How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents Critical Overview
by Julia Alvarez

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Critical Overview

(Novels for Students)

Since its publication in 1991, most critics have responded positively to Julia Alvarez's novel, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. This first novel received the PEN/Oakland Josephine Miles Award and was named by both the American Library Association and the New York Times Book Review as a Notable Book of 1991. Many have praised Alvarez's insightful and sympathetic portrait of family life amidst the pressures of adapting to a new culture. Dan Stavans considers the novel "a brilliant debut," and claims in his Commonweal review that "Alvarez has an acute eye for the secret complexities that permeate family life. [The Garcia de la Torre family's] rejection of the native background is told with humor and has a sense of unrecoverable loss because, for as much as the Garcia sisters want to become American, they remain conscious of the advantages of their Dominican selves. Hence, Alvarez's is a chronicle of the ambivalence with which Hispanics adapt to Anglo-Saxon idiosyncrasies." Donna Rifkind writes in the New York Times Book Review that the author has, "to her great credit, beautifully captured the threshold experience of the new immigrant, where the past is not yet a memory and the future remains an anxious dream." Cecilia Rodriquez Milanes, in her article in the Women's Review of Books, finds a second important theme in the novel. She notes that it "is not simply about adjustment and acculturation. It is about its protagonists' precarious coming of age as Latinas in the United States and gringas in Santo Domingo."

In the same Commonweal article, Stavans argues that the novel "holds a unique place in the context of the ethnic literature from which it emerges." He notes that the novel does not contain ethnic stereotypes caught up in drug addiction and poverty. The Garcia de la Torre family has its roots in the Spanish conquistadores and becomes financially successful in their new homeland. Stavans also praises the novel's breadth. "Through the Garcia family's sorrow and happiness, through the spiritual and quotidian search that leads to their voluntary exile in the United States, the dramatic changes of an entire era are recorded."

Some critics, however, have found fault with Alvarez's narrative structure and characterizations. Stavans describes the novel as "imperfect and at times unbalanced." In her mixed review, Rifkind insists Alvarez's "goal of translating her characters' voices into an unhackneyed American idiom has gone unrealized. The Garcia girls may indeed have lost their accents,...

(The entire section is 603 words.)