Author: Julia Alvarez
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Date Available: April 7th, 2020
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?
I have been so excited about this book – the last time I read a book by this author was her last, In the Time of the Butterflies, almost 15 years ago. It’s one of my most anticipated books of 2020.
This book had me at a loss for words when I finished the final chapter. It’s timely. It made me laugh. It made me cry. It made me angry. And just like the main character, Antonia, I have found myself looking for understanding, direction, and a semblance of normalcy these past several weeks. Weeks where humans have had on full display their best and their worst.
This book tackles tough subjects – death, grief, mental illness, immigration, and a cruel world that just won’t stop. At first glance this book may sound depressing. But it is written with an abundance of humor, a sharp social awareness, clever dialogue, and plenty of literary references from the creative mind of a retired English professor.
Antonia was a character that was incredibly easy to connect with. Her internal dialogue was so well done that I often found myself thinking ahead on her behalf. Her sisters were equally well-developed and their banter was priceless despite their faults. The writing was flawless. This is a book I could reread more than once.
The social issues: immigration is at the top of the list. If you read American Dirt earlier this year, this is the perfect compliment. Seeing these issues through the eyes of the character of Antonia shed new light on an issue that has divided our country. It also puts faces and names to what some would rather not see.
This book also asks the hard questions. How do you care for a fellow human? How do you walk in their shoes? How do you care for your own family? And ultimately, how do you care for others and yourself in the midst of crisis?
These questions are answered but most often they are answered by the reader. This book is an experience and one I will not soon forget.
Julia Alvarez wrote a book that lived up to all of my expectations and then some. I never expected to read it during a pandemic but I can wholeheartedly recommend it as required quarantine reading for humans now and even more so as we move forward.
Thank you to Algonquin Books for an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. This book is available today! (4/7/2020)