BOOK REVIEW: Afterlife by Julia Alvarez


Publication Date: January 29, 2013
Format: paperback
Genre:  Womens Fiction 

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
480  pages
Buy:  Paperback | Audiobook 


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.


This is a small book but it asks a lot of questions and makes you think.  What is the right way to grieve? Why do so many people stop talking about the person who died in front of their relatives etc...? How do you honor and remember your loved one who has passed? Mixed in with all of this is also the question of immigration and humanity, mental illness and family.  

On airplanes we are asked to put the mask on first before helping others. This is hard for so many to understand but if we don't care for ourselves first how can we care for those around us? Is it selfish to think of ourselves first before others? When do we put ourselves second? or do we?  

Antonia is the 2nd sister of 4 daughters.  She is deemed the practical one, when her oldest sister goes missing on her way to see her on her birthday the sisters all get together to find her.  But Antonia just lost her husband, she is still grieving and now has an immigrant farmer who she has said she would help.  Leaving seems like a betrayal of the sisterhood but where does the sisterhood end and her life begin? Can she have a life outside the sisters? 

In a world where illegal immigration is a hot button issue and farmers can't survive without immigrant workers who is right and who is wrong? And if they are caught and have children they are separated sent to different places, is this humane? Is this just? How can we protect those who are just trying to survive without reducing them to something less than human? 

I don't know if I can give a concrete review of such a complex book but it is beautifully written, and really makes you think.  Where do we put our loyalties? With ourselves, our siblings, our family or with humanity? I don't believe there are any answers in this book but since losing someone so recently it made me think about how we honor those that have passed.  For us we remember them by talking about them, laughing at what they would have found amusing and bringing them back to life through stories.  

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