Families and friends of story-tellers face a major hazard: details of their lives that the story-tellers know will likely turn up eventually as part of their published work. Such is the fate of Yolanda Garcia’s parents, three sisters, assorted aunts, uncles, cousins, countless friends, and assorted associates.
Sixteen of these people, each in a separate vignette, reveal Yolanda as they know her. Each vignette can stand alone, but the sum of them constitutes a tightly-constructed novel in which Julia Alvarez, with consummate skill, in writing that frequently dazzles, creates a protagonist who never tells her own story, yet one who comes to life vibrantly through the miscellany of impressions and observations that people make about her.
Alvarez’s narrative technique, reminiscent of that used effectively by Rolando Hinojosa in DEAR RAFE (1985) and BECKY AND HER FRIENDS (1990), is a model of expertly presented point-of-view. From the combination of sixteen vignettes, which average about twenty pages in length, emerges a carefully constructed well-rounded protagonist.
The major appeared in Alvarez’s first novel, HOW THE GARCIA— GIRLS LOST THEIR ACCENTS (1991), will be familiar to readers of her work. The political memories of her more recent novel, IN THE TIME OF THE BUTTERFLIES (1995), a stinging commentary on the despotic regime of the Dominican Republic’s strongman dictator, Rafael Trure than novelist Yolanda Garcia. It is a novel about the pitfalls of being creative, the effects of tyrannical political bureaucracies upon citizens, differences in human perception of people, family interactions, immigration, homosexuality, AIDS, marriage, divorce, and the life and career of Julia Alvarez herself, as is suggested by the author’s choice of title, a shortened form of Yolanda and the Spanish word for “I.”
Sources for Further Study
The Atlantic. CCLXXIX, February, 1997, p. 110.
Booklist. XCIII, September 15, 1996, p. 180.
Chicago Tribune. January 26 1997, XIV, p. 2.
Hispanic. X, March, 1997, p. 68.
Library Journal. CXXI, October 1, 1996, p. 124.
Los Angeles Times. March 23, 1997, p. E1.
Ms. VII, March, 1997, p. 82.
The New York Times Book Review. CII, February 9, 1997, p. 19.
Publishers Weekly. CCXLIII, December 16, 1996, p. 38.
The Virginia Quarterly Review. LXXIII, Summer, 1997, p. 95.
The Washington Post Book World. XXVII, January 19, 1997, p. 9.
What readers learn about Yolanda García, the protagonist of this novel, they glean through sixteen discrete sections, all of which directly concern Yolanda. Many of these sections are interconnected. People who have known Yolanda reveal facets of her personality as they relate their encounters with her. From their revelations emerges a well-developed and complex portrayal of a multifaceted creative artist.
The arrangement of the separate portions, each about twenty pages long, is vital to the cohesiveness of the book. Although any of the sections might be read meaningfully as separate entities, it is their placement that justifies identifying the book as a novel rather than a collection of character sketches or short stories.
Yolanda is permitted to tell her own story only in the dialogue she has with the characters of each section, identified by such designations as “The Sisters,” “The Mother,” “The Caretakers,” “The Maid’s Daughter,” and “The Third Husband.” The result is a carefully structured novel from which the protagonist emerges as one of the best developed protagonists in recent literature. Alvarez’s structure, perfect for the telling of her highly autobiographical tale, allows for the presentation of a central character more complex and diverse than she would have seemed had any other method of presentation been used.
The clue to the novel’s autobiographical nature lurks in the title itself. Yo is both a shortened form of Yolanda and the Spanish word for “I.” Readers, however, must be cautioned to remember that ¡Yo! is a work of fiction and cannot be read as an...
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