How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, Alvarez’s first novel, has an episodic plot covering a time span of thirty-three years, from 1956 to 1989, revolving around the García family—the parents and their four daughters, Carla, Sandi, Yolanda, and Sofia. Set against a backdrop of the political upheavals in the Dominican Republic and in the turbulent years of the 1960’s in the United States, the narrative focuses on the struggles of the García family to make sense of the practices and expectations in the New World and reconcile them with the traditions they brought with them.
Arranged in three sections, the events are arranged in reverse chronological order. Beginning with the present, section 1 covers the present, 1989-1972; section 2 focuses on the events of ten years (1970-1960) following the family’s arrival in the United States; and 3 on the period 1960-1956, prior to the family’s escape. The narrative point of view shifts between objective third person and first person. Collectively, these stories chronicle the life of the García family just before and a decade after their move to America.
The book begins and ends with Yolanda, the compiler of these memories. Also, her experiences reflect typical difficulties faced in the process of assimilation. In “Joe,” Yolanda is in a mental hospital recovering from a nervous breakdown after ending her latest relationship. As she reminisces, it becomes clear that her and her boyfriend’s difference in temperament had caused their problems: John was a pragmatist, while she was a romantic idealist. He dealt with dry facts; she wanted to savor words. However, John attributed their differences to her ethnic background.
Similarly, Rudy (“The Rudy Elmenhurst Story”), the first love of Yolanda’s life, expected her to be a passionate Latina. Circumscribed by her ethnicity in the States, she returns to the Dominican Republic to reclaim her heritage (“Antojos”). She observes at the outset that her mode of dressing, loving, and thinking is very different from that of the islanders. Finally, Yolanda’s encounter with two farmworkers brings her to the realization...
(The entire section is 885 words.)