How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents (HTGGLTA)
by Julia Alvarez
My copy was purchased on March 11, 2008 from Booksale and read January 22, 2010.
This is my first review for the A to Z challenge. As usual, I indulged in my bad habit, reviewcastinating.
I also took my time before writing a review because I wanted to be fair to Julia Alvarez. You see, I read this book after reading Jeanette Winterson's The Passion, an exceptionally well written book. And HTGGLTA followed at the heels and suffered unfairly in comparison.
Which is not to say that HTGGLTA is not well written. Alvarez is an able writer, an entertaining story teller. She writes with a successful mixture of drama, humor, and depth. It's an enjoyable, engaging book with endearing characters who are easy to relate to. Alvarez picked up elements from her own life and from historical realities to convincingly write this coming-to-America meets coming-of-age novel.
The novel is a loosely woven collection of episodes that tell of the Garcia sisters' departure from the Dominican Republic and their life in America, only said in reverse chronology from 1989 to 1956. Alvarez engages us with stories of how they escape as political refugees; how they struggle in their new life in a land that is ironically a land of promise but where they have none of the power, influence, and stature they enjoyed back home; and how they assimilate into the American lifestyle.
Carla, the eldest, is the psychotherapist of the bunch, and she gets a lot of flak for her self-help jargon. Sandi or Sandra is the pretty one with an eating disorder. Yolanda is the writer and poet. And Sofia is the rebellious one who marries on impulse. And they all took turns being the wildest one. Though all the sisters shine through in the story telling, each one with a distinct character, it is Yolanda who plays the most important role, presumably representing Julia Alvarez herself. The novel starts with her visiting their birthplace many years after they left for America, and ends with a childhood story about a magnificent drum and a frightful cat.
The story that I found most interesting is Sandi's. Away in graduate school, she becomes obsessed with having to read all the great written works because she does not have a lot of time left before she evolves from human to monkey. She reads and reads and reads, and crosses off books from her reading list, and stops eating until she's "toothpick-thin," and reads and reads. Except for the parts about ceasing from eating and becoming a monkey, my book geek friends and I can certainly relate to the fear of leaving this earth without first having read all the books we must read.
And that is why I am taking the A to Z challenge. To read and to read and to read. And Julia Alvarez, though not quite a great work, is a pretty good read.