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SOMETHING TO DECLARE by Julia Alvarez

SOMETHING TO DECLARE

By Julia Alvarez

Pub Date: Sept. 11th, 1998
ISBN: 1-56512-193-7
Publisher: Algonquin

The much-praised poet and novelist Alvarez (¤Yo!, 1997; How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, 1991; etc.) offers a set of essays and reminiscences, all previously published in magazines or anthologies. The first half of the book consists of short memoirs dealing mostly with her life as a cultural and ethnic hybrid: she was born in Trujillo’s Dominican Republic but escaped that dictatorship with her family (her father opposed the government) and moved to the US. Appealingly, however, Alvarez wears her troubles lightly. For instance, as she tells it, in New York City she and her three sisters liked to watch the Miss America pageant, yet worried they—d never fit in here because they looked and spoke so differently from the supposed American ideal. Even so, pretty soon their own looks became fashionable. Gracious and urbane, the author doesn—t whine about ethnic victimization in America, though she experienced her share of it. Her voice—that of a voluble friend full of experiences to confide—brings comfort; she persuades us that interethnic harmony may be possible. Her warm personality shines through and keeps one reading. The collection’s second half, though also memoiristic, concerns more frontally her experiences as a feminist and a writer determined to succeed against the odds. Alvarez waxes pat on this theme. Seemingly caught up in the feminist movement’s now-conventional rhetoric, she defines herself and her victories too narrowly. Why, for example, must Maxine Hong Kingston be the preferred role model, and not Gertrude Stein or Susan Sontag, Angela Carter or Christa Wolf? Why shouldn’t Alvarez seek to establish her identity and place in the larger world of letters, too, rather than mainly in the paradoxically exclusive province of gender and ethnicity? At moments she almost addresses such issues but on the whole avoids asking herself hard questions. A pleasing but not probing foray by the author into herself and others.