Afterlife is Julia Alvarez’s first adult novel in fifteen years and her timing lands it squarely in the conversations we’re having now about immigration and white privilege.
Originally from the Dominican Republic, Antonia Vega has recently retired from her career as an English Professor when her husband suddenly dies. As she navigates through grief, she is invited to spend a weekend with her three sisters to celebrate her sixty-sixth birthday but before she leaves, her neighbor’s undocumented farmhand, Mario, asks Antonia to help him get his fiancé Estela from Colorado, where she has been abandoned by the men he hired to bring her from Mexico to the United States. Antonia is not sure she wants to get involved. She sympathizes with Mario and Estela, but she is in survivor mode. She leaves for her celebratory weekend, but trades one problem for another when one of her sisters never arrives. Izzy struggles with mental health issues and is clearly in crisis. The sisters file a missing persons report and strategize about how to get Izzy the help she needs.
Upon her return home, Antonia finds Estela sleeping in her garage. She is pregnant and needs Antonia’s help now more than ever. When she asks in Spanish when Estela is due, she receives a blank look in reply. Later, she Googles the Spanish word for giving birth and discovers that she has used a term used by the upper class, while Estela is more familiar with the working class term.
“ . . . even the beauties of language,” Alvarez writes, “of words rightly chosen, are riddled with who we are, class and race, and whatever else will keep us – so we think – safe on the narrow path.”
Afterlife is a compressed novel that expands with the lyrical voice of Alvarez. In lush language and imagery, Afterlife asks big questions – what do we owe each other and who do we have an obligation to take care of – our family, our neighbors, or perhaps a complete stranger.
I recommend Afterlife for fans of Alvarez’s In the Time of the Butterflies and Eleanor Brown’s The Weird Sisters.
This is Lin Salisbury with Superior Reviews. Read all of my reviews and listen to my author interviews on www.superiorreads.blog and on WTIP 90.7 Grand Marais and on the web at https://www.wtip.org/superior-reads-0