Julia Alvarez

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Julia Alvarez (born March 27, 1950) is a Dominican-American poet, novelist, and essayist.


  • Mine was an oral culture, full of storytellers, but reading and writing were not encouraged. (No public libraries, no free press!) Coming to the United States suddenly thrust me into a world where I was an alien, where I spoke the language with an accent. This abrupt and painful “translation” led me to the company of books, the homeland of the imagination where all were welcomed. In trying to master my new language of English, I had to pay attention to words, their little reputations and atmospheres, their exact weights and balances, their smells and sounds and textures…
  • History, I was learning, is the story we tell ourselves about what really happened. My task as a writer/novelist was to try to get as many versions of that reality and then imaginatively construct the story. The fact that there were so many versions of what really happened should not surprise us: After all, we experience history as individuals through our particular characters, personalities, points of view. This reality of how we live history ideally suits the form of a novel, which focuses on “the truth according to character.
  • Even though they’re that unit of four sisters, they’re also individuals. One will find her way of integrating that transition or failing at it, but I think that throughout, the telling of stories – the mother tells stories, the father tells stories and the daughters tell stories to each other – becomes the string in the labyrinth for them. Storytelling. Stories create meaning and structure out of the chaos. They are a blueprint for experience. I think that is part of how they’re all helped, some more successfully than others.
  • The typical Bildungsroman, the novel of growing up, first of all traditionally involves a single character reaching a kind of epiphany or self-realization, and it has a forward trajectory, which is the classic structure of the novel. But I wanted to structure the novel so that the reader can experience, not by being told but shown, what it feels like to be an immigrant – you’re always going back, going back to where you came from to measure who you are today. So plot in a novel is not just how you’re going to fit all the pieces together or how you’re going to do the chronology. Plot is more sophisticated than that. It’s a way of structuring the way the reader thinks and feels.
  • I was looking for books and stories and novels that addressed our history in the Americas. And there weren’t that many for young readers. I saw that they had a lot of books about the Holocaust and about slavery, but not that much about kids growing up in a dictatorship up and down the Americas, which was the phenomenon of the last century in many of our countries. Many Latinos in the Dominican Republic had grandparents or parents who had fled from dictatorships. I wanted our own Anne Frank story. And that was really the story I set in the Dominican Republic in the Trujillo dictatorship.
  • I’m more in the Faulkner tradition. I’m writing my Spanish in English. Florid, flowing, expansive, rococo sounds, the sonority of Spanish closer to the Latin roots than the English, which has been also infused with Anglo Saxon, Germanic words. Really, it’s part of my English. It’s how I write English.

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