Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Julia Alvarez: Thoughts and mini reviews

In the past 2 months I've read my first novels by Julia Alvarez: In the Time of the Butterflies and How the García girls lost their accent. While the novels were originally written in English, I read them in Spanish but I think I could've read them in any language and still been struck by the beauty and pain that Alvarez can convey with her writing.

Both books tell the stories of a group of sisters, all very different and all very strong in their own way. In the Time of the Butterflies takes place in the Dominican Republic when Rafael Trujillo was still ruling the island. The Mirabal sisters, known as the Butterflies eventually (Mariposas), real characters of the revolution, are given a loud voice by Alvarez, who takes you through their beginnings as school girls, the first rebellions of their youth and sadly, the death of 3 of them in an "accident". As background, the pain and suffering of the people, trying to deal with the dictatorship, and the hope of many that something better shall come. Alvarez weaves love and happiness in an otherwise sad story. There is hope in her writing, even as the Butterflies are incarcerated. There is love between them and with their families and all along. The tension builds in a rapid pace, and although I knew what will happen to them, I was still hoping, against better judgment, that everything would be fine.

The Garcia sisters on the other hand, have a very different story. While they are pushed out of the island once again because of Trujillo's dictatorship, theirs is the story of immigrants, not even first generation, since they were all born in the island, but that generation that has to learn to grow with 2 very different identities/cultures. The "freedom" they get living in USA peppered with the restraints that their father will try to impose, as is the way of the island (and most Latin@s if I'm being honest). The forming moments that will make these 4 women who they are at the beginning of the book (the novel goes in reverse chronology), the things that they will never be able to shake off and the things they wished they would've never lost. In essence, what it is to be an immigrant in a country so different from your own.

The same way I really enjoyed Meg Medina's Yaqui Delgado wants to kick your Ass depiction of being a Latin@ teenager in the States, I loved the way Alvarez portrayed the struggles not only of the Garcia sisters, but also of their parents, what it means for them not only to lose their country and their ways, but to lose their daughters too.

Alvarez has won a reader, that's for sure. 4/5 for both books.

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