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Afterlife, by Julia Alvarez. 

December 12, 2019

Afterlife
Afterlife, by Julia Alvarez.  Algonquin books of Chapel Hill, 2020.

Forthcoming.

4 stars

One of many popular books by an American woman from the Dominican Republic who writes about dealing with widowhood, her sisters, and undocumented immigrants’ next door.

Julia Alvarez was born in 1950 in New York, but spent her first ten years in her parents’ home country, the Dominican Republic.  As the dictatorship of that nation tightened, the family returned to the United States where Alvarez became immersed in the English language.  She attended college at Middlebury, a place where she later taught as a tenured professor and as a writer in residence.  In 1991 she published her first novel, How the García Girls Lost Their Accents.  Few books by Latinas in the United States had appeared at that time, and it received great attention and praise.  Since then she has become a prolific writer, authoring novels, non-fiction, poetry, and children’s books.

In Afterlife, Alverez develops several plot-lines. The major story follows Antonia, whose husband dies suddenly just as she is retiring from her position as a college professor.  Alvarez follows her as she struggles with her husband’s death.  The writing is sensitive to details of Antonia’s daily life, but is never sentimental.  For me, the book offered a role model for a frequent aspect of women’s lives.  I applaud Alvarez’s treatment of this seldom addressed this topic.

Two other experiences complicate Antonia’s life, often leaving her with difficult choices. She is one of four sisters who have shared strong bonds all their lives. The eldest of them acts strangely and then disappears. The other sisters grow desperate and consider what options they have.  In addition, Antonia becomes involved with a young immigrant and his pregnant girlfriend while trying to find a viable path for them, other than taking them in her own life and home.  While these are minor stories, they allow us to see why Antonia gets overwhelmed.

I recommend Afterlife to help us understand how we can cope after the loss of a valuable partner.

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