This is the second book I have read by Julia Alvarez. My first encounter with her writing was in my reading of “In The Time of Butterflies” which is one of my absolute favorites. A Dominican-American author, Alvarez draws from her cultural and familial background in the Dominican Republic quite a bit in her writing. With such a beautiful, energetic culture it would be a shame if she didn’t make it such a prominent force in her novels.
The novel started out slow. It was difficult for me to grasp, conceptually. But once I understood that she was doing a character analysis from the perspective of all the characters who encountered this character of Yolanda Garcia, I recognized that the novel was actually a lesson in how to write. The chapters are titled as follows:
The sisters – fiction
The mother – nonfiction
The cousin – poetry
The maid’s daughter – report
The teacher – romance
The stranger – epistle
…and so on and so forth. It is as if she wrote this novel in writing class. And it is a beautiful character study. Yo is flawed, and generous, and loveable, and absolutely incomprehensible all at the same time. She loves her Dominican culture yet, brings a white man home to her island without fully letting him inside her family circle.
I think Julia Alvarez specializes in translating Dominican women into a United States culture. Or maybe the beauty is that she doesn’t translate them, but that she refuses to. That she finds them walking the line between complete conformity and cultural retention that so many immigrants find themselves in, and she holds: she refuses to give in to expectations from either side. Alvarez’s specialty, through it all, is making women real. Making them both imperfect, and admirable, all at once. I loved it. But I would recommend “In The Time of Butterflies” first, above all, if you are looking to get acquainted with this authors themes and writings.
Overall Recommendation: 8. Solid read.