How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents Additional Summary

Julia Alvarez


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Set in New York City and the Dominican Republic, Julia Alvarez’s novel traces the lives of the four García sisters—Carla, Sandra, Yolanda, and Sofia—as they struggle to understand themselves and their cross-cultural identities. The novel is structured in three parts, focusing on the time spans of 1989-1972, 1970-1960, and 1960-1956. Throughout these years the García girls mature and face various cultural, familial, and individual crises. The sisters’ mother, Laura, comes from the well-known, wealthy de la Torres family, who live in the Dominican Republic. The third part of the novel narrates the Garcías’ flight from their homeland due to political problems within the country.

The Garcías emigrate to the United States, planning to stay only until the situation in their homeland improves. Once arriving in America, the sisters struggle to acclimate themselves to their new environment. The second part of the novel traces the sisters’ formative years in the United States. Included among the numerous stories told are Yolanda’s struggle to write an acceptable speech for a school event, Carla’s trial of attending a new public school where she is bombarded by racial slurs, and Sandra’s hatred of an American woman who flirts with her father during a family night out. In addition, part 2 narrates the García girls’ summer trips to the Dominican Republic—their parents’ way to keep them from becoming too Americanized. During these trips the...

(The entire section is 438 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The García family, four sisters and their parents, struggle to adapt to life in the United States after they had fled from political turmoil in the Dominican Republic. Daughter Yolanda, or Yo, now an adult, is chronicling her recent return to the Dominican Republic to visit her relatives. She has a craving (an antojo) for guavas. She defies her family’s cautions against a woman traveling alone and drives into the countryside, where some boys help her find and gather guavas. Two men approach, and Yolanda feels intimidated. When she mentions her influential relatives, the men turn subservient.

Daughter Sofía organizes a lavish seventieth birthday party for Carlos, or Papi. She and her father have been estranged since the time she ran away from home and married a German chemist. Sofía hopes the party, along with the recent birth of her son, whom she has named for his grandfather, will heal old wounds. The celebrants drink excessively and play a game in which Papi, blindfolded, must guess who kisses him. Sofía, angry that her father never utters her name, kisses the old man in a sexual manner. He responds sexually and grows enraged, ending the game and the party.

Laura, or Mami, tells her favorite anecdotes about each daughter. In childhood, Carla had wanted red sneakers, but the family could not afford them. A neighbor gave her white sneakers, so Carla and her father had painted them with Mami’s red nail polish. Mami and Papi, discovering that they had mistakenly left Yo on a crowded New York City bus, had chased down the bus, only to find their daughter reciting poetry for the passengers. Mami tells no story about Sandra, or Sandi, because her second daughter’s mental breakdown and subsequent hospitalization trouble her. Mami then tells her version of how Sofía met her German husband while traveling in South America.

Yolanda, now in a mental hospital, reflects on her estrangement from her former husband, John, and falls in love with her psychotherapist, Dr. Payne. She is obsessed with words and language. She remembers her first love, Rudy, a wealthy, spoiled, devil-may-care college student who had wooed Yolanda with only one thought in mind: sex. The virgin Yolanda had longed for attention and affection, but Rudy had offered neither, so Yolanda threw him out of her apartment. Five years later, she encountered him again. His expectations had not changed, and neither had hers, so she rejected him again.

Continuing political turmoil in the Dominican Republic leads Papi and Mami to decide that the family should remain in the United States, despite their poverty and the bullying the girls endure at school. To ensure that their daughters will eventually find proper Hispanic husbands, the elder Garcías send the girls to Santo Domingo to spend summer vacations with relatives. One summer, Mami finds a bag of marijuana in Sofía’s New York room and travels to the island to investigate. As punishment, Sofía stays on the island for the following year. She falls in love with her cousin, Manuel Gustavo, and begins to dress and behave in...

(The entire section is 1264 words.)

Part I Summary

(Novels for Students)

Part I: 1989-1972
Julia Alvarez's How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents is a collection of stories that recounts...

(The entire section is 715 words.)

Part II Summary

(Novels for Students)

Part II: 1970-1960
"A Regular Revolution" explains that after another revolution breaks out on the Island, Papi decides the...

(The entire section is 442 words.)

Part III Summary

(Novels for Students)

Part III: 1960-1956
"The Blood of the Conquistadores" begins the section of stories that take place before the family emigrates...

(The entire section is 665 words.)