How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents | Critical Review by Bruce-Novoa

This literature criticism consists of approximately 2 pages of analysis & critique of How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents.
This section contains 530 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
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Critical Review by Bruce-Novoa

SOURCE: A review of How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, in World Literature Today, Vol. 66, No. 3, Summer, 1992, p. 516.

Juan D. Bruce-Novoa, who frequently writes under his surname only, is a Costa Rican-born American critic and educator. In the following positive review, he discusses the narrative structure of How the García Girls Lost Their Accents.

U.S. Latino literature is dominated by male Chicanos, Puerto Ricans, and Cuban Americans. It may therefore surprise readers to discover that possibly the best novel in this category during 1991 comes from a Dominican American woman. However, the U.S.'s long involvement in Dominican internal affairs has produced a steady stream of immigrants. New York City contains the largest urban concentration of Dominicans in the world. U.S. Dominican literature was bound to appear.

Legitimately surprising are the maturity and technical polish of Julia Álvarez's first novel, How the García Girls Lost Their Accents. Granted, the author is no novice, having a Ph.D. in literature, a decade of experience teaching writing, and a book of poetry (Homecoming,) to her credit. Nevertheless, common wisdom about ethnic literatures claims that each group must crawl before it walks, and so Álvarez's sprint out of the narrative starting blocks demands theoretical rethinking of ethnic literary development.

Álvarez utilizes a standard immigration motif: her narrative charts family history both to trace adjustments to the changing cultural environment and to recover its roots in the land of origin. During the voyage the reason necessitating immigration is found, the essential catalyst in transforming citizens of one nation into immigrants who eventually become ethnic residents of a new country. The paradigm, however, has been dominated by patriarchal codes, the conflict within the acculturation family often being portrayed as the disintegration of the father's position as head of the family and a shift of focus to the mother. García Girls both appropriates and violates this pattern. The García family experiences a sometimes painful liberation from patriarchy, but the search for roots, instead of nostalgically confirming the old chauvinist system, debunks it.

Álvarez structures the narrative in temporally receding subsections, from 1989 to 1956, shifting the perspective among four sisters to create multiple points of view and an air of a family project. From the start the search motif emerges, with one of the sisters back on the island visiting her family and hoping she has finally found a real home after twenty-nine years of unsettled life. When she goes out on her own, however, she is disoriented by the mixture of her U.S. openness (unbecoming an island woman of the upper class), forgotten cultural codes, and the desire to retrieve island pleasures. She never does reach the familial estate where, as a child, she was taught to ride English style. Instead she is caught in a sign of racial, class, and national conflict, which, ironically, turns out to be the real roots she is hunting for—though readers only understand the full import of the discovery in the final chapters. In the end not only is patriarchy debunked but a matrilineal line of mixed blood and class is affirmed, albeit as a repressed contributor to origins. A most entertaining, significant contribution to U.S. Latino literature.

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This section contains 530 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Bruce-Novoa