandra, Yolanda, and Sofía—and their family must flee their home in the Dominican Republic after their father’s role in an attempt to overthrow a tyrannical dictator is discovered. They arrive in New York City in 1960 to a life far removed from their existence in the Caribbean. In the wild and wondrous and not always welcoming U.S.A., their parents try to hold on to their old ways, but the girls try find new lives: by forgetting their Spanish, by straightening their hair and wearing fringed bell bottoms. For them, it is at once liberating and excruciating to be caught between the old world and the new. How the García Girls Lost Their Accents sets the sisters free to tell their most intimate stories about how they came to be at home—and not at home—in America.
Last spring my husband and I went to hear Julia Alvarez speak and were both so impressed with her story and what she had to say about being an author. I knew it was time to read some of her work so I put this book on my book clubs list for 2019 to make sure that I did just that. I decided to start with her first novel, a book that is very much based on her own life history.
What I Liked:
- I loved getting the story from multiple points of view - each of the girls and both of their parents get a chance to shine and let readers see where they came from and how that past affected their acclimation to a new culture. Every one of them had a very distinct voice.
- Alvarez really brought the culture and history of the Dominican Republic alive.
- I appreciated looking at immigration from the point of view of a family that not only came from wealth but was very familiar with the U.S. before they arrived. Still, the change was difficult as Papi was not able to pick up work in the U.S. as a doctor. And in this land built of immigrants, those whose families had been here longer were quick to try to squash the newbies.
- The relationships between the immediate and larger families felt very real. These sisters had each others backs but they also had their quibbles with each other and resented being lumped as "the four girls."
What Didn't Work As Well For Me:
- I understand why Alvarez told her story in reverse chronological order but by the time I got to the end of the book, I was struggling with remembering which of the sisters had grown up to do what. I think I would have been happier with a more linear story line that allowed me to stack experiences on each other for each of the girls and the family.
- Because of the reverse chronology, we also don't get what feels like a more traditional ending. I'm not sure I felt satisfied, then, by the ending which was actually the beginning.
Will I read more by Alvarez? Absolutely. I know she has more to teach me about the land of her family. I'd also like to pick up some of her poetry.