Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Afterlife by Julia Alvarez

by Julia Alvarez
Read by Alma Cuervo
6 hours
Published April 2020 by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

Publisher's Summary: 
Antonia Vega, the immigrant writer at the center of Afterlife, has had the rug pulled out from under her. She has just retired from the college where she taught English when her beloved husband, Sam, suddenly dies. And then more jolts: her bighearted but unstable sister disappears, and Antonia returns home one evening to find a pregnant, undocumented teenager on her doorstep. Antonia has always sought direction in the literature she loves—lines from her favorite authors play in her head like a soundtrack—but now she finds that the world demands more of her than words. 

Afterlife is a compact, nimble, and sharply droll novel. Set in this political moment of tribalism and distrust, it asks: What do we owe those in crisis in our families, including—maybe especially—members of our human family? How do we live in a broken world without losing faith in one another or ourselves? And how do we stay true to those glorious souls we have lost?

My Thoughts:
I'll be honest - I picked this book because it was an audiobook that was available and not very long; it was helped by the fact that it was written by an author I'd heard speak a few years ago and was really impressed with. 

Julia Alvarez books are (it seems to this reader who is only on her second Alvarez book) always full of things to think about and to discuss. Here Alvarez touches on family, sibling relationships, immigration, culture, loss, mental illness, and loss of identity. In addition to the questions the publisher's summary asks, I felt like Alvarez was asking us to consider what we owe others and what we owe ourselves and who should we put first. More than once Antonia, when trying to decide what she should do, thinks of the airline imperative to put your own mask on first in an emergency before you try to help others. 

We are often asked to consider if a book is character or plot driven. When I finished this one, I really wasn't sure what the answer was. A lot happens here but I never felt like the action was the true point of the book. Then, too, although we meet a lot of characters here, we only truly get to know Antonia. In the end, I wasn't even sure I knew where Antonia's brain was at. Or, for that matter, what was going to become of any of the characters. As much as I loved all the questions Alvarez asked, her beautiful writing, and all of the references to literature (and Cuevo's reading), I guess I just wanted some answers to what happened to the characters. There are, after all, no answers to so many of the questions the book raises.  

I'm evidently alone in that opinion, though. It was one of Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2020 and Entertainment Weekly called it a tour de force. 

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