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How The García Girls Lost Their Accents (2005)

How the García Girls Lost Their Accents (2005)
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3.6 of 5 Votes: 3
ISBN
0452287073 (ISBN13: 9780452287075)
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English
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plume
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How The García Girls Lost Their Accen...
How The García Girls Lost Their Accents (2005)

About book: Many books make their way into high school classrooms. Some of these books are met with great praise, while others are thrown into garbage cans never to be looked at again. However, How the García Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez is definitely a novel that does not deserve to be left within the grime of your trash. The novel follows the lives of four sisters named Carla, Sandra, Yolanda, and Sofía who immigrate to the United States with their mother and father from the Dominican Republic. They were forced to leave as their father would have been in grave danger under the tyrannical rule of the dictator, Trujillo. The novel describes the sisters’ struggles as they attempt to become more American, even though their parents would like for them to hold onto Dominican customs. I think this book would be extremely enlightening as an independent reading book, simply because not everyone has faced the dilemmas that come with being an immigrant. Alvarez’s ability to draw upon the girls’ conflicts allows for the reader to understand the pains that come with being an immigrant in a new, foreign land. While Yolanda is in college, she meets a boy named Rudy Elmenhurst the Third. He shows a liking towards Yolanda, and she feels the same towards him. However, one day, Rudy begins to grow aggravated towards Yolanda as she refuses to have sex with him. Eventually, he throws Yolanda out of his room after another failed attempt at love making. Yolanda then narrates, “I saw what a cold, lonely life awaited me in this country. I would never find someone who would understand my peculiar mix of Catholicism and antagonism, Hispanic and American styles.” (p. 99) Yolanda realizes that it will be extremely difficult for her to adjust in this country; she wants to be American very badly, but at the same time, she does not want to forget her Dominican roots. Yolanda's problems with American men relate to the cultural differences between Dominican and American attitudes toward sex and relationships. Her fears of intimacy and sexual experimentation relate to her desires to be appreciated and cherished as a pure and chaste virgin. Though tempted by the mystery and pleasure of sex that Rudy seems to offer, she is also terrified by the disrespect communicated through his crude vocabulary. Rudy often referenced sex as “laid” “balled” and even “fucked” which made Yolanda feel a great uneasiness towards the casuality of American behavior. Yolanda is stuck between the Dominican culture she finds too oppressive and the American culture she finds too casual. This barrier is not one that everyone experiences as not every person has immigrated to a new country where they are exposed to new customs and ideologies. Not every person has ever been raised in a culture that seems repressive either. Because of that, I think that anyone who has come to America and seems almost scared by the liberation here should pick up this novel to know that they are not alone. It is scary to feel like the outsider, but humans have a way of adapting to suit their needs. Likewise, Alvarez uses symbolism to describe how it is difficult for immigrants to feel whole and connected to their home country once they return. Yolanda is continuously haunted by a mother cat in the Dominican Republic. Looking back at that moment in her childhood, she narrates, “At that hour, and in that loneliness, I hear her, a black furred thing, lurking in the corners of my life, her magenta mouth opening, wailing over some violation that lies at the center of my art.” (p. 290) The mother cat that haunts Yolanda’s dreams symbolizes her home, the Dominican Republic, which reproaches her for leaving. The violation the cat suffers in losing its kitten represents the pain of a country that has lost its children, who cannot find their way home again. Yolanda is unable to find her roots when she returns home in the first chapter, representing the culmination of her search to reclaim what was lost when her family left the Dominican Republic. Also, Yolanda’s search for guavas when she visits the Dominican Republic as an adult also symbolizes another troubling immigrant experience. The guavas Yolanda craves when she arrives on the Island symbolize her desires to reconnect to the best memories of her childhood. She hopes the taste of the guavas will take her back to a vivid experience from the past. Instead, the outing highlights how culturally unprepared she is to pass as a Dominican woman, and how culturally American she has become as an adult. As stated before, this feeling of loss and alienation as an immigrant is not a part of everyone’s life. Though some people may have these feelings regarding a different issue, this novel is meant to delve into these issues from the perspective of immigrants. Therefore, if someone who is not an immigrant decides to read this novel, they may not understand the underlying messages of identity and culture Alvarez is attempting to send. They might, but their emotions towards the messages may not be as profound. Only people who need a sense of reconciliation as immigrants themselves should steer towards this book. They need to know that their struggles have been recorded, and that they are universal. Alvarez is able to use conflict and symbolism very adroitly to illustrate the problems four sisters face in a land far more distinct than the Dominican Republic. Because it touches upon the issues of a specific group of people, I feel it would be more beneficial as an independent reading novel. It is unfair to make students who do not fully empathize with the immigrant struggle to pine through this book. They may become more educated on the matter, but it is very important that they see themselves when they read the book. That is the only way it will touch them. How the García Girls Lost Their Accents is a novel that adds a new spin to the immigrant experience by documenting that immigrants feel both joy and despair, loved and isolated. They are, in every essence, intricately human.

A couple of years ago, I finished reading Julia Alvarez’s “In the time of the Butterflies” for my 10th grade students in the plan of giving them something modern to read, because the 10th grade curriculum’s made up of classic and predominantly male oriented writers and works- namely at our school, Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”, Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” and Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men”. I wanted to throw in a female writer in the mix- a novel worthy as a companion to Sophocles’ “Antigone”. When I finished the “Butterflies” text, I felt Ms. Alvarez had crafted an earnestly genuine and straightforward “imagined” history- the histories and lives of the assassinated Mirabal sisters of the Dominican Republic; victimized by their botched attempt to assassinate General Rafe Trujillo during the late 1950s. But I felt the book was too patronizing and forced- only its final chapters building a crescendo into a devastating and dreadful end was the best part of the novel. But this year, in trying to come up for an additional text for my 11th graders- I finished reading due to a suggestion by a colleague, “How the Garcia Girls Lost their Accents”, Ms. Alvarez’s first and semi-autobiographical novel about four sisters (coincidentally like their actual Mirabal counterparts) assimilating themselves in The Bronx and Long Island, NY after their own father, a former Dominican doctor, tries to assassinate El Jefe Trujillo himself; and they must escape the DR and leave behind their lush, and pampered lifestyle for the urban, cold and concrete world of New York City, through the help of a corrupt CIA operative named Victor Hubbard.It was a pleasure reading this novel. This time, Ms. Alvarez’s earnest writing is at ease- less stifled and less controlled than “Butterflies” (which was her second book). The book is reminiscent of Sandra Cisneros’ “The House on Mango Street” and Junot Diaz’s “Drown” in the sense that there is a predominant voice and narrator- Yolanda Garcia, the third sister and alter ego of Ms. Alvarez’s herself; just like Esperanza and Yunior. With biting humor, and simple, straightforward sentences, the characters jump the page and you experience what they’re experiencing firsthand: the universal pangs of life, coming of age, and the stresses of assimilation and caught between old world traditions, and new world ideas. I find that it would appeal to young teenagers as well- and hopefully, young girls and women who might be drawn into a sharp narrative and good writing. The book is not written in chronological order- but it shifts backwards from 1989 to the past. It begins in adulthood, and ends in childhood. The best vignettes are “The Kiss”- which is about the strained relationship between Dr. Garcia and his daughter, Fifi and his brief arousal, after she kisses him blindfolded at his 70th birthday party; “Joe” and “The Rudy Elmenhurst Story” are Yolanda’s adventures with two failed relationships- her ex husband, John who forces her to question her Dominican heritage as well as a play on variations of her name “Joe” is pronounced as the prefix to “Yolanda”; and her prudish nature towards casual sex and dating, as seen from her dalliance with Mr. Elmenhurst, also displaced from Germany; “A Regular Revolution” in which the sisters intervene on Sofia’s affair with a cousin during a visit back in the motherland. “Trespass” is a terrifying story of Carla being bullied at school by boys who make fun of her changing body during puberty and meeting a pedophile who exposes himself to her.But the two most affecting stories are “Floor Show” and “The Drum”. “Floor Show” is told through Sandi’s point of view about witnessing her father’s brush with infidelity outside a restaurant bathroom with Mrs. Fanning; an American friend, and “The Drum” is Yolanda cruelly taking a kitten away from its mother, only to injure the kitten and for it to disappear forever, haunting her in her dreams.I found myself haunted by the experiences of Dr. Carlos and Laura Garcia; their daughters- Carla and Yolanda; Fifi and Sandi. There is nothing new under the sun, with this assimilation novel; but what sets it apart from other coming of age/old world/new world tradition texts is that each chapter is written with a wry, witty and tender voice that is altogether human and enriching with joy mixed with sadness.
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Reviews
JP
This is one of those rare occasions where I just don't get what everyone else sees. For me, the story would be easier to understand through more distinct short stories, rather than the Cubist approach Alvarez uses. The story certainly does convey some of the cultural nuances of the Dominican Republic, but I found even this to be overkill in places. For example, in one passage, she includes a series of malapropisms used by one of the main characters who had migrated to the US. There were so many that they started to seem unreal. I've read a reasonable diversity of cultures and gender emphasis. This just didn't work for me.
David V
I can sympathize with the Garcia girls because like them, I had to undergo a drastic change in my life which entitled me leaving my home country to go to America, just like the Garcia girls. This book touched me because I felt that a lot of their issues could happen to most immigrants.This is a non-fiction book that uses short stories to emphasize the underlying themes of the book. Julia Alvarez is an exceptional writer that uses themes such as rebellion, honor, courage, reconciliation, and family idealsnts across. The stories in “How the Garcia Girls lost their Accents” are filled with words that pop out of the page and sear the mind with their eccentric ways.t“How the Garcia Girls lost their Accents” is about a family that left the Dominican Republic during the revolution there, to find a new home in America. The entire family goes through hardships that include the four sisters, Carla, Yolanda, Fifi, and Sandi rebelling against their ideals and parents only to go back to their ideals when they realize it is futile going against their parents.tI liked this book because it represented what I also went through when I had to leave Russia for the safety of America. As the Garcia girls did, I left my ideals behind but realized that my parents were right and I always came back just like the Garcia girls. This book should be read because it will help readers see the hardships that immigrants and refugees go through.This book is great for teenagers and for classes in High Schools. It forces a student to see how change can destroy yet remake a better family. It also forces a student to think about his/her own family and their ideals. Lastly it forces a person to pass judgment not on anybody else but on themselves.
Tamara
I was so intrigued by the title that I kept it on my to-read list for years, but when I finally settled down to read it, I didn't fall immediately in love. I felt the "voices" of the various sisters were too similar, and all of them seemed quite shallow. However, it is not without its merits. The book moves backwards in time, and the younger the girls got, the more interested I became in their characters. I especially liked reading about their lives before they moved to the States. My favorite part was the description of their family as a shared community: "We lived in each other’s houses, staying for meals at whatever table we were closest to when dinner was put out, heading home only to take our baths and go to bed…"Favorite Quotes: (about childhood)…the wonder of the world seizing me with such fury at times that I had to touch forbidden china cups or throttle a little cousin or pet a dog’s head so strenuously that he looked as if he were coming out of the birth canal… The Catholic sisters at Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrows Convent School were teaching me to sort the world like laundry into what was wrong and right……three black cars idling in the driveway like great, nervous, snorting horses.
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