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How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by…

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents (1991)

by Julia Alvarez

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Nice book, but I found it too boring to finish. Some books age well, but this one felt dated to me. ( )
  badube | Mar 6, 2019 |
The García family flees the Dominican Republic for the United States amid political unrest. The four sisters – Carla, Sandra, Yolanda, and Sofia – find 1960s New York City very different from the upper-middle-class life they knew “back home.” Absent their maids and extended family, the García girls do their best to assimilate into the mainstream; they iron their hair, forget their Spanish, and meet (and date) boys without chaperones.

This is a wonderfully entertaining look at the immigrant experience and at the strong family ties that see these sisters (and their parents) through a tumultuous adolescence and young adulthood. The novel is told in alternating perspectives, focusing on a different sister in each chapter, and also moving back in time, from 1989 to 1956.

When exploring their childhood in the DR, Alvarez allows the innocence of youth to be apparent. Children may sense that something isn’t quite right, but they typically don’t know the realities facing their parents. The family’s sudden departure for the United States is at first a great adventure, but the reality of reduced circumstances and cramped city apartments (instead of a large family compound with gardens and servants) quickly makes the girls homesick. Once assured that there is no going back, they struggle to fit in with their peers at school. They don’t want to stick out due to dress, language, food, or customs. With their assimilation, however, comes a greater clash between the girls and their parents’ “old world” values.

The use of multiple narrators and non-linear time line, however, made for an uneven reading experience. I would be invested in one sister’s story, and then jerked to a different time and place and narrator with little or no warning. Some members of my F2F book club found this so distracting that they lowered their ratings significantly. But for me the “confusion” is indicative of the immigrant experience. Each immigrant ultimately has to choose the extent to which she will adopt the customs, foods, dress of her new environment, and how much of her native customs, foods, dress to keep and share with her new neighbors. The García girls draw comfort from their deep roots in the Dominican Republic while bravely and enthusiastically facing and embracing their future as Americans. ( )
  BookConcierge | Feb 7, 2019 |
In the 1950s, four sisters—Carla, Sandra, Yolanda, and Sofía—are raised by well-to-do parents in the Dominican Republic, alongside a multitude of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Their family is suddenly forced to emigrate to the United States in the 1960s to escape the political repression of the brutal Trujillo regime, an event that causes everyone in the clan no shortage of acclimatization issues. By the late 1980s, the García girls are fully grown and have achieved varying levels of success in their careers and relationships, while continuing to think wistfully about their idyllic, youthful days on the island. So goes the basic outline of How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, Julia Alvarez’ quilt of a novel that is actually presented as fifteen separate vignettes spanning some four decades. Although written in 1991, the book’s themes of immigration and cultural assimilation still feel remarkably fresh and timely, an outcome no doubt aided by the current political climate in the United States.

Unfortunately, though, the author’s message was marred by two questionable literary devices that she adopted throughout the novel. First, the story was told in reverse chronological order, with the girls’ youthful experiences on the island coming in the final section. There did not seem to be any good reason for this writerly sleight-of-hand; the stories of the girls at an older age were not really that well connected to those of their younger selves. Second, Alvarez tried to use multiple voices in the various chapters—although Yolanda’s was by far the most prominent—but the largely indistinguishable perspectives of the four sisters created a narrative that was frequently muddled and indistinct. (Incidentally, the titular issue of exactly how the girls lost their accents is never really addressed and nothing explains Mami’s forced and cloying malapropisms.) So, while I did enjoy reading this book and also learned a bit about the history of the Dominican Republic, it nevertheless ended up seeming like something of a missed opportunity. ( )
  browner56 | Jan 8, 2019 |
A fantastic novel. Definitely read this one.
told much like diary entries, the story is centered on a family of six: mother, father, and four daughters. Each chapter told from a different sister's point of view and place in time, it nonetheless feels like a cohesive whole and is very nicely balanced between the shades of memory and what actually happened (neither of which is particularly well-defined, but that's ok). ( )
  m_mozeleski | May 13, 2018 |
A common theme among many of the books I've read lately is how evil and ugliness emerge out of people and situations that are not in themselves evil. In this book, as well, there is a thread of ugliness born out of ignorance, power, and fear. Men throw their wight around with their sweethearts and their wives and daughters because they can, because they are expected to act macho, and because they feel powerless and need to convince themselves they have power over someone. Older relatives afraid of new technologies and mostly uneducated respond with knee-jerk reactions out of fear when the young women in this book seek to explore and learn for themselves about the world around them, and old superstitions crop up unexpectedly, at times causing results that may make 'enlightened' readers wince. This book captures a raw, often uncomfortable world that is probably quite recognizable to many readers, one that is especially familiar in spirit, if not in its details, for many female readers.

This book starts out in the present with a birthday party for the aging father of 4 women, and then peels back the layers of time to show how these women got to where they are now. Through this lense the author presents images of life as new immigrants to the US, and images of life in the Dominican Republic during portions of its turbulent history. ( )
  JBarringer | Dec 30, 2017 |
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Julia Alvarezprimary authorall editionscalculated
Vaccariello, SteveCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The old aunts lounge in the white wicker armchairs, flipping open their fans, snapping them shut.
Träge sitzen die alten Tanten in den weissen Korbsesseln, lassen ihre Fächer aufspringen und mit einem Knall wieder zusammenklappen.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0452268060, Paperback)

Eagerly embracing their new American culture in Miami, the four Garcia women iron their hair, smoke cigarettes, date American men, forget their Spanish, and lose their accents all in their journey toward adulthood. Reprint. 25,000 first printing.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:00 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

In the 1960s, political tension forces the Garcia family away from Santo Domingo and towards the Bronx. The sisters all hit their strides in America, adapting and thriving despite cultural differences, language barriers, and prejudice. But Mami and Papi are more traditional, and they have far more difficulty adjusting to their new country. Making matters worse, the girls--frequently embarrassed by their parents--find ways to rebel against them.… (more)

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