A Time Magazine Must-Read Book of 2020
A Most-Anticipated Book of the Year: O, The Oprah Magazine * The New York Times * The Washington Post *Vogue * Bustle * BuzzFeed * Ms. magazine * The Millions * Huffington Post * PopSugar * The Lily * Goodreads * Library Journal * LitHub * Electric Literature
The first adult novel in almost fifteen years by the internationally bestselling author of In the Time of the Butterflies and How the García Girls Lost Their Accents
“A stunning work of art that reminds readers Alvarez is, and always has been, in a class of her own.” —Elizabeth Acevedo, National Book Award-winning author of the New York Times bestseller The Poet X
Antonia Vega, the immigrant writer at the center of Afterlife, has had the rug pulled out from under her. She has just retired from the college where she taught English when her beloved husband, Sam, suddenly dies. And then more jolts: her bighearted but unstable sister disappears, and Antonia returns home one evening to find a pregnant, undocumented teenager on her doorstep. Antonia has always sought direction in the literature she loves—lines from her favorite authors play in her head like a soundtrack—but now she finds that the world demands more of her than words.
Afterlife is a compact, nimble, and sharply droll novel. Set in this political moment of tribalism and distrust, it asks: What do we owe those in crisis in our families, including—maybe especially—members of our human family? How do we live in a broken world without losing faith in one another or ourselves? And how do we stay true to those glorious souls we have lost?
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Afterlife is Julia Alvarez’s first novel for adults in over a decade—and it’s well worth the wait. Months after her husband’s sudden death, retired English professor Antonia Vega is adrift, feeling more of an outsider than ever as a Dominican immigrant in rural Vermont. While trying to navigate a major family crisis—the disappearance of her emotionally unstable eldest sister—Antonia gets tangled up in the life of an undocumented farmworker from Mexico who’s attempting to reunite with his teenage girlfriend. Alvarez’s novel leans in to some difficult subject matter, including the burden of grief and the realities of the Latinx community’s everyday experiences during the Trump administration. But Afterlife is far from an emotionally draining read, thanks to Alvarez’s trademark sense of humor. Just as she did with her breakthrough hit, How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, Alvarez nails the bickering, torture, and joy of sibling relationships—Antonia’s interactions with her three sisters are as endearing and real as a group text. This wise and heartwarming story explores the obligations we have to those around us.
Alvarez's poignant return to adult fiction (after the young adult Tia Lola series) raises powerful questions about the care people owe themselves and others. Antonia Vega is reeling from the sudden death of her husband, Sam, who suffered an aneurysm on the day they'd planned to celebrate her retirement. As an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, Antonia is determined to embrace American values of self-preservation and independence, and she keeps a running dialogue in her head with Sam about the U.S. and D.R.'s conflicting values ("We live in America, she reminds the disapproving Sam in her head, where you put your oxygen mask on first"). This outlook is challenged after she finds an undocumented and pregnant teenage girl from Mexico hiding in her garage, and when Antonia's charismatic but unstable older sister Izzy disappears. As Antonia weighs the needs of others and her own, memories of Sam's magnanimity and generosity of spirit guide her, along with sentiments from authors such as Tolstoy ("What is the right thing to do?") and Rilke ("You must change your life"). Alvarez blends light humor with deep empathy toward her characters, offering a convincing portrait of an older woman's self discovery. This will satisfy her fans and earn new ones.
I loved how she portraits the duality in which Latinos live, embracing their culture and ways of doing things and loving, and the realities of our surroundings. Alvarez touches exquisitely the relevance of the "invisible", and how they are recognized and loved by their communities for their contributions.