Julia Alvarez Additional Biography


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

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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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Although she was born in the United States, Julia Altagracia Maria Teresa Alvarez (AL-vah-rehz) spent her most formative years in the Dominican Republic, having moved there with her parents when she was less than a month old. In her parents’ native land, during her first decade of life, Alvarez was immersed in a rich culture through her exposure to an enormous extended family. Her father, the twenty-fifth legitimate child of her grandfather, not only had many sisters and brothers but also countless half sisters and half brothers, the fruits of his father’s extensive liaisons. The family, many of its members living in close proximity to one another, was a warm if somewhat unwieldy group whom Alvarez describes as being “shabbily genteel.” They, along with their servants (who in most cases had been with the family for years and were regarded almost as family), were inveterate storytellers. One of their greatest pleasures was to gather for family meals or family vacations, in the course of which they amused one another by weaving yarns, both fictional and real, to the delight of all who heard them. Alvarez, growing up in such an atmosphere, developed an early affinity for writing.

Living on their properties two hours out of the capital, the Alvarez family came under increasing political pressure from the regime of Generalisimo Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina, the dictator who seized power in 1930 and became increasingly despotic as his reign continued. The Alvarezes had at first been tolerated by the Trujillo regime because the family appeared apolitical. (Julia’s grandfather had been the Dominican Republic’s delegate to the United Nations.) Her father, a physician, joined in a plot to overthrow Trujillo. After his involvement in this plot became known, he escaped the country with his family in August, 1960, shortly before a certain arrest and possible execution for his subversive activities.

The second of her parents’ four daughters, Julia was ten when she was abruptly uprooted, leaving a traditional Dominican culture in which the men went to work every day while the women, attended by servants, remained at home to raise their children. When the family arrived in New York, her father was not licensed to practice medicine in the United States (although after several years he was able to resume his profession), so they were suddenly reduced to a hand-to-mouth existence in a strange culture; a small, grubby apartment in Queens was their new home.

Alvarez relates much of their struggle in How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, a story that deals with another matter close to the author’s heart. One of the teachers in a Catholic school she attended in New York recognized Alvarez’s ability to use language well and encouraged her to master English. Alvarez did so but in the process began speaking Spanish...

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(Novels for Students)

Julia Alvarez admits that her critically acclaimed novel How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents is a semi-autobiographical account of...

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(Novels for Students)

Julia Alvarez Published by Gale Cengage

Alvarez was born in New York City on March 27, 1950, the second of four daughters. Shortly thereafter, the family moved to the Dominican...

(The entire section is 495 words.)