Julia Alvarez was an immigrant. She was born in the United States, but spent most of her childhood in the Dominican Republic. That is, until her father’s involvement in ta political rebellion forced them to flee to the United States for safety. In How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, Julia Alvarez retells her life story under the alleged alter ego of “Yolanda”. Yolanda is one of four sisters who- just like Alvarez- was forced to flee the Dominican Republic after her father rebelled against the dictatorship.
A very unique aspect to the novel is that it’s told in reverse chronological order. The story begins- in chronological order- with the girls growing up with their family in the Dominican Republic. They are part of a wealthy and powerful family, however when their father is accused of helping in a political rebellion, the family has no choice but to flee to the United States for safety.
The family expected life in the states to be different, but many complexities emerge as they make the transition. First of all, they are no longer wealthy or powerful. In fact, they are struggling financially. As if the adjustment from a powerful and wealthy family to a low-class family wasn’t enough, the girls have to cope with new schools and the labels that have been put on them. Furthermore, the girls find it increasingly difficult to stay connected. Their tightly woven relationship slowly loosens as they go through school and grow up. This novel illustrates the hardships that the family faces and how they cope with them as they make the immense transition between two vastly different cultures.
This book doesn’t just tell a story- it invokes deep thought in its readers. It opens up a whole new door to understanding the real hardships and underlying complexities that emerge when belonging to two different cultures. I have lived in the United States my whole life, so I can’t truly understand what it’s like to belong to multiple cultures. However after reading How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, a first-hand reconciliation of belonging to multiple cultures, I can better understand what it’s like, and as a result I have become a more educated and empathetic person.
I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand a deeper meaning behind a seemingly simple idea. It opens your mind to something you may have never thought about, but definitely should.
Book Review by John Landy