Friday, October 29, 2010

Book 30, Dominican Republic: "How the García Girls Lost Their Accents" by Julia Alvarez

You know what? I'm just not that impressed by this book. I know it's a best-seller and is included in loads of high school syllabi (something that's not too likely to happen to myself), but after reading truly fresh, epic voices like Janet Frame and Albert Wendt and even Alvarez's fellow refugee-American Carlos Eire, I can't get excited by the writing here.

True, it's structurally interesting: it's divided into three sections, tracing the lives of the four daughters, Carla, Sandra, Yolanda and Sofia, from 1989-1972 (adult life), then 1970-1960 (adolescence in America), then 1960-1956 (childhood in Santo Domingo). Each section's further divided into stories focussing on episodes in the girls' (or an individual girl's) life/ves. We creep back further and further into history, through the immigrant experience and the trouble with the dictator Rafael Trujillo, kinda like psychoanalytic regression, or the movie Memento, though there are no grand dénouements, as I'd hoped.

And some of the stories are good - the world seen through the eyes of a child (or a psycho lady) is generally pretty interesting. I liked Yoyo's tale of the WASP college boy named Rudy Elmenhurst III, and Sandi's perspective on going to a floor show in a Spanish restaurant in NYC, one year after fleeing the regime.

But the whole doesn't cohere. So what? Yes, Latin America is a bizarre place, and ethnic assimilation is hard. I get it. Was this really not talked about very much when the book made its splash in 1999?

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It's good, but I'm generally spoiled for quality on this tour. You could read better. I'm sure as hell gonna.

Representative quote:
Probably, if she had thought a moment about it, she would not have done what she did next. She would have realized her father had lost brothers and friends to the dictator Trujillo. For the rest of his life, he would be haunted by blood in the streets and late night disappearances. Even after all these years, he cringed if a black Volkswagen passed him on the street. He feared anyone in uniform: the meter maid giving out parking tickets, a museum guard approaching to tell him not to get too close to his favourite Goya.
On her knees, Yoyo thought of the worst thing she could say to her father. She gathered a handful of scraps, stood up, and hurled them in his face. In a low, ugly whisper, she pronounced Trujillo's hated nickname: "Chapita! You're just another Chapita!"

Next book:
Daniel Putkowski's An Island Away, from Aruba.

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