Julia Alvarez was born Julia Altagracia Maria Teresa Alvarez in New York City in 1950, the second of four daughters, but her family returned to the Dominican Republic when she was still an infant. Her mother and her father, a doctor, both came from large, affluent Dominican families that had respect for and connections to the United States. Alvarez and her sisters grew up in a large and traditional extended family; she remembers the men going to work and the children being raised with their cousins by a large group of aunts and maids. She came to recognize the restrictions these women faced: One aunt was trained as a physician but did not practice; another aunt, known as the one who read books, was unconventional and unmarried. This “reading aunt” gave Alvarez a copy of the classic collection of folktales One Thousand and One Nights, introducing her to her “first muse,” Scheherazade, a princess who was dark-skinned and resourceful. Alvarez, fascinated by the possibilities of storytelling, would draw on her experiences with her aunts, maids, cousins, and siblings for several of her novels, notably How the García Girls Lost Their Accents.
Alvarez was ten years old when her father’s involvement in a plot to overthrow Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo was discovered. With the help of a U.S. agent, the family escaped and returned to New York City. Although Alvarez yearned for this “homecoming,” the adjustment was difficult for...
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