By Julia Alvarez
New York: Penguin Group, 1997
ISBN # 0-452-27918-6
309 pages

Comments by Bob Corbett
August 2011

Yolanda Garcia has written a tell-it-all exposure of her family, and many relatives, friends and acquaintances are upset with her. She is rather oblivious to their concerns and anger. When they complain she hasn’t told the truth in many areas she isn’t much concerned about it since she slides easily between truth and fiction, not even sure there is much of a difference.

However, what made Julia Alverez’s novel such an exceptional read for me is that it isn’t Yolanda, Yo as most call her, who tells this story, but the people who have been given this fictional/real life in her book. It is a brilliant strategy that Garcia uses and she pulls it off magnificently. Each chapter is written by a different character in the novel who has also been “exposed” in Yo’s book. The novel reads like about 20 or more short stories, each person giving his or her understand of who Yo is. Her own book becomes the frame for the novel itself. Yet it is not just a sort of later day imitation of The Arabian Nights, or the Canterbury Tales, Boccaccio’s Decameron and other such frame stories. None of those have the unity of theme which Alverez’s book does. Every chapter centers upon and reveals Yo, and in the process builds a detailed story of the Garcia family as well.

Yolanda is little troubled by the uproar her book causes and in a very revealing sentence which one of the chapter writers reports, Yo holds:

Yo said “What is the point of shrouding yourself in silence? The grave will do that for you all eternity.”

Along the way the reader is treated to a fairly detailed contrast between life in the U.S. and life in the Dominican Republic especially in the days of some of their worst dictators in the past 50 years. Garcia is at home in each culture and understands each in detail and with feeling.

The novel is beautifully written, funny, gripping and insightful. I would recommend it to all.

Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu


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Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu